Friends of Harper

November 17, 2012 • Posted in guest blog, guide dogs, Harper, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized by

Loyal blog readers know that my third Seeing Eye dog Harper was traumatized after being clipped by a car in Chicago traffic last year. When it became clear that this heroic Yellow Labrador couldn’t work any more, our friends Chris and Larry agreed to give him a home with them in Wheaton, a quiet Chicago suburb. I’m sharing this update from Chris as a guest post in honor of Thanksgiving — Mike and I are so thankful to have Harper in such loving hands.

Looking forward to year two

by Chris Towles

Heroic Harper hangin’ in his new harness.

Has it been a year since Harper retired and came to live with us? I can’t imagine our house without him. When he came to us last year, he did fine in the house and loved playing in the backyard, but walking anywhere on a leash was tough. He would often refuse to budge, cowering at times, planting his paws so firmly that we could not get him to move, all the time with a look on his face that seemed so troubled and anxious it would just break your heart.

We started by taking small steps, going no further than one house away, then two houses. I would walk backwards most of the time, doing a lot of coaxing and no leash. We had tried treats, toys, other dogs, but nothing really worked until we hit on the “we walk backwards to get Harper to walk forward” technique.

Finally after a couple of months, we were able to get all the way around the block. That seemed like such a huge accomplishment. Building on this success, and after lots of trial and error with various collar and leash combinations, we found that a “Premier EasyWalk” harness and a retractable leash were key in convincing Harper that our walks were less about work, and more about fresh air and exercise.

Now when we walk, we get loads of compliments on how well behaved Harper is. People are always amazed to hear the heroic story of this lovable yellow lab who has become such a part of our life. We gladly acknowledge that our training is a small part of who he is, and that the credit really goes to the folks at The Seeing Eye who trained and cared for him so lovingly. These days we can walk over three miles on the bike paths and in the forest preserves without problems, and with all of us facing the same direction — yeah! .

Harper has a special knack for doing things that warm our harts. Every night he meets me at the back door, dancing and wagging his tail. Every morning he’s an alarm clock, laying his big ol’ Labrador head on the bed right next to Larry and breathing loudly – I love it! He’s great around kids and has managed to turn my dog fearing nieces and nephews into dog lovers. He’ll play catch, keep away and tug-o-war with them for hours, while being incredibly gentle with the little ones. Neighborhood kids also have great fun playing with our Harper.

Harper and neighbor Beau, caught in one of the rare instances in which they’re standing still.

Harper has made some dog friends too. He and Beau, the collie next door, wear themselves out running and chasing each other around the back yard. Harper also looks forward to playing with Wallace, another yellow lab who lives down the street.

Occasionally I take Harper to my office, where he has several FOH (Friend’s of Harper – Beth is president of the club). He helps to relieve workplace stress just by hanging out and letting people pet him.

We’re looking into getting certified as a therapy animal team and maybe spending some time with veterans at a VA facility. Larry and I were both in the Army, so the idea of sharing Harper’s special calming skills with veterans seems like a good fit. I can’t wait to find out what year two has in store for us.

Nancy Bollero On November 17, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Go Harper! So happy to see him so loved and doing great. I bet the Vets would adore him. Hugs from Hanni and me too.

Chris On November 17, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Thanks for the hugs!

Rhona On November 17, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Having Harper become a therapy dog is a great idea! I have a friend who has 2 rescue greyhounds and is a music teacher at a local high school. Her classes this semester include 2 special needs classes. She brings her one dog who is a certified therapy dog one day a week. The kids respond extremely well. One student in particular who had been non verbal actually started talking to the dog. Dogs very often succeed where traditional methods do not’

Laura On November 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm

What a great story. So glad that Harper has such a loving home and may be able to help others even more than he already has done.

Kim On November 17, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Having Harper certified as a therapy dog would be a perfect next step in his story. I work with mentally challenged adults. My students can barely contain themselves when the therapy Greyhounds are scheduled to come!

Sheila Kelly Welch On November 17, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Thanks, Beth and Chris, for this update on Harper. I met him just once, shortly before his retirement, and thought he was so loving and sweet. I knew he’d make a wonderful pet.

I can say from my own experience, having a Certified Therapy Dog is great. My mixed breed dog, Raven, and I have been visiting nursing homes, assisted living facilities, an adult day care center, and the public library (where kids read aloud to her) for nearly five years. Raven was an extremely shy dog when we adopted her at age 1.5, but she’s certainly come out of her shell. Everyone loves her. And she loves everybody.

Judy Roth On November 17, 2012 at 6:12 pm

That made me cry. What a great combination of people and dog.

Maria On November 17, 2012 at 6:57 pm

What a great guest post for Thanksgiving!!!!!! Felt great reading it! Harper would be a great therapy dog! Keep us “posted” on this one.

Chris On November 17, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Larry is a volunteer facilitator for veterans suffering from PTSD at Hines VA Hospital. He encountered the therapy dog program there and saw the positive impact that it can have. He suggested that Harper and I become involved in the certification program. We’ll keep the FOH posted on our progress.

bethfinke On November 18, 2012 at 10:31 am

I never had Harper “diagnosed,” but it sure seemed like what he had was PTSD. What a story if he ends up helping humans this way. And even if he doesn’t, he sure has helped a lot of us already — happy Thanksgiving to Larry, Chris, Harper, George (the cat) and all the dozens and dozens of FOH out there.

Bob On November 17, 2012 at 7:00 pm

I wat to join FOH. Where do I sign up?

Chris On November 17, 2012 at 8:26 pm

Hi Bob – you are offically in the club!

Carl On November 18, 2012 at 10:19 am

That’s all it takes? No monthly meetings? No dues? Sign me up, too.

Sarah On November 18, 2012 at 4:29 am

Hi Beth,
How are you? It’s been a long time since I last wrote to you.
This post has made me even more grateful for Jim. He was very much like Harper in a lot of ways. Jim had to retire in May. I was paired with a successor dog and to be honest, I have shreds of “second dog syndrome” here and there, but we are bonding nicely.
I have read about Whitney. She sounds like such a good girl. My current guide is also a golden/lab cross and she shares the letter W in her name with Whitney. Kinda neat I must say.
Hope you are well. Perhaps I can see you again soon.
– Sarah & W

bethfinke On November 18, 2012 at 10:26 am

Oh, Sarah, you leave me at the edge of my seat dying to know your new dog’s name — forgive me for falling out of contact, it’s been so long that I can’t remember if you train at the Seeing Eye or somewhere else, just wondering if Whitney and your dog might be siblings? In any case, good luck battling second dog syndrome, and keep up the good work with “W.”

Barbara Timberlake On November 18, 2012 at 9:09 am

Thanks for the update. It will be added to my list of things to be thankful for as I reflect on the blessings in my life.

bethfinke On November 18, 2012 at 10:27 am

Oh, yes, we have so much to be thankful for, Barbara. High on the list is my friendship with you.

Amy On November 18, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Yay Harper! Special thanks to Chris and Larry for taking care of this extraordinary animal.

bethfinke On November 18, 2012 at 9:44 pm

You must know Harper — he *is* extraordinary. As are Larry and Chris.

Chris On November 19, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Harper has a way of bring out the best in everyone he’s around

Lauren On November 18, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Lovely story. Mark, Tom’s ex (failed at guide dogging), also has done much better with that harness Harper is wearing–and Mark will be a certified therapy dog any day now (paperwork in the mail). He plans to work as a reading instructor, er, listener, for school kids:-)

bethfinke On November 19, 2012 at 8:44 am

Oh, I so vividly remember you writing me when I first saw signs of distress in Harper, you described Tom’s challenges with mark and they sounded so similar. Sounds like perhaps Harper and Mark will continue on similar paths now, too…

ojdohertyJenny On November 19, 2012 at 10:09 am

Sounds like Harper went to the perfect home after he had to be retired. Glad he’s doing well and enjoying his walks.

Deborah Darsie On November 21, 2012 at 1:11 am

What a wonderful update on Harper. He has an awesome new family and I am sure he will make an awesome therapy dog.

bethfinke On November 21, 2012 at 10:36 am

Jen and Deb, you are so right – an awesome family for an awesome dog. Harper is on a car ride now to visit family in NC for Thanksgiving. Last I heard they were trying to figure out how to fit a big dog and a big dog bed in with all the pies Chris made for the occasion.

Wanda On November 25, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Just read your item on Harper. Tears of joy are still flowing. I am so happy that he is with such a loving couple. His gentleness will surely be a comfort to all he meets. Bless you for finding Chris and Larry, and blessings to them for their patience and love for this beautiful dog.

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