Whitney weathers the storm

January 13, 2014 • Posted in Blogroll, careers/jobs for people who are blind, guide dogs, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized, Whitney by

I have a part-time job moderating the Easter Seals blog, and today we published a post there that I wrote about guide dogs and winter weather. I thought you Safe & Sound blog readers might find it interesting, too, so here it is.

Photo of Beth and her previous seeing eye dog Harper making their way through a shoveled, tunnel-like path.

The cold and snowy weather last week had a lot of people asking me if my Seeing Eye dog Whitney likes being out in winter weather. Truth is, she doesn’t have much choice. Poor guide dogs, they never get a day off work!

The snow started falling in Chicago last week, and it was still coming down days later. The American Federation of the Blind devotes a section on its web site to traveling in winter weather:

Winter weather is often more time consuming, more physically and mentally tiring, and possibly more fraught with danger than traveling in good weather. The cold often brings personal discomfort, making it difficult to concentrate and learn during travel or mobility lessons. Your toes, fingers and ears are particularly at risk. To protect your extremities, it is necessary to plan one’s clothing and equipment well beforehand.

When I was a kid, I thought it was magical the way snowfall muffled the sound around you. I still do. But on my walks with Whitney the past week, it just wasn’t the magic I was looking for.

Enough snow fell to mask the audible cues I use to navigate the city. Commuters who could see trudged through the Loop (downtown Chicago’s business district) with their heads down to avoid the snow pelting their faces. This would have been fine if they all had dogs like mine to guide them, but they didn’t. Whitney was on her own, weaving me around the blinded commuters in our path.

And that wasn’t all: snow accumulated between the raised, circular bumps I’ve come to rely on to tell me we’re at the edge of a curb ramp, so I wasn’t always exactly sure where we were. The further we got away from the Loop, the fewer pedestrians crossed our path. I’d stop. Listen. No footsteps in the snow, no sounds of shovels, nobody there. Panic. Where were we?

All I can do when this happens is take a deep breath and remember what trainers drummed into our heads when my blind peers and I were first learning to work with our guides: trust your dog. “Whitney, forward!” I hold on tight to her harness, follow her lead, and before long we’re at our destination, safe and sound.

As the snow begins to melt now, salt on the streets is the problem—it gets into Whitney’s paws, and stings. Thank goodness for booties. Whitney’s gotten used to wearing them now, and I’m getting used to compliments, too. Strangers on city streets gush when we pass by. “Awww! Look!” they exclaim. “That dog has shoes!” It makes me smile, and I picture those strangers smiling in the snow too. My dog is more than a guide, she’s a therapy dog, too. “Good dog, Whitney!”

Susan Nelson On January 13, 2014 at 10:05 pm

What a brave Whitney … and brave Beth, too!
Let’s hope for no more of these Arctic blasts that set everyone back a few steps. But more distractions like Whitney’s boots to take off the sting.
Thanks for writing so perceptively about this, Beth.
Your blog is always a pleasure.

bethfinke On January 14, 2014 at 7:59 am

Aw, thanks, Susan. High praise coming from a fine writer like you.

jcorbettosf On January 13, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Dear Beth and Mike–I loved this story-and I love the pictures you send–it helps me remember Chicago.  I did not notice boots on Whitney in your picture, but I like the shoes you were wearing–what kind are they?  We are expecting 1-3 inches here tonight and tomorrow.  I hope you are both well. You have lived through quite a 2013.  Do you still hope to publish a book, Beth?  from your time in Vermont?  Clearly you don’t need to leave the state to have adventure to write about though.  Jennifer


bethfinke On January 14, 2014 at 8:02 am

Do you mean the photo published with this blog? If so, it’s Harper, not Whitney. I’ll have to ask Mike which shoes I’m wearing — can’t remember that far back! And yes, I am indeed working on a book — about the memoir-writing classes I lead and what I’m learning from the people in the classes. My goal for 2014 is to get enough of it written to be able to send it out to agents and publishers. Wish me luck!

Mary Rayis On January 13, 2014 at 11:07 pm

Good for Whitney! And good for you, going out in such treacherous weather. You are braver than many people with sight.

bethfinke On January 14, 2014 at 8:03 am

That, or crazier!

Bobbie (Rowan) Hopper On January 13, 2014 at 11:10 pm

Hi Beth,

Thanks for this topic. Have you found one type of dog boots that were tolerated best by your dogs? My son’s dog seems to have sensitive paws, but he really dislikes the boots they bought.

Thanks and belated Merry Christmas to the Finke clan from the Rowan clan. Bobbie

bethfinke On January 14, 2014 at 8:04 am

Not sure, but I think the type the Seeing Eye gave us (all grads go home with a set of four for our dogs) are “Ruff Wear.”

bethfinke On January 14, 2014 at 8:08 am

Yes, just checked the Seeing Eye web site: “Did you know that every Seeing EyeR dog leaves The Seeing Eye with a set of Ruffwear Bark’n BootsT? Ruffwear makes a wide variety of quality gear for dogs.”

More details here: http://www.ruffwear.com/Products?avad=50343_b5ccc21f

Bobbie (Rowan) Hopper On January 14, 2014 at 8:58 am

Thanks, Beth! I’ll pass the info on to Mitch and Laura.

Lauren On January 14, 2014 at 8:47 am

Loved this! Tom once defined faith for a group of young Sunday School students by blindfolding them and letting them hold his hand on the harness as the dog guided them around the room.

bethfinke On January 22, 2014 at 10:58 am

Far better than looking it up in a dictionary, I’d say!

Veronica Dougherty On January 14, 2014 at 11:38 am

I had to smile at your reference to the guide dogs also having a therapeutic role. As a puppy raiser I know how delighted my coworkers are when I can bring a new puppy to work. We even bring them in for stress relief during final exam days. Yes, from the very beginnning of their existence they are therapy dogs.

bethfinke On January 22, 2014 at 10:59 am

Stress relief during final exams. What a brilliant idea!

Deborah Darsie On February 2, 2014 at 9:44 pm

The group I puppy raise for recently started the therapeutic visits during exam week. It has been a hit for those who have a pup and the free time.

I also agree that the new pup in training moments are pretty awesome. It can be a challenge to find the balance of attention and training to set the tone for the young pup and your colleagues at the same time.

Sigh…I have been puppy-less for nearly a year.

bethfinke On February 3, 2014 at 7:15 am

DD, a couple in our 21-story apartment building here in Chicago is raising a puppy for Leader Dogs right now –it’s their first time volunteering to do this, and Mary, the woman of said couple, has promised to write a guest post about their experiences for me to publish here. If she canfind the time, that is! Taking the pup down the elevator and into the sub-zero snowy weather and everything else that comes with raising a pup is keeping them quite busy…! stay tuned

Carli On January 14, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Beth, I thought of you and Whit today on my walk to the train… lots of sliding steps and “whoooooaah!-ing” on the way. Stay safe out there! I’m so glad Whitney has her attention-getting boots to protect her important paws!

bethfinke On January 14, 2014 at 9:59 pm

Yeah, it was almost worse today (as far as sliding goes) than it was during last week’s Polar Vortex thingee. Thanks for the good wishes, Carli —

Judy Spock On January 17, 2014 at 7:55 am

I like a shod dogŠwherever he goes!! Soon, xojudyspock

From: Safe & Sound blog Reply-To: Safe & Sound blog Date: Tue, 14 Jan 2014 02:57:09 +0000 To: Judith Spock Subject: [New post] Whitney weathers the storm

WordPress.com bethfinke posted: “I have a part-time job moderating the Easter Seals blog, and today we published a post there that I wrote about guide dogs and winter weather. I thought you Safe & Sound blog readers might find it interesting, too, so here it is. The cold and s”

bethfinke On January 18, 2014 at 11:36 am

Could be a new nickname for her: Shoddog!

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