Hanni at 14

February 8, 2014 • Posted in blindness, guide dogs, Hanni, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized by

Hanni’s enjoying her retirement.

My retired Seeing Eye dog Hanni turns 14 years old today. Loyal dog followers know that after Hanni retired from guide work, she went to live with our dear friends Nancy and Steven. To celebrate the big day, they’re heading out for a run in the snow at Homer Lake, a nearby forest preserve.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a 14-year-old Labrador and Golden Retriever Cross is going for a run today – my first Seeing Eye dog Dora retired at 12 and lived to be 17 years old. The excellent health of these mature dogs has everything to do with the wonderful friends who adopted my retired dogs, but the care and research the Seeing Eye and other guide dog schools put into their breeding programs deserves a lot of credit, too.

Some schools still train service dogs who’ve been donated from individuals or from animal shelters, but the more established guide dog schools know they have to breed their own dogs in order to end up with the unique traits so important to guide work:

  • excellent health
  • intelligence
  • temperament
  • willingness to work
  • ability to thrive on praise

The Seeing Eye breeds Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Lab/golden crosses and German Shepherds — when I was training with Whitney, I was told the Seeing Eye is the only guide dog school in America still breeding German Shepherds to become guides.
Updated on 02/09/14: I met a young woman named Erin on a trip to Denver a few years ago, she’s a volunteer puppy-raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind and explained in a comment below that, “Guide Dogs for the Blind decided not to use shepherds because of the very low success rate.” She said only one or two out of eleven German Shepherd puppies made it as guides. She also pointed out Guiding Eyes in New York still breeds and trains shepherds and the only breed they use at fidelco is German Shepherds. Another update on 02/12/14 from a comment Cindy left below, she and her family raise puppies for Leader Dogs and says they still breed and train German Shepherds, too.
Decades of research has gone into the Seeing Eye’s breeding program, much of it driven by the fact there is no “perfect Seeing Eye dog.” Dogs of all sorts of temperament, size, strength, speed and energy are necessary to match with blind people who come to the Seeing Eye school with, guess what, all sorts of temperament, size, strength, speed and energy levels. The Seeing Eye web site says their breeding station has “interconnected geometric pavilions, designed so that dogs can see each other and see people enter the kennel, so barking –not to mention stress – are greatly reduced.” Their goal? “To provide a facility most conducive to a positive early childhood experience for the puppies.” I just love that.

And I just love Hanni, too. I’m so grateful the Seeing Eye bred her for me, and so happy to think of her with Nancy and Steven today, running joyfully through the snow to celebrate her 14th birthday . Happy birthday, dear Hanni. Happy birthday to you.

Kirk Pickerel On February 8, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Hannibal looks great. I’m glad that she is having such a wonderful time in her “golden” years!

Kirk Pickerel On February 8, 2014 at 1:24 pm

“Hannibal”?!? Darn that spellcheck feature! I meant Hanni, of course!!

bethfinke On February 8, 2014 at 8:56 pm

I knew what you meant, Kirk. And listening to your comment, I heard it as “Hanni Belle” –not a bad nickname!


Keith Rost On February 8, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Happy 14th Birthday Hannah!…from Emma, the holy terror golden/collie that runs my household down in Marco Island… 😉

bethfinke On February 8, 2014 at 8:57 pm

So you don’t think a Golden/Collie cross could be a Seeing Eye dog..?!


Bev On February 8, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Happy Birthday, Hanni!

Bonita Mall On February 8, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Dear Hanni,

Happy Birthday – you are still gorgeous. I expect you will have many happy and healthy years to come. You are the sweetest love. Enjoy everything today!
Bonita M.

bethfinke On February 8, 2014 at 9:05 pm

Thanks, Bonita — you knew her well when she was adjusting to Chicago life, and you have always been her champion.


ojdohertyJenny On February 8, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Happy birthday Hanni. I’m sure you enjoyed your run in the snow.
Amazing that your dogs live for so long. I hope OJ does too.

bethfinke On February 8, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Thanks, Jen. You know, it really *is* amazing that my retired dogs live so long — lots to be said for the genetic research the Seeing Eye does, the care they give the dogs as puppies, the way the trainers teach us to take care of our dogs, and then the fantastic job my friends do when they adopt these mature dogs. I have a strong feeling OJ will continue his happy healthy life into his late teens too…


Marsha On February 8, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Go, Hanni, go! Have a very happy birthday!

ccassello On February 8, 2014 at 2:56 pm

It must be hard to have give up a dog who you have been so close too, but you do know who has her and that she has a good home. How long was she with you? How old are guide dogs when they are available for service?

bethfinke On February 8, 2014 at 9:02 pm

Oh, yes. It is very difficult to retire a working guide dog. Reassuring to know they are in good hands though. Hanni was a year-and-a-half when I was matched with her, and close to her 11th birthday when she retired.


Chris, Larry & Harper On February 8, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Happy Birthday to Hanni!!

bethfinke On February 8, 2014 at 9:04 pm

Thanks you guys. And no question: Harper will live to be 100…!


Maria On February 8, 2014 at 7:37 pm

Happy 14th Birthday to dear Hanni!!!

Marilee On February 8, 2014 at 9:46 pm

What a special girl! Happy birthday Hanni!

The Empty Pen On February 9, 2014 at 1:23 am

Happy birthday, Hanni!

Erin On February 9, 2014 at 10:09 am

Happy Birthday Hannibal!
As for shepherds, I know Guiding Eyes in New York still breeds and trains shepherds and fidelco only does shepherds. I am sure there are a few other schools too. Guide Dogs for the Blind decided not to use shepherds because of the very low success rate. Only one or two out of eleven made it as guides.

bethfinke On February 9, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Thanks for this information about German Shepherds , Erin. I *knew* something about what I’d heard while training with Whit didn’t sound right.


Lois Baron On February 9, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Lovely to hear and think about. Lois

Doug Finke On February 10, 2014 at 9:21 am

Well said

Judy MacLeod On February 11, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Hi Beth – I just read this post. What a great organization. Have you been able to enjoy the Rivet piece? I hope so! – Judy

bethfinke On February 15, 2014 at 7:27 am

Still having trouble accessing that Rivet piece, unfortunately. I’lll email or give you a call for help soon….


Cindy Hesselbein On February 11, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Hani sure does look great!! Just an FYI Beth. Leader Dogs for the Blind in Michigan still has German Shephards, we raised Fritz last year.
This year we have another Golden Sophie, she is #4 for us.
Cindy from North Barrington School

bethfinke On February 13, 2014 at 6:52 pm

Great to hear from you, Cindy, and I know you guys must be loving Sophie. Thanks for the info about Leader Dogs, I just updated the post to reflect that. Oh, I’ll be at ELA Library in Lake Zurich on Sunday, March 2 if you want to come….I know the folks there would love to meet Sophie. As would I!


Teaching children about blindness | Safe & Sound blog On October 22, 2014 at 5:57 am

[…] or librarians are thinking ahead about special events for the next school year, please know: Hanni has retired, but my current Seeing Eye dog Whitney and I would love to […]

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