Mondays with Mike: My partner's partners

February 9, 2015 • Posted in blindness, Dora, guest blog, guide dogs, Hanni, Harper, Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized, Whitney by

Beth here. We debuted our “Mondays with Mike” feature just about a year ago, and since then many of you blog readers have told us how much you enjoy starting your week reading my husband Mike Knezovich’s posts. Some of you newcomers might not know that Mike had been weighing in occasionally with guest posts long before we started his regular Monday installment, and since the poor guy is down with the flu today, we’re reblogging a guest post he wrote in 2013, before “Mondays with Mike” was born. Please accept my apologies if the photos are out of whack –Mike usually handles the graphics on our blog posts!

They ain’t robots, they’re better

by Mike Knezovich

Beth’s on her fourth Seeing Eye dog—and, in a very real way, so am I. Everyone easily grasps the difference a guide dog can make in its partner’s life. What they might not consider though, is the huge difference a guide dog can make to their partner’s partner’s life, too.

After Beth lost her sight, life was a slog for both of us. She had to learn a lot of things, and many of them were only learnable the hard way. And I had to watch. It pushed me into something of a parental role—how much to protect? How much to let her (literally) take her hard knocks? Beth went to school to get orientation and mobility training—which taught her how to navigate with a cane. The instructors were great, the techniques are ingenious. But it’s hard as hell to learn. Like Braille.

And, as Beth will attest, she kinda’ sucked at the white-cane-mobility thing. So when she left to say, go to the mailbox, it was utter hell for me not to spring to my feet and say “I’ll go with you.” So, at first, I did spring to my feet. Or offer to drive her to wherever. Because the thought of her out there by herself with that cane just about killed me. But my being there with her all the time was not sustainable, from either of our points of view.

That's Dora.

That’s Dora.

Enter Dora. She was easily the most classically beautiful of all Beth’s dogs. A sleek, athletic, jet-black Labrador, Dora could jump and reach toys I held wayyyy over my head. She could swim in heavy ocean surf. She lived until she was 17. But she didn’t much love her job. She led Beth around and kept them safe —but she was stubborn and balky at times. Beth and I have often wondered if it had to do with us as much as Dora. And some of it surely did.

The Seeing Eye trains the people every bit as much as they train the dogs—and dreary consistency is vital. Beth and I were probably taken a bit by the novelty of a new member of our family, and we surely weren’t as consistent with our dog-training habits as we are now. Still, Dora had a defiant streak that I think would have, well, defied us, whatever our behavior.

The one. The only. Hanni. (Applies to Beth, too.)

Then came Hanni of course, and I probably don’t need to say much about that, given that she has her own book. Except, as much as I still love her, even Hanni wasn’t perfect. (Pretty close, though!) Her most annoying trait: She hated rain. A freaking Lab-Golden mix behaved as if rain drops were hot, burning acid. She’d walk slowly, and edge too close to buildings to try to get cover, walking Beth into things in the process. She also didn’t much care for swimming. Who can figure?

Harper came next, and from the start, he seemed somewhat ill at ease. He had an incredibly fast gait, but we realized in retrospect that he’d been treating walks as something to get over with as quickly as possible. He was stressed by his enormous responsibility, and why not? Still, stressed and all, he did his job heroically and saved Beth from a catastrophic accident. His ensuing canine PTSD could have been heartbreaking—except that it landed him with two fantastic people and he lives a helluva good life now.

Harper living the good life in retirement, with his best buddy Beau.

Harper living the good life in retirement, with his best buddy Beau.

Which brings us to my new favorite, Whitney. Whit came home with every annoying dog behavior Beth’s previous mates didn’t have. When she’s off harness she licks. She sniffs too much. She always wants to play. And she never gets enough attention. God I love her.

On harness, especially during bustling weekdays downtown, Whitney’s head is on a swivel, constantly looking out for her and Beth. She walks at a great pace but slows when she should—threading Beth around construction zones, slowing down for ice, creeping gently around WPs (wobbly people). Walking right up to the curb at each crossing and waiting for Beth to command straight, left or right. God I love her.

People sometimes tell us that they saw Whitney—or Beth’s other dogs—screwing up. In some cases, the people actually have it wrong. For example, they simply don’t know that the dog is supposed to go straight all the way until they get to the curb—and wait for Beth’s command to go left or right. This looks wrong, because it means overshooting the point where a sighted person would make a right or left. But it’s absolutely necessary. The person has to be the navigator, and the dog can’t take shortcuts.WhitneyPortraitIn other cases, the dog really is screwing up—weaving to sniff another dog (and our neighborhood is full of them). Responding to the whistle or petting of well-meaning but clueless passersby. Bumping into pedestrians who are texting. Beth is forced to correct her partner in those cases, which is no fun but absolutely necessary.

Without question, the dogs have flaws. All of them. But as the old adage goes, “If you come across a talking horse, you don’t complain about its grammar.” Beth’s dogs have probably added years to my life by relieving me of worry. So if they sniff or veer or bark occasionally, I’m OK with it. And I’ve loved them all.

regan1000 On February 9, 2015 at 11:34 am

I love this so much. I have a Scottish Terrier and as a breed they are without a doubt the most stubborn and untrainable dogs in the kingdom. But I’m on my 3rd Scottie because i love the character, the constant alpha in them. The announcer at the Westminster Dog Show once said, “Most dogs are happy to know they are a part of your family. Scotties continually remind you that you are a part of THEIR family. They could care less about pleasing you, just like my people family!

bethfinke On February 9, 2015 at 11:55 am

Oh, Regan, you make me laugh. Any chance you find your dog family easier to deal with than your human family?!

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Lois Baron On February 9, 2015 at 11:44 am

The big problem with Whitney is that she is so adorable it is really hard not to pet her. Just looking at her face is enough to inspire a hugging impulse. Very hard to let her do her job.
Lois Baron

bethfinke On February 9, 2015 at 11:58 am

You know, I can’t see her face, but I am extremely confident Whitney is as beautiful as you say. You are not the only human that finds her irresistible, but you are among the extremely special humans who restrains herself from doing anything to distract her. THANK you, Lois. . !

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Monna Ray On February 9, 2015 at 11:50 am

We love them too. Especially Whitney. Monna

Mike On February 10, 2015 at 10:07 am

Thanks Monna, I’m feeling like a cogent human being this morning, cogent enough to write this. Then back to bed. Haven’t had the flu in years, it’s wicked.

Monna Ray On February 9, 2015 at 12:04 pm

Mike,

I forgot my wish that you recover soon. This flu seems to be quite tenacious. Monna

bethfinke On February 9, 2015 at 7:11 pm

I’ll pass along your good wishes. He sleeps most of the day….

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bigdebby On February 9, 2015 at 12:44 pm

We know exactly of what you speak. Curious if you have addressed being blind AND diabetic? As I mentioned once before, it is, as you well know, being ” blind times ten.” Or…. ” diabetic times ten!” Are many dogs being trained to sense low blood sugar? We have read about this as a possibility. How cool would it be to have a dog who could do both. Wishful thinking. We only had one Seeing Eye Dog as we realized since my husband had staff members and family members available most of the time, and he was and is, quite facile with his cane, that a dog was not needed. We sure did love that yellow lab…Vim; aka,Vimmy!

bethfinke On February 9, 2015 at 7:08 pm

I talked about what it’s like to have Type 1 diabetes in my memoir, Long Time, No See, and of course I talked about blindness in that book , too. Didn’t do much to discuss the two of them together, I’ll leave that to you, Deb –you should start a blog. I’m serious!.

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Judy Jurgenson On February 9, 2015 at 1:30 pm

Have you written about Daniel Kish and echolocation? I would be curious to hear insider views on these ideas that are making news. Thanks for the blog. It is interesting, enlightening.

bethfinke On February 9, 2015 at 7:12 pm

I think Mike mentioned it in a “roundup” post of his. Let me chek.

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readingwithrhythm On February 9, 2015 at 4:53 pm

Well, this made my day!! You know, my family raises guide dog pups and people always ask how they can do that?! Give them up?!!!! Well, this is why they do it!!! Thank you Mr Mike!!! 😛

readingwithrhythm On February 9, 2015 at 4:54 pm

Reblogged this on Growing Up Guide Dog and commented:
This is why we take in these pups to raise up and train and love, love, love!!! And why we can give them up.

Jean On February 9, 2015 at 6:19 pm

Our family has been raising puppies for The Seeing Eye for 20 years. Right now I am sitting here crying. Thank you, Mike.

Mike On February 10, 2015 at 10:10 am

The puppy raisers, the schools and of course the dogs, we can’t thank you enough.

reneputz On February 9, 2015 at 6:25 pm

Feel better, Mike!

bethfinke On February 9, 2015 at 7:23 pm

Thanks, Reneputz –I’ll send your good wishes along.

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Pam Berman On February 10, 2015 at 5:41 am

Oh my! I loved this post. I must have missed it originally, so I’™m so glad it rated a reposting; though I sure hope Mike is on the mend and feeling much better by now. This post is awesome! I love hearing your partner’s perception on living with your partners. Mike has such a big heart & it comes through loud and clear. I especially love the comparison between our exceptional dog guides & a talking horse lol

bethfinke On February 10, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Agree with you on all counts, Pam Mike *does* have a big heart, and he is very clever as well. Who else would have come up with the idea to compare a guide dog to a talking horse? I’ll pass on your good wishes for his recovery as soon as he wakes up –he’s spending a lot of time sleeping these days, which is exactly what he needs. Hope everybody at your place stays healthy, and thanks for the comment to our blog.

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Loreli On February 16, 2015 at 8:30 am

What a great post. I loved reading about the other side of life with a Seeing Eye dog. Thanks.

bethfinke On February 16, 2015 at 9:17 am

Glad you liked it –Mike’s a great writer, and I think it’s always good to look at, ahem, things from another point of view.

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bigdebby On February 16, 2015 at 9:54 pm

Now I know how exceptional my husband is…. He just went on. Very little fuss. He actually went totally blind and went to work a few days later. He and I cobbled together a plan after picking up a white cane. Love your posts. After 35 years of total blindness, no light perception, we are actually in touch with a Type 1 Diabetic who is blind,….Beth! . … Yet everyone looks at my husband as a blind man, with no understanding of the demands that the disease that caused his blindness puts on him. I am new to your wonderful posts,but do your readers understand that you are blind times ten?

bethfinke On February 16, 2015 at 10:21 pm

Your husband *is* exceptional, Debbie. And so are you.

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