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Austin Loves Dogs, and Hanni Loves Austin

October 19, 20074 CommentsPosted in book tour, guide dogs, Hanni, travel, Uncategorized

Hanni and I at the Convio Summit.Come on, Hanni!  I can’t be that boring!I guess it could be that boring…Hanni and I have stayed in plenty of hotels, but never before has a concierge offered us a gift bag…for the dog!
We’re at the Renaissance Austin Hotel – I gave a presentation about assistive technology at the Convio Summit yesterday, and tomorrow I’m giving a presentation about Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound in the Kids Department at BookPeople. BookPeople is the largest bookstore in Texas. We all know everything is bigger in Texas, so Yikes, Book People must be a pretty big place!
But back to Hani’s goody bag. Renaissance Austin Hotel is “small dog friendly” so it keeps a stash of goody bags on hand for canine guests. Hanni is not a small dog, of course, but her Seeing Eye status gets her in everywhere. Her goody bag was perfect for one of those toy-poodle-like dogs –a fancy paper bag, slick and shiny to the touch, tied at the top with a ribbon and everything! Inside I found a Mutt Mitt for easy “pick up” and a few treats for Hanni. The treats, I was told, were made by the restaurant’s pastry chef. But that wasn’t all – she also got a squeak toy (Hanni loves squeak toys) and a teeny-tiny rawhide bone.
Needless to say, Hanni loves this hotel.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at the goody bag. Mike, Hanni and I were lucky enough to be in Austin last June, and everywhere we went that weekend people – and businesses — were friendly and welcoming to dogs. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport even has a dog park! I
was so taken by Austin’s love of dogs after that June trip that I contacted Dog Fancy Magazine to see if they’d be interested in my writing a story about it. My article about Austin will appear in the January issue of Dog Fancy – look for it on newsstands in late November.
For now, I’ll reach in that goody bag for a Mutt Mitt — time to go out with Hanni before her goodnight snack. Hope she doesn’t get too used to these homemade dog treats – I can assure you, I won’t be making these at home!

Signing Safe & Sound in DC

October 16, 20073 CommentsPosted in book tour, travel, Uncategorized

Just me, Hanni and my book, hanging out.Easter Seals Logo          “Is your hand tired?” “You doing okay?” “Got writer’s cramp yet?”
Those are the questions I was getting last night at the Easter Seals national Convention. It wasn’t until Hanni and I got back to our hotel room that I realized why: I’d been signing books for two hours!
Here’s the deal: I work part-time for Easter Seals Headquarters in Chicago. I’m the “interactive Community Coordinator” there – a fancy-schmancey title that means I moderate the Easter Seals Autism Blog. You have Easter Seals to thank – or blame – for this blog I’ve started about my new book. It was at Easter Seals that I learned to use the blogging tools.
When Easter Seals found out Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound was coming out at the same time as their national convention this year, they arranged with my publisher to produce a special Easter Seals edition. The special edition has the same cover design as the regular book, but the inside book flap is different – it describes my connection with Easter Seals. The back of the special edition features the Easter Seals logo and explains “Vision 2010”: Easter Seals’ goal to serve 5 million people with disabilities annually by the year 2010.
I spoke at the Easter Seals President’s Council event last night — President’s Council members each give $1000 to Easter Seals annually. After my speech, each President’s Council member was given a copy of the special Easter Seals edition of “Hanni and Beth: Safe & sound” as a thank you gift. Members stood in line for me to sign and Braille my name into their books — Hanni’s paw print was rubber-stamped onto each copy, too.
It was such a happy occasion, it never occurred to me we’d been sitting there signing for two hours! Hanni noticed, though – by the end of the night her paw was in my hand, she was begging me to go home with her. Or in this case, to go back to the hotel room. And trust me, when we got there, we both slept very well. You know…safe & sound!

Be Prepared: Wisconsin Book Festival

October 14, 20073 CommentsPosted in book tour, Uncategorized

Girl scouts, girl scouts everywhere, but not a cookie to munch!Check out that crowd!That’s me at my presentation!Hanni was exhausted by the end of it!More than 30 people gathered at the Madison Children’s Museum Friday night to hear me talk about “Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound.” A lot of the kids in the audience were Girl Scouts. By attending the presentation I did with Hanni these scouts not only made progress on their “Books” badge, but they got a headstart on their “Disability Awareness” badge, too!
The audience had tons of questions during the q and a part of my session, everything from “How does it feel to be blind?” to “How do you pick up the dog’s poop?”
My sister Marilee was with me at the event — she had flown in from orlando to chauffeur Hanni and me to Madison. We had a great time, as always, and Saturday morning came too soon. We had a quick breakfast, then took off for O’Hare Airport. I kissed Marilee goodbye there — she was spending the rest of the weekend with Flo. Flo’s our mom, and when I think of it, Flo was my Girl Scout leader.
I am typing to you from seat 18D on our flight to Washington, DC. Hanni is sleeping at my feet. Well, her head is at my feet — her bottom is tucked away under the seat in front of us It’s good she’s resting up — we have a busy few days ahead of us at the Easter Seals National Convention. Stay tuned…!

Land of Lincoln, Land of Libraries

October 11, 20076 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, book tour, travel, Uncategorized

The Book CoverThe real reason I was there!  Not just to hang out with good old Abe!Me, Hanni, and the LincolnsThe Lincolns, Hanni, and IJust got back from Springfield, Illinois where Hanni and I gave a presentation at the Illinois Library Association Conference. My friend Jenny chauffeured me to Springfield and back. She works at The Book store in Glen Ellyn, IL. The Bookstore received a special advance order of “Hanni and Beth: Safe & sound” – Jenny carted a boxload along to sell after my presentation.
It was a 3+ hour drive, and we arrived in Springfield Tuesday night just in time to grab some snacks at the hotel bar. And guess what? Wine and beer is cheaper in Springfield than it is in Chicago. We had fun! Hanni enjoyed her time, too, snatching the kernels of popcorn that’d fall on the floor from time to time.
The next morning Jenny, Hanni and I visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum before heading back to the conference to give my talk. My session was called “More Than Meets the Eye: Teaching Children about Blindness” and librarians from all over the state were in the audience. I was especially happy to find out that some of the audience members were from the Library of Congress Talking Book Service.
I first found out about the National Library Service Talking Book program back in 1985, while I was in the hospital enduring surgeries the doctors hoped would save my eyesight.
A hospital social worker brought me a big plastic box one day—it was the size and weight of a Chicago phone book. Twenty years later, I still use that oversized tape recorder from the Library of Congress to listen to books.
All I have to do to get books on tape is email my Talking Book librarian to order them. The National Library Service tapes are mailed to me in special containers. When I finish listening I simply flip an address card on the container over and slip the whole thing into any normal mailbox to return it free of charge.
An essay I wrote earlier this year about the Talking Book Program won a contest in Woman’s Day magazine. The essay is featured on the American library Association’s “I Love Libraries” web site — you can check it out at www.ilovelibraries.org .
I am, and have always been, a huge fan of books and libraries, and it was a great feeling to be in Springfield surrounded by the people in Illinois who make the library system run as smoothly as it does.

Law & Order: Special Dog Unit

October 6, 20079 CommentsPosted in guide dogs, Hanni, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized

Blind JusticeLast Spring a cab driver refused to pick me up in front of the Hilton on Michigan Avenue. “I’m not taking her with that dog,” he said, then sped away.
The doorman took down the cab’s license number, then told me what it was. I got into the next cab and recorded the number onto my handheld tape recorder. Once I got to work I phoned the City of Chicago Department of Consumer Services to file a complaint.
Last Friday was our day in court.
Mike walked outside with Hanni and me Friday morning to hail a cab for us. I still can hardly believe what happened next. A cab slowed down, the driver looked past Mike and saw me standing there with Hanni. “No dog,” he said.
“It’s a Seeing Eye dog,” Mike explained. “A service dog.”
“No dog,” the driver said.
Mike was angry. “You’re going to court!” he shouted at the driver
“I don’t care,” the driver said, then sped away.
So my Seeing Eye dog and I were refused a cab ride on my way to testify against a cab driver who refused to give us a ride. Who needs fiction?
Mike took this driver’s license number down; I’ll be calling the city next week.
But for now, I needed to focus on the court case at hand. The cab driver I’d accused of refusing us at the Hilton had hired an attorney, and the attorney did everything he could to twist my story around. How far were you from the curb? How long did the cab sit there before it took off? You say the cab driver said he wouldn’t take you with the dog. Did the doorman and cab driver say anything after that? What did they say? You don’t know? How is it that you heard the cab driver say he wouldn’t take you with the dog, but then you couldn’t hear if they said anything to each other after that?
That last question was an easy one. “He was emphatic when he said he wouldn’t take me with the dog,” I said. “It was easy to hear him.”
The doorman testified by phone. I had to leave the room for that part, but I found out later that our stories didn’t jive. He told the court that it was a very busy day – I’d said the cab had time to sit there for 30 seconds before speeding away. The doorman couldn’t remember exactly what the cab driver looked like. “It was hard to see him through the partition,” he explained. That means it would have been hard for me to hear the cab driver through the partition, too – How could I have heard him say he wasn’t taking the dog.
And then it turned out this cab doesn’t have a partition at all. The cab driver’s attorney suggested the doorman got the wrong license number, it wasn’t this guy.
The only problem with that was that the cab driver had already given a statement that he didn’t see the dog when he’d refused me a ride. So he’d already admitted to not giving me a ride. But he said he’d been driving a cab since 1993, in those years he’d carried hundreds of Seeing Eye dogs and plenty of pet dogs in his cab. His ex-wife and her mother had a dog when they lived together. What kind of dog, he was asked. A German shepherd, he thought. He got along fine with that dog.
The doorman had testified that someone was standing right behind me that day with a lot of luggage. The attorney suggested the cab driver was so focused on the prospect of a big fare to the airport that he looked right past me.
In the end the judge ruled in our favor. “A hotel doorman looks at hundreds of cab drivers a day,” he said. The fact that the doorman wasn’t able to describe a cab driver who pulled up in front of the Hilton six months ago wasn’t enough to throw out the case. The judge said it was very nice to hear that the cab driver had picked up dogs before, but that didn’t really have much to do with what had happened in front of the Hilton Hotel in April.
The driver was found guilty of two charges. The first was for simply refusing to pick up a passenger of any sort. For that, he was fined $200. He was also found guilty of refusing to pick up a person with a service dog. For that he was fined $500 and had his license suspended for 29 days.
I did not do a dance of joy when this was over. Thing is, I really like cab drivers. They’re hard workers. I like chatting with them when I’m sitting in back. I tip them well. I feel a sort of bond with them – many of them are minorities, like me. Many of them are qualified for other jobs but have had to settle for something else. Like me. I know driving a cab was this guy’s livelihood. I didn’t like the idea of his license being suspended.
But I don’t like being refused a ride, either.
I don’t really want to go to court again, but I’m going to go ahead and file a complaint about the guy who didn’t pick Hanni and me up on the way to court Friday. I have a feeling cab drivers talk to each other a lot. If word gets out that drivers are getting their licenses suspended for refusing a service dog, well, maybe I won’t have to file complaints anymore.