A Tribute to a Seeing Eye Dog

Last week was an emotional one for me. My new book Writing Out Loud was released on Tuesday, and my loveable retired Seeing Eye dog Hanni died the next day.

Beth Finke and Seeing Eye dog Hanni

Photo of Hanni and me from back cover of Writing Out Loud. Photo courtesy Kaitlin McCall

Hanni lived an amazing 17 years, guiding me and keeping me safe until she was ten, then bringing joy to our friends Steven and Nancy (they adopted her after she retired from guide work) for seven more years after that. Hanni played a major role in my life, and she plays a major role in my new book, too. It’s been a while since I wrote and revised some of the stories I’d written about her for Writing Out Loud, and rereading them this past week has helped me think about her and smile.

So how about we honor the memory of my brave, funny, smart, cute, fluffy, heroic, tail-wagging Seeing Eye dog by publishing chapter 24 from my new book here? That chapter is called Easterseals and the episode it describes dates back to 2005, when I was an intern here:

“Hello, Beth Finke?”

It’s a woman named Shirley. She works for a national non-profit called Easterseals that helps people with disabilities. “I heard one of your essays on the radio,” she says. “Would you be interested in an internship?”

I thought internships were for college kids. I am in my 40s. I don’t tell Shirley that, though. I just let her go on.

Easterseals is headquartered in Chicago, and they’ve just received a Technology Opportunities Project grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce. “We’re working with a software developer to find out if blind people can create and manage web content,” she says.

I have no idea what web content management is. I don’t tell her that either. I tell her I’ll come in for an interview.

No one at the interview seems surprised or bothered by my age and inexperience. Or if they are, they don’t mention it. We like each other and I accept their offer. The paid part-time internship will end by the time Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound is in bookstores, leaving me time to promote the new book.

Easterseals supplies me with a talking computer and gives me classes to learn how to use assistive technology with online calendars and office software. There’s a permanent spot for Hanni’s bowl under the sink in the women’s bathroom. I have my own cubicle and learn the joys of conference calls and business meetings.

On Friday afternoons Shirley and I meet for a “weekly download” to go over my progress.

One Friday, we find out the office will close early, so we decide to do something special. We’ll have our meeting at Jake’s Pub, Shirley’s favorite bar in Chicago.

Before I leave the office, I search for Hanni’s bowl. It’s gone. Cleaning staff take it by mistake? Oh, well. Its 3 o’clock, and Hanni has to eat. So I spill her Ziploc bag of dog food right onto the floor in the bathroom stall. “C’mon, Hanni! C’mon, hurry up!” I want her to finish before someone comes in and catches her licking the bathroom floor. “Hurry up, Hanni!”

After finally, finally finishing her food, Hanni leads me downstairs where we pile into a cab with Shirley and head to Jake’s. What a thoroughly modern working woman I am, joining my boss for cocktails at happy hour!

One drink leads to another. I start getting hungry. Jake’s doesn’t sell food – not even beer nuts. But I’m prepared. I reach down into my bag, feel for my pouch of almonds, set them on the bar and start to munch.

Ugh! Yuck! I fumble frantically on the bar for a napkin and spit. Dog food! No wonder it had taken Hanni so long to eat her dinner in the bathroom stall – I’d given her my almonds!

I should be horrified, but I have to laugh. My boss laughs, too. She’s seen a lot at Jake’s, she says, but until now she’s never seen anyone belly up to the bar for dog food.


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