Kids! Should my Seeing Eye dog love ’em or leave ’em?

The last couple days of training at the Seeing Eye school are devoted to “freelancing” — instructors expose us to some of the specific things they know we’ll be facing once we return home with our new guide dogs.

A lot of temptation for a pooch who likes kids (photo courtesy of The Seeing Eye).

I visit a lot of schools with my children’s book Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound, so during those last couple days of freelancing with my new dog Whitney at the Seeing Eye, Jim Kessler (one of the Senior Managers of Instruction) arranged for me to visit his daughter’s elementary school in New Jersey.

The gymnasium was empty when we arrived, and I had Whitney follow Jim to a seat. After I sat down, I commanded Whitney to do the same. “Whitney, down!” She lay down and stayed still. Until the kids marched in, that is.

That’s when she started crying.

“Great,” I thought. “She’s afraid of kids!” This did not bode well for a children’s book author who likes visiting schools. “Rest!” I told Whitney. She whined and sat up. “Whitney, sit!” She stood up and tried to wrangle out of her harness. I panicked. Jim Kessler to the rescue!

“Put your finger under her collar,” he suggested, his voice totally calm. “Lift the collar closer to her ears.” It worked. She settled in and lay down at my feet. By the time we got to the Q&A part of my presentation, Whitney was asleep.

I’d assumed Whitney was scared of all those kids crowding her space in the gymnasium, but it turns out she likes kids. The reason she cried in the gym? I wouldn’t let her play!

Back home in our Chicago neighborhood, Whitney would lose focus any time a kid walked by. When they were in strollers right at her height, she’d turn towards them and give them a lick. I learned to snap a quick “leave it!” any time I heard a kids voice anywhere near us. Whitney was a quick learner. She leaves kids alone now while we’re on the sidewalk.

It’s been a long summer, though, and it’d been months since we were in a school gymnasium to give a presentation. Our visit to the third-graders at Wilmot Elementary School in Deerfield, Illinois, last Friday for Disability Awareness Week was Whitney’s first test of the new school year, and you’ll be Happy to hear…she got an A!

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