I was so excited to go to school on Monday. I had arranged for author Beth Finke to visit our first and second graders. Beth is the author of Hanni and Beth: Safe and Sound. It is a wonderful book told from the perspective of a seeing-eye dog, Hanni. Beth is a charismatic speaker and does a great job answering big questions from little kids. Of course, she comes with her seeing-eye dog. I don’t know who gets more excited about petting the dog, me or the students!
This was not Beth’s first visit to our school. However, it was her new seeing-eye dog, Whitney’s first visit. On all of her previous trips to my school, Beth brought Hanni, the narrator of the book. Hanni has since retired and moved away. I know what you’re thinking, but no, she really did retire and lives with a nice couple. Whitney is a two year old yellow lab and golden retriever mix. She was born at The Seeing Eye School in Morristown, NJ.
Oh, Whitney! That beautiful, happy, dog stole the show. When I first greeted Beth in the main office to escort her to the small gym, I noticed Whitney looking at me and wagging her tail. Hanni was always all business while wearing her harness. It was so hard for me not to reach down and pet Whitney, but I reminded myself that you don’t pet a service dog while he/she is working.
I guided Beth and Whitney down the hall to the small gym. Inside, the students were seated nicely awaiting Beth’s arrival. Whitney must have been distracted by all the children, because she almost led Beth into the door divider. I intervened, and just as I did, Whitney managed to lick a student’s face! Whitney is no Hanni! Beth informed me that Whitney loves children and that was one thing that would make her lose her focus. Beth did not seem concerned, apparently there is a learning curve for new seeing-eye dogs. Darn, I was ready to say, “you know if Whitney does not work out, I will take her.” Throughout the question and answer session, Whitney rolled on her back with her harness on, chewed on her leash, and was just hamming it up for the kids. Beth managed to get Whitney back on track, though I think the students preferred her goofball antics. You can click here to read Beth’s blog post about her visit. You can inquire about Beth visiting your school by clicking here! It was such a great opportunity for my students to meet a real-life author, to talk candidly with someone with a disability, and to see first hand what service dogs can do.
Before the visit, I built students’ schema by reading them a book about service dogs called Animals That Help Us: Animals Helping with Special Needs by Claire Oliver. I also read my students this great book called May I Pet Your Dog? by Stephanie Calmenson. As a dog owner, I recommend that everyone share this book with children. I cannot tell you how many times a child will come lunging at my Chihuahua without asking me if he/she can pet him. I am very lucky that my Chihuahua is not a fear biter, but many are and if he were, that child would be in for a nasty nip on the hand. This book, also told from a dog’s perspective, reviews the importance of asking “May I pet your dog?” The book even briefly touches upon not petting service dogs while they are working. After the reading, I had my students complete the writing prompt below. You can click on the picture to download the file from Google Docs.