"Have Dog, Will Travel" Book Review

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Editor's note: This review was originally posted on VisionAware peer advisor Susan Kennedy's website, Adventures in Low Vision. It contains snippets from that review and is part of the VisionAware bookshelf series.

Book Draws the Reader In Through Its Opening About Author's Guide Dog

A white guide dog in its working harness

Have Dog, Will Travel, A Poet's Journey is not the first book I encountered by Stephen Kuusisto, but it’s the first one I finished. From the opening scene, as he contemplates what it’s like to work with a guide dog, I wanted to know more. He vividly describes the flow of teamwork, the partnership of handler and guide dog. But this book isn’t just about Kuusisto’s first guide, Corky. The book is about his journey of accepting blindness, too.

Journey of Accepting Blindness

As the story unfolds, Kuusisto includes mistakes and interactions that humanize him and keep this from being one of those hero tropes. He admits his denial about blindness and showing vulnerability until age 38 when his teaching job ended. He had lived in an insular world of his construction. This didn’t make me judge him; it led me to want to know why.

Solid white cane skills of orientation are the foundation on which guide dog handling builds upon. Kuusisto must learn cane skills, or there will be no dog.

Overcoming Parental Doubts

Sharing his plans with his mother, a woman sidetracked in homemaking but more by her love affair with alcohol, the reader witnesses a missed opportunity for support. When told of the impending visit to guide dog school, his mother is not pleased: "People will know you’re on the fritz," she said.
"On the fritz? You mean like a household appliance," Kuusisto asks.
"Yes. You should never let people see you’re defective. They’ll think less of you."

It reminds me of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) tagline, "blindness isn’t what holds us back." Clearly, Kuusisto goes forward with his plans; otherwise, there would be no Corky, no book.

At the Guide Dog School

He goes on to my favorite parts of the book, the time at guide dog school. He illuminates the whole process, from the roles of loving puppy raisers to the trainers who match you by stride and pace to an available dog, to the dogs who make the cut and why. He weaves in history of guide dogs in America as well as some disability rights history. I doubt a general audience is aware of these things.

Critique

Now, this brings me to a criticism. Kuusisto indulges other tangents throughout the narrative by referencing characters in mythology and whatnot. His poet mind must be full of these kinds of things, but after a few mentions, I was over it. Yes, you’re professorial; you don’t have to keep proving it. Furthermore, the meaningful parts of the story are strong enough without the literary flourishes.

Book Educates and Fills a Void of Knowledge

Overall, Kuusisto’s experiences, both at school as well as his wide travels later, do much to educate in an entertaining way. As I finished the book, I realized it filled a void. Years ago, I read another book by a man who used a guide dog and lived through the evacuation of one of the twin towers on 9/11. His book ended up being more of a memoir of the man rather than a trip into guide dog handling, which is fine, but it was not what I expected. Kuusisto’s book answered those leftover questions and left me with a greater respect for all of the work involved with service animals.

Corky and Kuusisto hit their stride and so did Have Dog, Will Travel. A man embraces his blindness and the fascinating work with his guide dog that follows is well worth reading.

Have Dog, Will Travel is available through Amazon as an audible book and is narrated by Fred Sanders.

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Read more reviews on the VisionAware Bookshelf series


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