“Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey”
By Stephen Kuusisto, c.2018, Simon & Schuster,
$25, 241 pages
That’s how Stephen Kuusisto describes what it’s like to walk with a guide dog. When using a white cane or human escort, a blind man doesn’t move nearly as fast as he could with a pup like Kuusisto’s Corky at the end of a lead.
It wasn’t always like that.
Kuusisto has been legally blind his entire life. He learned early how to navigate the world—he was able to attend college and become a professor. But none of this ever gave him total independence or the self-confidence he craved.
Part of the problem was that, as a young child, he was taught by his alcoholic mother to be ashamed of his disability. He endured restrictions on his life, until the day he accidentally stepped in front of a car and was almost killed.
“When I got home,” Kuusisto says, “I dug up a pamphlet from Guiding Eyes for the Blind… I called their number.”
A few months later, after having gone through “guide-dog school” to learn how to walk on a lead, praise his dog, keep her safe, answer questions from the curious, and trust his new partner, his “Dog Day” finally arrived. Eager to get on with what awaited him, Kuusisto was introduced to Corky.
Like most of the dogs that came from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Corky was a Labrador Retriever. Kuusisto was immediately smitten and, days later, their bond was complete.
It was further cemented when he realized that having a guide dog meant freedom to do the things he’d been told he could never do.
He also realized that life lessons can come from a teacher with four paws.
Educational, informative and very different, “Have Dog, Will Travel” is unlike almost every other dog book around these days. For several reasons, it will surprise you.
It will also take some getting used to: as the poet in the subtitle, author Stephen Kuusisto writes lyrically and with great beauty, but readers who are sticklers may be irked by repetition, reconstructed conversation, and quoted thoughts.
Still, who doesn’t love a dog book? A dog book that teaches procedures, etiquette, and laws concerning guide dogs? And one that praises unsung heroes so highly?
For dog people, “Have Dog, Will Travel” will take you in a good direction.