Sunday, March 18, 2018

Book Review: Have Dog, Will Travel (guide dogs, history, training, life-changing, the ADA, discrimination, poetry)

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey, by Stephen Kuusisto (Simon & Schuster, 2017, 237 pages, $25)

Acceptance, or . . . ?

Stephen Kuusisto is a college English teacher, son of a college president and an alcoholic mother, brother to a physician, who was brought up to hide* his near-blindness, to pretend to see, to mask his imperfection, his disability** (hard to believe in this day and age).

“I learned . . . to walk mnemonically. It was eight steps down from the English Department to the sidewalk; seventeen steps to a funny break in that same sidewalk which somehow never got repaired. . . . “ (p. 13)

Definitely a Poet!

An adjunct professor and Fulbright Scholar, he is laid off from his position and wanders – to eventually apply for a guide dog*** from Guiding Eyes for the Blind (GEB), an experience that literally saves him and changes his life for the better, forever (even so, a guide dog is a huge responsibility). He navigates and loves New York City and even gets married!

And all through Have Dog, Will Travel, the author weaves in quotes from the great writers, from Confucius to Plato and Aristotle, Walt Whitman and Jean Paul Sartre, and beyond.

From a Deny-er to an Ambassador for the Blind

Kuusisto and his guide dog, Corky, meet Rudy Giuliani quite by accident when the mayor comes to the GEB campus to pick up a “re-careered” release dog.

Later, the author works for GEB for five years in the capacity of graduate support coordinator, traveling the country and speaking for guide dogs before returning to college English teaching.

“Arranged Marriage”

Assistance dogs are either owner-trained (usually with a professional service dog trainer) or obtained from an organization like GEB - raised by volunteer puppy raisers for a year, then attending school for advanced training for up to a year.

Finally, the dog is matched (both gait and temperament) with his person – an “arranged marriage” that will last throughout the dog’s life. It’s as if the dog knows his purpose is to help one person and he loves having a job and the thanks that comes along with it. The person’s job is harder – learning to trust his dog.

Dog College

The first lesson at the three-week “Dog U” is on praise, a necessary constant to give one’s guide dog. The dogs have been trained: now it is time for the handlers to learn while during this time, both handler and dog become a team, learning together.

Long- and Short-Term Histories

Through it all, the reader comes away with the history**** of assistance dogs and what a dog can do for someone – get him there faster – if the person learns to trust. Before-dog, the blind person is usually ignored: after-dog, both are included in conversation, and many people go out of their way to do so. However, there are still people and businesses that are not aware that service dogs have access rights when with their person.

Updating. . . .

Dog trainers will cringe at the leash corrections in the book, but it must be remembered that this is the story of Corky, the author’s first of five guide dogs: hopefully, nowadays, most are being trained with positive reinforcement instead of punishment-based methods and training collars.

And now, . . . .

Want to become a service dog trainer? Be prepared to apprentice for at least 2-3 years*****. On the other hand, there is a constant need for puppy raisers******: Have Dog, Will Travel may just convince you and your family to become a puppy raiser, too!

*”. . . in a world where normalcy is a prerequisite to acceptance, nothing is worse than presenting an overt defect.” (p. 12)
**a detailed ADA definition of disability appears on page 200.
***characteristics of a good guide-dog include  empathy, communication, cunning, memory and reasoning.
****first used to assist wounded war veterans. Sergeant Stubby of WWI fame, actually became a service dog after the war when his person went to Georgetown University (and also became the Hoya’s mascot)

*****the US has about a dozen guide-dog schools, all nonprofit organizations
******(p. 223) “You give everything to raising a guide-dog puppy. . . your happiness, your wakefulness, your love of life itself. Puppies take this into their hearts like vitamins.”

Friday, March 16, 2018

Book Review: Maxi 's Secrets (deaf puppy, middle school, boy, blind friend, bullying)

Maxi’s Secrets (Or, What You Can Learn From a Dog), by Lynn Plourde (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016, 263 pages, $18.99, grades 4-6)

A Sleeper that Just Woke up!

Published way back in 2016, Maxi’s Secret is currently a huge hit at our local book superstore and in so much demand that our county library has a long waiting list – all of the 15 copies are checked out with 15 kids ‘waiting in line’!

The Cover Hooked Us Here at DogEvals

They say you can’t tell a book by its cover – but you actually can – sometimes, and this is one of those ‘sometimes.’

Inside the front cover are two pages of paw prints while inside the back cover are two pages of kid footprints, probably belonging to a boy. Maybe Timiny. Yes, Timiny or, as some kids call him, Minny.

Maxi’s face graces the cover of Maxi’s Secrets so the reader knows this book is about a dog, a white dog. But what are Maxi’s secrets?

The Plot – Typically Boy, with Girls, Too.

First of all, Lynn Plourdes has written a book about middle school. Remember middle school and how hard it was with all those new kids? And if you are a kid, you may be dreading middle school. And what if you are a short kid and what if you are bullied? How will you ever get through middle school in one piece?

Maxi’s Secrets is written from the viewpoint of a new kid in 5th grade (complete with farts). The family has just moved to a small town from Portland (and, of course, this reviewer thought Oregon at first, not Maine), his father is the assistant principal of his school, and our little ‘author’ is promised a dog to help the transition.

Maxi is about bullying (and pushing a kid into his locker and locking it from the outside and walking away – several times) and how it can stop (but it seems to go on forever), about a dog being a boy’s best friend and a boy being a dog’s best friend, about a deaf puppy and a blind girl, about how non-friends can turn around and become friends, about bigger kids, about death and cancer and getting lost in the woods, about kids becoming wiser than adults, and about a dog being a hero in more ways than one. Some situations are guessable while others remain a surprise even to adult readers.

Maxi, the Puppy

Maxi turns out to be a deaf Great Pyrenees, a great big white dog, but she never realizes she is deaf and by the time the family finds out, they are in love with her – so much that they take her to training classes where she excels. “. . . just because Maxi was deaf , it didn’t mean she couldn’t learn to follow directions.” (p.58)

Maxi is even fitted with a ‘pager collar’ so she will feel a vibration when someone is calling her name. What a great idea!

Not Really a Spoiler

Plourde begins her book with:

“Let’s get this part over with – it’s no secret.
My dog, Maxi, dies.”

Just like Marley and Sounder and Old Yeller, the puppy dies in the end but Maxi is a book that is so worth reading that you will recover from this news and just remember the hero actions and the anti-bullying solution. There is so much in this book to talk about and learn from. And it’s even fun to boot!


Dear Dog Book Author

As a dog trainer, I encourage the entire family to attend training classes (not just one person, as you permit in your book) and it would have been great to include some information on the service dog organization (Mira) that plays such a big part in Maxi  like you include about the website, Deaf Dogs Rock. Ms Plourdes did a good job of depicting blind kids and, overall, of middle school.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Book Review: Rain Reign (girl, autism, dog, rain)

Rain Reign, by Ann Martin (Feiwel and Friends, 2014, 226 pp, $16.99, grades 4-6).
The Characters

Here at DogEvals we love dog books - even, or especially, dog books ‘written’ by dogs. So, after loving A Dog’s Life: The Autobiography of a Stray by Ann Martin, we thought we would love Rain Reign. We almost did and you may, too.
Rain does have a (minor) dog character, Rain, but our protagonist is a motherless girl named Rose who lives with a father who tries, off and on, to understand his daughter’s high functioning autism. He has difficulty accepting her outbursts and obsession with rules and routines and the way things should be* – and prime numbers and homonyms (hence the title, Rain Reign). He tries, though, and brings home a stray dog that he found who becomes Rain.
Uncle Weldon pinch-hits for Rose’s dad by driving her to and from school and by listening to her serious homonym games - with Rose’s rules, of course.
Rain Reign – What Kind of a Title is That?
We chose to read and review Rain Reign for two reasons:
first, the incredibly eye-catching and -holding cover illustration of a girl running behind a dog against a backdrop of  a blue cloudy sky in the rain, and
second, the fact that it was authored by our favorite and wonderful author Ann Martin who also wrote the memorable A Dog’s Life: The Autobiography of a Stray (2005) and its sort-of-sequel, Everything For a Dog (next on our list, 2009) about little stray puppies Squirrel and Bone (respectively).

Homonyms are words that sound alike but have different meanings and different spellings, like rain and reign and also like rose and rows. Martin too often seems to interrupt the flow of her writing by pointing out all the homonyms. On the other hand, the prose is simple, easy and quick to read with short sentences.
The Story Goes On After the Book is Finished!
When Hurricane Susan arrives unexpectedly and Rose’s dad lets Rain out early one morning, Rain does not come back. Rose, of course, is devastated and devises a plan to look for and find Rose with the help of Uncle Weldon.
What becomes of Rose’s relationship with her dad (and Uncle Weldon and her classmates) and what becomes of Rain? The book answers these questions but also leaves the reader knowing that things will get better – and just how.
The story continues as all stories do and the reader can imagine what happens next: Rose continues to be accepted gradually by her classmates as she remembers to ask them questions and as they try to add to Rose’s list of homonyms. Rose continues to love dogs and . . . .

*p. 118 “Then I go to my room and spread a map out on my bed. . . . I feel happy because it was folded properly and all the creases were going in the right directions.”