We all know that guide dogs provide the blind people they assist with freedom and independence. But what many may not realize is these amazingly smart dogs don’t work their entire lives. Like the rest of us, guide dogs reach a point in their career where the job becomes taxing or less interesting. Thus, they get to retire.
Lesbian sociologist and Stanford University professor Susan Krieger’s recent book, Come, Let Me Guide You (Purdue University Press, 2015, $24.95), skillfully captures the experience of retiring a guide dog and receiving a new one.
The book, which is a collection of vividly woven memories and reflections, directly places the reader in the center of the bond between a blind person and their guide dog. But unlike other books in this category, the vignettes that make up the relationship between Krieger and her aging guide dog, Teela, are not syrupy, nor is the language cloying. And even when Krieger imagines what Teela may be thinking or feeling -- a personification approach that doesn’t work for all stories -- one can’t help but draw closer to the pair.
While the focal story is the relationship between Krieger and her first guide dog, Teela, and, later, her second guide dog, Fresco, the book also touches on issues of personal identity. Krieger dedicates a chapter to feminist and disabilities studies and pulls from her experience in teaching a course on disabled women at Stanford University.
“The idea that a disability is a product of attitudes and institutions that disable, rather than strictly of a physical or medical condition, is new to some of the students,” she writes. “One example they find helpful is that it is not the physiological limitations of a woman in a wheelchair that makes her disabled when crossing a street but the fact that there are curbs.”
Another story line that’s carefully stitched throughout the book is the relationship between Krieger and her partner Hannah.
“A week ago, after thirty-two years of being together, Hannah and I got married when same-sex marriage became legal in California and in federal law,” Krieger shares. “’Teela will be with us, of course,’ Hannah said to me when we contacted City Hall to reserve the date -- surprising me, again, with her inclusiveness. The day before the ceremony, we went to a flower stand and bought a bunch of white freesia, which I made into a corsage and attached, with gardening wire, to Teela’s harness. She became our bridesmaid, our flower girl, smiling in all the pictures.”
Come, Let Me Guide You plays with themes of grief and letting go, but also touches on embracing change. And while these themes are applied to a blind person, they are universal feelings that a general reader can appreciate.
Belo Cipriani is a freelance journalist, the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and Midday Dreams, and a spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind. He was voted “Best Disability Advocate” in the Bay Area in 2015 by SF Weekly. Learn more at BeloCipriani.com.