An account of two Seeing Eye dogs that guide their visually impaired partner through the chaotic streets of New York.
Burlingame (A Symphonic Crazy-Quilt of Designs for Stages and Screens, 1997) shares how two Seeing Eye dogs returned mobility to his life when he became legally blind. After a frightening experience navigating busy city streets armed with nothing but a white cane, the author contacted The Seeing Eye in Morristown, N.J. There, he met Hickory, his first canine companion. Hickory and Burlingame share numerous everyday adventures—making friends, dining out and attending the opera—which continue until Hickory’s retirement. Afterward, Kemp takes over. While many of the events are fairly ordinary, the memoir is anything but dull. Part of the intrigue comes from understanding how day-to-day life unfolds for the visually impaired and their helper dogs. Readers also get to learn about the process dogs go through to qualify as Seeing Eye companions. What makes these experiences even more fascinating is that they are told from the perspective of the two dogs. Burlingame plays “scribe” to Kemp and Hickory, who relay their experiences as only dogs can. While the book doesn’t hide the difficulties that result from loss of sight, it maintains an overall humorous, hopeful tone, thanks to the boundless cheerfulness of its canine narrators. They are distinctly canine in their thoughts and actions, often expressing a lack of understanding for certain human interests, like opera, and woefully lamenting the standard concerns that come with being a dog, like suffering through restricted diets that prohibit the consumption of miscellaneous “treats” littering the sidewalk. Both dogs also have their own distinct voices, lending to their believability as narrators. Hickory, having been socialized with a family whose father taught literature, seems a little more cultured, occasionally displaying knowledge of classic literary characters. Kemp, on the other hand, is more of a common dog with a youthful, inexperienced tone, which he demonstrates through a lack of understanding about the meaning of certain terms, like “puppy proof.”
Hickory and Kemp continue their outstanding work as guide companions, smoothly guiding readers through the life and times of Seeing Eye dogs and their partners.