Book Review: Follow Your Dog (Ann Chiappetta)
Reviewed by Maya Northen Augelli
When I began reading Follow Your Dog, by Ann Chiappetta, I'll admit that I only knew, or thought I knew, the basics: that guide dogs are used for people who are blind or have very little eyesight. I knew that you should never try to pet or interact with a service dog while they are working and that by law, you must allow them into public places, among other locations (I'm sure there is more accurate verbiage as well as potential exceptions). But I'm sad to say that the extent of my knowledge more less ended there.
Similarly, I had little knowledge of blindness other than the obvious facts, and I was particularly unfamiliar with retinitis pigmentosa. Most certainly, I could not imagine what it must feel like, not only to not be able to see (much, or at all), but to gradually lose your eyesight, knowing the deterioration of vision that is in your future, the acute awareness of it occurring year by year, month by month.
Chiappetta's book brings together her personal story of life with deteriorating vision, the facts and details about what getting and training a guide dog entails, and the completely unique bond that a guide dog and owner develop – not only the owner with the dog, but the dog with the owner as well. For someone who has never experienced these, what Chiappetta lays out is incredibly informative, while maintaining the personal touch that makes the reader want to continue turning the pages.
For me, the story brought one surprise after another, starting with the in-depth process that is required simply to be considered for a guide dog. I did not realize, for example, that someone who has extreme vision loss can be denied entry into a guide dog program—that they will have to go through extensive testing to see if they are, as Chiappetta phrases it "blind enough." Nor did I realize that the training involved weeks away from home, in a school like setting, learning how to interact and bond with your dog. It makes sense, of course, but is not something that I think those who do not require a guide dog often think about. The author's in depth description of the process—from meeting her first dog on "dog day," to the struggles in training, to the complete trust that she has to develop for her dog, who is, in effect, responsible for saving her life when she walking—fascinating. You can feel the depth of emotion in the way Chiappetta talks about her bond with her dogs, such as her description of when she met her first guide dog, Verona, for the first time on Dog Day:
Tears rolled down my cheeks as Dell left. The emotions roiling inside were difficult to control, though. I tried to watch television while Verona sniffed around, then settled next to me on the floor, her head resting on my thigh. Sitting on the floor with her was more comfortable for her, even though my butt went numb after the first 15 minutes. But I didn't care about it because I wanted to be there for her. I wanted her to know that I was depending on her as much as she was going to depend upon me, and she was probably confused and maybe even a little bit sad.
So, too, was her explanation of the role of her family in learning how to interact with the dog to maintain the process and trust that she developed while in the guide dog training program. Chiappetta mixes in humor and candor, not shying away from stories of embarrassment, frustration, and confusion that make her story feel incredibly real.
Follow Your Dog is a read that moves quickly, despite the detail. It's descriptive without bogging the reader down in technical or medical terms, making the story as relatable as it is possible to be for readers who have not experienced what Chiappetta has gone through. In addition to relating her own personal story, Chiappetta has included some useful information in the back of the book for those who have a serious interest in guide dogs. This includes a state by state list of guide dog schools with address and contact information, and a brief list of blindness resources.
One of the great boons for writers with disabilities is the recent advent of a number of avenues for self-publishing. Self-publishing provides a means of getting one's story out without having to break through the citadels of large publishing companies, and it is the means that Chiapetta has chosen. She has used CreateSpace, Amazon, and Smashwords as the publishers of the book. It is available worldwide through Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble.Follow Your Dog illustrates some of the pluses of being your own publisher. It offers a writer the opportunity to take control of her own work and see it through. Prior to publication, editing of the book, print layout, e-book conversion, and cover design for Follow Your Dog were all provided by David and Leonore Dvorkin of DLD Books Editing and Self-Publishing Services, most of whose editing clients are blind or visually impaired. (You can find them at http://www.dldbooks.com.) Self-publication also allows authors to arrange for reviews in smaller journals such as Wordgathering, Breath and Shadow or Kaleidoscope that are interested in letting others know about recent work by disabled writers.
I would highly recommend this book for anyone involved in or interested in disabilities awareness, or simply who wants to explore a deeper understanding of the bond that can develop between humans and dogs.
Title: Follow Your Dog