I’m a big fan of memoirs, so when I was approached by Author Solutions to review a book by Peter Altschul detailing his life as a blind man with guide dogs, I happily accepted. Although arranged slightly differently than a true memoir, Altschul’s book is still filled with anecdotes from his childhood and life growing up with a complete lack of vision. Before reading, I knew little to nothing about the blind community, so I was also interested to learn more about how blind individuals cope with a seeing-oriented world.
Altschul beings with a few short stories from his childhood, growing up in Pleasantville, NY, as well as spending summers on Cape Cod. The majority of the beginning of the work focuses on his time at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an organization dedicated to training guide dogs for blind and visually impaired individuals. Although the organization began with German Shepards, they soon expanded to many other types of dogs, such as Weimaraners, Poodles, and various other breeds. Altschul focuses on his pairing with Jules, a black lab, his fifth dog paired to him by Guiding Eyes. Interspersed through tales of getting to know Jules better, Altschul tells the reader about his parings with his previous four dogs, and how the pairing process has changed over time. After this initial phase of the work, Altschul then moves on to more stories of his adult life, detailing his work at various NGO’s and other organizations, and how he met and eventually wed his wife, Lisa. He ends with an epilogue of his current life in Missouri with his step-children and Lisa. The work is also interspersed with pictures of Altschul and his dogs, as well as pictures of his family.
Overall, I found this work to be very interesting, as Altschul was able to fit in details about how guide dogs work and how their relationship to their handler is formed. I learned that it takes quite a while before the dog has complete trust in the handler, and sometimes these dogs quit working altogether, even in the middle of busy intersections and public places. As one of the earlier adopters of the Guiding Eyes program, it was interesting to read Altschul’s take on how the organization had grown over the years, and how his relationships to his guide dogs were quite different from “pet dogs.” I think it’s great that these organizations exist, and I believe that having a dog was able to give Altschul a far greater deal of mobility that he would not have been able to enjoy without one. I was glad that he was able to find happiness through his relationship with his dogs, which then extended into a great and fulfilling personal life. The one downside of this work is that it does seem slow at times, and the verbiage was slightly abrupt with lack of descriptors sometimes. Nonetheless, I still found it an intriguing read. If you are interested in the blind community or even in dogs in general, this is a great firsthand account of how these two forces come together for good.
3 out of 5 Stars
Breaking Barriers by Peter Altschul, MS
Paperback 240 pages
Special thanks to Author Solutions for my review copy