“Trust the Dog:
Rebuilding Lives Through Teamwork With Man’s Best Friend”

The Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation with Gerri Hirshey. Viking. $25.95.

This inspiring narrative captures the resilient, can-do spirit of not only a premier guide-dog organization but its dogs, staff and recipients.

Initially, I thought it would be just another volume about the ins and outs of a guide-dog program.  Wow, was I wrong.

It would be impossible for any sighted individual to grasp the special relationship between a blind individual and his/her German shepherd partner. “Trust the Dog” characterizes it beautifully.

With refreshing bluntness, candor and kudos, the Connecticut-based foundation is portrayed as one giant family, whose members are always on high alert concerning the welfare of others. This attitude is engendered from the founders Charlie and Robbie Kaman through a highly trained staff all the way to the newest recipient.

From a beautifully crafted prologue detailing the Kamans’ tireless emphasis to detail, improved breeding stock and well-researched match-ups, to a rich weave of celebratory energy and psychological turbulence experienced by recipients, “Trust the Dog” travels a seamless path.

As the authors say, “This is a book about a half century’s worth of … trials, journeys, and transformations, about the miracles and mysteries of these deep partnerships, and about the dedication, skill  and training that makes them possible.”

Key breeding stock came from the former East Germany in the late 1980s and later Bavaria with a focus on physical and psychological attributes, namely good health, strong hips, longevity, receptivity to control by a human voice and a lack of aggression toward other dogs.

John Byfield, a recently retired Fidelco executive, explains, “Shepherds are bright. And there is a complexity to many of them. They don’t tend to be forgiving, so if you make a mistake it can set you back quite a bit. Psychologically, they find it difficult to undo things. I think you have to be more careful with shepherds than with some of the other breeds.

“The shepherd has exceptional memory. It’s one of its greatest qualities. They also have very good initiative, the ability to figure things out. They don’t have to deliberate and stand there thinking, what do I do? They just seem to have an immediate assessment and they’re very decisive.”

What makes Fidelco different? It features a come-to-you training program and follow-up commitment to applicants, who, as Byfield emphasizes, “certainly earn their dogs . . . There’s no easy way to do that. It’s almost a sort of tough love.”

More than 1,200 Fidelco pairings have been completed, but this unvarnished portrayal carefully reflects Fidelco is not just about dogs and numbers, it’s a “people business.” And its time-tested curriculum of work and play works ­­- from pace to personality.

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