I don’t need to tell you that dogs and humans share a special bond. Many species work alongside us, and many species live with us, but dogs occupy both of those roles like no other animal on earth.
Assistance dogs take that role to an entirely new level though. These dogs help people with a wide range of disabilities while quite naturally becoming their companions too.
In Another Language, Portraits of Assistance Dogs and Their People author Jeanne Braham, along with photographer Robert Floyd, present twelve oral histories from people that work with or are partners with assistance dogs. These deeply personal stories provide you with a unique window into the bonds that form between the dogs and the people working and living with them.
The combination of Mr. Floyd’s photos with first person stories bring you right "into the room" with the book’s subjects as they tell you their story. I was initially (as in before I started actually reading) a little put-off at the idea of oral histories since I have read books in the past where that format didn’t really work for me, but in this book it really is perfect. I have read plenty of descriptions of the work that assistance dogs but these individual stories, told in the first person, convey the impact these dogs have on the storyteller’s lives in a uniquely personal way.
The book centers around National Education for Assistance Dog Services (NEADS). NEADS trains assistance dogs for people who are deaf or have hearing loss, people with balance and stability issues, people with a physical disabilities, combat veterans in need of assistance dogs, teachers, ministers and therapists, and children on the autism spectrum and or with physical disabilities. The majority of their dogs are also initially trained by inmates in New England prisons. (How cool is that?)
Most of the interviews are with people who have dogs from NEADS, but several of the people in the book are also employees and volunteers, including a great chapter from a breeder of Labradoodles who is donating a dog (the first of her line) to NEADS at the time of the interview. As well as interviews with trainers and program administrators.
Beth Lewis, a psychologist who both teaches and also still does therapy, works with Grace. Grace was bred for assistance, but orthopedic issues made her unsuitable for service. However, NEADS staff was able to find her a very productive role in help Beth in her work. Grace’s story of how she has undergone multiple surgeries while still helping Beth in her practice is both fascinating and truly inspirational.
Jake Liptak is an inmate handler and has raised three puppies as of his interview. He explains how inmates are able to enter the program and then provides us with an interesting rundown of what behaviors the puppies are trained for.
NEADS program has had to change the past few years with the very large number of veterans returning to the U.S with serious injuries. Sheila O’Brien, who joined NEADS in 1978, worked her way to CEO in 2009, and then left that role to work as a director with America’s VetDogs explains some of the history of NEADS’ assistance program for combat veterans and how their program had to adjust to the veteran’s different needs. In that same chapter there is also an interview with veteran Kevin Lambert.
Another Language, Portraits of Assistance Dogs and Their People is more than just a book about assistance dogs. It's book of stories about the dogs, the people, and the programs that make up NEADS. Together these stories come together to reveal a larger story of how these dogs bring different people together to help each other, whether they came to NEADS for a dog or to work with a dog.
This is a book that belongs on the shelf of any dog enthusiast. Go get it!