Photo of Stephen Kuusisto and his first guide dog “Corky” on the grounds of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, ca 1995
Nature with tooth and claw doesn’t love us. Nor are the affairs of nature “just”. And some 30,000 years ago dogs entered our circle and helped people by lessening the sting of nature’s cruelty. Dogs are beautiful actors. They should receive annual awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “Best Canine Assuager of Natural Horror” goes to Benjie,” A dog says: “I love you too” and defies the script of nature. Of course horses do this, and cats, and raccoons, but dogs have studied the matter like Prospero.
Strangers ask: “What’s your dog’s name?” as we stand at a curb, concentrating, getting ready to cross a street. This happens so often that veteran guide dog users have devised a trick: we toss out a false name. “Anastasia” I say. They look at the dog then coo,”Hello Anastasia,” and wonder why she doesn’t look at them. “Not very friendly is she?”
“Prospero,” I say when we’re out of earshot. “Her name is Prospero.”
Why Prospero? He’s Shakespeare’s grand magician in “The Tempest”. He knows the book of nature inside and out. Nature does his bidding—this is every person’s fantasy.
A dog “is” nature, and she knows it. But she’s willing to go along with our belief in lovingkindness. This is every dog’s genius. Prospero threw his book into the sea; dogs buried theirs.
Nietzsche said something like “man is an animal of promise” and while this is true, we’re endlessly qualifying our nakedness, our instincts, our furtive glances.
My guide dogs don’t care whether I’m naked or not. This is much like their immunity to blindness. Again, strangers ask: “Does your dog know you’re blind?” “No,” I say, “my dog just thinks I’m stupid.” The joke deflects the insensitivity of the question. But if I raise the emotional ante, my dog knows she must complete me. Here is a ditch. She pushes me away from it. This is easy for her because her instinct to avoid the ditch can be shared without cost. She shares.