Peter Altschul never fancied himself a writer, but he found himself signing copies of his memoir Breaking Barriers: Working and Loving While Blind in his hometown's bookstore Wednesday.
"I don't really particularly like writing—it's not something I envisioned myself ever doing," admitted the graduate and current Missouri resident.
But after being encouraged by his wife and friends to turn his journal entries about his experiences with Yorktown Heights-based organization into a book, Altschul enrolled in a PhD level writing course and did just that.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind provides guide dogs for blind and visually-impaired adults, as well as autistic children, for no fee.
"Over the course of the year, we will place about 170 guide dogs with visually-impaired clients and about 12 service dogs," revealed Michelle Brier, director of marketing and communications for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
Click the video to the right to learn more about the organization and guide dogs.
Altschul was born and raised in Pleasantville and attended a private school in Scarborough before his mother fought for him to enroll in the public high school.
"My mom was, and is, a remarkable person in a number of ways," Altschul said. "Back when I was growing up, sending a blind kid anywhere except for a school for the blind was unheard of."
And despite this, he thrived at PHS, where he played drums in the band and graduated in the top 10 percent of his class.
"High school, looking back, was a very positive experience," he recalled. "More positive then I think many of people with disabilities have, even today. I was really fortunate."
After graduation, he attended Princeton University, where he was able to focus on his musical interests.
"I tried to make it in the music business for a couple of years, but ultimately failed," he said. "So, I took the first job I could get, which was doing customer service...on Wall Street."
Finding this work "boring," Altschul then returned to school, this time at Columbia University, where he earned a master's degree in social work.
After completing his undergraduate studies at Princeton University, Altschul felt he was ready for his first guide dog. So, he returned to Westchester and connected with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, which paired him with Heidi.
He recently retired his fifth guide dog, Jules, who plays a large role in the memoir.
"It is not just a book about the guide dog process, although that is a large part of it," Altschul said. "It’s a book about my work history and how my prior guide dogs fit into that, it’s about living in the east coast and Washington D.C. in what I call my 'bachelor lifestyle.' It talks about my background as a musician...and it ultimately talks about me falling in love, which I never expected to do in my late 40s."
Altschul has been spending time outdoors in Westchester with Heath—a black Labrador Retriever and his newest guide dog—getting acquainted this week as he finishes up his mandatory stay at the Guiding Eyes for the Blind headquarters before heading home to Columbia, MO, where Heath will meet his wife, three stepchildren and three standard poodles.
Because Guiding Eyes for the Blind operates mostly on donations, utilizes about 1,300 volunteers and does not charge its clients for its services, Altschul decided to give back by donating proceeds from his book signing at .
"I have two hopes for the book," Altschul said. "One is I hope people like the story. My main aim was to right a good story. The primary message that I hope people get from the book is that if you want to build a relationship with the people to get stuff done, it’s really important to focus on people’s strengths. We tend to talk about what we don’t like about them. A lot of my book establishes relationships, not only with dogs of course, but with people and bosses and diverse audiences I have worked with. I was successful primarily because I was focused on the strengths of people."
"Breaking Barriers: Working and Loving While Blind" is available for purchase at The Village Bookstore in Pleasantville. To learn more about Altschul, visit his blog. To learn more about Guiding Eyes for the Blind and find out how you can donate or volunteer, visit its website.