Lessons Taught By Guide Dogs; Leadership &Teamwork At Its Best; The Next Generation’s Passion

Guest column By Kyra Falen Shimizu Excerpted in part

I grew up in Marysville, Kansas. My dad was the local CPA doing small business accounting, numerous tax returns and audits. My mom taught piano, directed choirs and played the piano and organ in many town events. I first followed in my mom’s footprints, earning college degrees in piano and becoming a piano teacher and accompanist. Then a few years ago, I decided to change to my father’s career. I had enjoyed working for my dad when I was growing up, and I thought that accounting would offer a new challenge and a more secure income and benefits for my family.

In the past five years I have taken the required accounting and business classes in order to sit for the CPA exam, studied hard to pass all four sections of the CPA exam, and completed a master’s degree in accountancy from Metropolitan State University of Denver.

In the same five-year period I have raised five guide dog puppies. Four of these puppies are now working guide dogs in California, Minnesota, Utah and Colorado. In just a few days, the fifth puppy, Primrose, will return to Guide Dogs for the Blind for her final training. And in about a month, I will start a new career as a staff auditor at Denver-based Ehrhardt Keefe Steiner & Hottman.

My guide dog puppies faithfully accompanied me to all of my accounting classes, group projects and class presentations. Adeline started off in the principles of accounting classes. Samba sometimes let out big sighs in my income tax class. Nadine played Jeopardy using CPA exam questions in auditing. Patrice was often a little impatient sitting through graduate ethics and tax research. Primrose spent many hours struggling through business combinations with me.

My professors and fellow students often commented that the puppies must know a lot about accounting, and I came to realize that guide dogs have taught me these important principles:

Teamwork: It’s all about the relationships. Guide dogs and their blind partners are the ultimate example of teamwork and the development of a trusting relationship.

In the beginning, accounting is all about numbers: debits and credits and financial statements. But it’s actually about the human relationships: relationships between team members working on an audit or a large tax return, and relationships between accountants and their clients. The distinguishing mark of a profession is its responsibility to the public. The public consists of the community ­– clients, colleagues, employers, investors and others – which relies on the work of an accountant.

Intelligent Disobedience: At times a blind person gives a command, and the guide dog may choose to disobey. When does this happen? At a street crossing, the dog may stop and disobey a “forward” command when there is a car coming. When there is a low-hanging tree branch, the dog may block the way and wait for the blind person to discover the obstacle.

Accountants must constantly evaluate the correctness of transactions in a general ledger, values in a financial statement, and a position in a tax return. There may be times when an accountant must stand firm against a team member or a client’s request to record revenue early or to avoid looking closely at a complex business transaction or tax position.

An accountant must always act with integrity, and it is this quality that instills public trust in the profession. Integrity incorporates objectivity and independence. An accountant must constantly assess what is right and just, even if he or she is being commanded to act differently.

Joy: It is fun to see the excitement and tail wagging of a guide dog when it has shown its partner the beginning of a staircase or has stopped at a pothole. The dog is so happy to leave the house with its blind partner every day and spend its days doing the work that it were born and trained to do.

The AICPA Codes of Professional Conduct do not directly address finding joy in our work. However, the principle of due care stresses the quest for excellence. Accountants must discharge their work with competence and diligence, and this should bring a deep satisfaction and enjoyment that result from being part of an honorable and respected profession.

In the book “Thunder Dog,” Michael Hingson describes how his guide dog Roselle saved his life at the World Trade Center on 9/11: “Most of all, what Roselle did that day and in fact every day she and I were together is nothing less than the most powerful evidence I can provide of the enduring value of trust and teamwork.”

As Primrose and I embark on the next stage of our separate careers, I hope that we will both develop the principles of teamwork, intelligent disobedience, and joy that will further our development as a dog and a human, and uphold the professions of guide dogs and accountants.