Aug 30, 2007

A Good Dog

by Jon Katz

Yes, another book about dogs, but quite unlike the others I have read. It felt rather deja-vu at first, like I was reading a book that was the flip side of another; like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is to Hamlet. I kept getting the feeling perhaps I had read this book before, and just forgotten? The people and events were awfully familiar. I'd read about an ill donkey, mentioned in passing, and then stop and skip back, feeling something was missing. I knew I'd read about that sick donkey before, but in great detail, not just one phrase. Finally after searching my lists I discovered that a month ago I did read two other books by Jon Katz, one about the very same dogs on Bedlam Farm in upstate New York. They embrace the same time frame, but whereas the first book, The Dogs of Bedlam Farm is about life on the farm, herding sheep and dealing with the antics of three border collies, this one swings the focus to one key dog: Orson.

Orson (originally named Devon) marked a major turning point in the author's life, leading him from a suburban house in New Jersey to an old rambling farm in rural Hebron, near Vermont. Rescued from a failed life as a show dog, Orson came full of trouble, a very confused and stressed animal. Jon Katz became determined to do everything he could to rehabilitate and heal Orson. In fact, he made a pact or covenant with the dog, that he would never give up on him. His efforts to fulfill that pact led them to Bedlam Farm. After discovering that Orson's life fulfillment (as a border collie) wasn't in sheep herding, Katz went to great lengths to try and fix the dog's problems, consulting a holistic vet and spiritual animal shaman as well as traditional vets and dog trainers. His trials in the life and psyche of Orson were also a passage of growth and discovery for himself.

At one point near the end, this book made me cry. Books rarely have that effect on me, and this one isn't very sentimental at all. Unlike many stories about dogs that anthropomorphize and wax maudlin, A Good Dog is very down-to-earth and sensible. Continually Katz refuses to see human attributes in his dogs, and views them within the limits of their animal nature. "Animals live in their own sphere," he says.
My dog Orson may not be able to experience a sense of wonder, but [he] can evoke it in me. That could be one of Orson's most meaningful gifts -- and yet another reason to see him and other dogs as animals, not humans. The more like us they seem, the less of a bridge to nature they are.
This is a wonderful, intriguing and insightful book. I love its honesty and frankness. I have to say, if I do add it to my personal library, The Dogs of Bedlam Farm will have to sit alongside it on the shelf. They are companion volumes in every way. I don't think one can exist completely without the other.

Rating: 4/5                        Published 2006, 224 pgs


windycindy said...

Hello, Being an animal lover; especially a dog lover, this book would most likely make me cry,also!
My brother was a Veterinarian for over 30 years and I assisted him. Thanks for introducing me to this author and book. Cindi

Jeane said...

He has written so many, mostly about dogs. I hope you enjoy more of his work!