Synopses & Reviews
“Dogs are blameless, devoid of calculation, neither blessed nor cursed with human motives. They can’t really be held responsible for what they do. But we can.”
–from The Dogs of Bedlam Farm
When Jon Katz adopted a border collie named Orson, his whole world changed. Gone were the two yellow Labs he wrote about in A Dog Year, as was the mountaintop cabin they loved. Katz moved into an old farmhouse on forty-two acres of pasture and woods with a menagerie: a ram named Nesbitt, fifteen ewes, a lonely donkey named Carol, a baby donkey named Fanny, and three border collies.
Training Orson was a demanding project. But a perceptive dog trainer and friend told Katz: “If you want to have a better dog, you will just have to be a better goddamned human.” It was a lesson Katz took to heart. He now sees his dogs as a reflection of his willingness to improve, as well as a critical reminder of his shortcomings. Katz shows us that dogs are often what we make them: They may have their own traits and personalities, but in the end, they are mirrors of our own lives–living, breathing testaments to our strengths and frustrations, our families and our pasts.
The Dogs of Bedlam Farm recounts a harrowing winter Katz spent on a remote, windswept hillside in upstate New York with a few life-saving friends, ugly ghosts from the past, and more livestock than any novice should attempt to manage. Heartwarming, and full of drama, insight, and hard-won wisdom, it is the story of his several dogs forced Katz to confront his sense of humanity, and how he learned the places a dog could lead him and the ways a doge could change him.
"Katz, whose books A Dog Year and Running to the Mountain earned him many faithful, dog-loving readers, here channels James Herriott's brand of agricultural humanism. It's a classic setup for amusing anecdotes: a 50-something 'suburban rookie' buys a farm in upstate New York, stocking it with three border collies and a small herd of sheep. His skeptical wife agrees to the plan, but wisely forbids firearms, farm machinery and long trips in the pickup. This leaves plenty of latitude for adventures lost sheep, horrible weather, the dramas of dog training and lamb birthing. Soon, the introspective author realizes that his interactions with dogs are about 'trying to become a better human.' After all, his dogs have unfailingly high expectations of him. The troublesome pup, Orson, becomes the great test of Katz's emotional maturity, requiring consistent discipline and love in the face of awful misbehavior (one of Orson's habits is eating sheep feces). 'If we herd sheep for another decade or so,' Katz writes, 'I might make it: I might become a patient man.' While there's no deeply surprising insight into human nature nor any particularly revealing information about canine behavior, these stories offer readers a potent stew of triumphs and failures, all tied together by the constancy of complicated, joyful, lovable dogs. Agent, Richard Abate at ICM." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
JON KATZ has written thirteen books-–six novels and seven works of nonfiction, including A Dog Year and The New Work of Dogs. A two-time finalist for the National Magazine Award, he has written for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, and the AKC Gazette. A member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, he writes a column about dogs for the online magazine Slate and is co-host of “Dog Talk,” a monthly show on Northeast Public Radio. Katz lives on Bedlam Farm in upstate New York and in northern New Jersey, with his wife Paula Span, a Washington Post contributing writer and teacher at Columbia University, and their dogs. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com.