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A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life Hardcover – September 26, 2006

2.8 out of 5 stars 221 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Barking, lunging and nipping at visitors, terrorizing school buses and crashing through a window screen to pursue a cat in a neighbor's house, the hero of this absorbing, if melodramatic, memoir hardly seems a good dog. But Orson's fangs are firmly set in the heart of dog journalist Katz (The Dogs of Bedlam Farm), who tries everything to soothe his frenzy—acupuncture, chiropractic, "Shen calming herbs from China," sessions with a "shamanic soul retriever"—then moves to a farm where the border collie's native sheep-herding instincts might flourish. Ultimately, the therapeutic benefit accrues to the author, who finds in Orson a "soul mate" who saved him from mid-life crisis in the New Jersey suburbs and brought him to an ecstatic communion with nature. Katz's flagrant anthropomorphizing and his intense emotional involvement ("I was nearly crying with frustration, torn by my growing love for this dog") and heart-to-hearts with Orson ("[w]e can't go on this way," he sobs after a school-bus incident) will resonate with dog lovers, while perhaps puzzling others. When he Katz gets some psychological distance, though, his subtle, evocative descriptions of the beasts around him—including Rose, another border collie whose brilliant herding steals the show—vividly capture the fascinating, enigmatic lives of animals. Photos.(Sept. 26)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Katz's previous books have detailed his life with dogs (A Dog Year, 2002, and The Dogs of Bedlam Farm, 2004), the place of dogs in modern society (The New Work of Dogs, 2003), and what dogs have taught him (Katz on Dogs, 2005). When he first laid eyes on highly intelligent but anxious Orson the border collie, he watched as the dog streaked through the Newark airport upon being released from his shipping crate. Under Orson's influence, the author moved from suburban New Jersey to a farm in New York and began a new life of dog training, sheepherding, and writing. Orson was Katz's "lifetime dog," the one he felt a powerful, life-changing connection with--but Orson was a difficult dog. In a lyrical series of vignettes, the author writes of his working border collie, Rose (the personality opposite of Orson); the rooster, Winston; sheep; donkeys; and the impossible Orson, whom Katz thought was destined to work sheep but whose work became the author. This is a lovely memoir. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Villard (September 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140006189X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400061891
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (221 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,530,731 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bedlam Farm in upstate New York is where I live, write and tend my animals - four dogs, two donkeys, two barn cats. The rambling old farmhouse was built in 1862; it's surrounded by pastures, streams and wooded hillsides, plus four barns and a milkhouse in various stages of disrepair.

I write books- memoirs, novels, short story collections, and beginning in 2011, children's books. I am also a photographer.

In my former life, before I grew preoccupied with sheepherding and moving manure around. I wanted to change my life and write more about the experience of living with and understanding animals.
I write novels and nonfiction books (I've written 20 books), along with columns and articles for Rolling Stone, Wired, the New York Times, and the website HotWired.
Coming to the farm turned out to be a Joseph Campbell style "Hero's Journey." I went off into some dark places, got divorced, struggled to face myself, and found someone to share my life.

My wife Maria Wulf is an artist, who specializes in fiber art. She works in the Studio Barn across the road from the farmhouse. Earlier this year, I thought briefly of selling Bedlam Farm. After getting married, we decided to stay here. My daughter Emma, a sportswriter living in Brooklyn, has written her own book about New York baseball. I publish a blog I love dearly - www.bedlafarm.com. My photos appear there daily. My dogs are Izzy, Lenore, Frieda and Rose, the working dog who helps me run the farm.

My writing life began with a novel - "Sign Off" - an unwittingly prescient story about the jarring changes in work and security.

This year - 2010 - I am returning to fiction. I've written a novel, "Rose In A Storm," about a border collie stranded on a farm in upstate New York during a terrible storm. I wrote this book in conjunction with some animal behaviorists who helped me enter the mind of a dog, and hopefully, be faithful to that. My first children's book "Meet The Dogs Of Bedlam Farm," will be published by Henry Holt next year. I have just finished a short story collection to be published next year by Villard/Random House.
In recent years, photography has become central to me as well as writing. I have been fortunate enough to have several gallery showings of my work, and also sell my photos as notecards through the Redux Gallery in Dorset, Vt.

I am also working on a book about animal grieving. Hopefully, it will be useful.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been a fan of Jon Katz since I read "A Dog Year." I loved "The Dogs of Bedlam Farm." I expected this book to be a tribute to the dog that brought us those books, a final tribute about a man's love for his dog. I expected the ending to be a sad one, but the actual ending was far beyond sad - it was heart-breaking and unbelievable. I honestly thought this man loved his dog, but I see it differently now.

This is a story about a man who gave up on his dog, perhaps always intended it to be so. Perhaps a story about a man desperate for another book, another heartwrenching tale. Perhaps he tricked us all. After all, as he so eloquently writes, "I am a writer." Maybe he is still suffering the "Midlife Crisis" he wrote about in "Running to the Mountain." I can see in Jon Katz a man who makes rash decisions just because he feels like it, because he wants different circumstances, and this book proves it so.

He writes in a loving, heart-warming manner of his loving, close, committed, special relationship with Orson, the dog he wrote about in "A Dog Year." Then the tables turn and he writes of his horrifying "CHOICE." Might I add SELFISH. In horrifying DETAIL he tells the tale of Orson's fate and he doesn't stop there. He writes about how much better his life is without this dog. This dog whose work was Jon Katz, but Jon Katz did indeed fail him, though he reasons and justifies his actions as best as he knows how as a writer. I feel like he lied to all of us who loved his previous books. He fooled us, but most importantly Orson.

If any of you enjoyed "A Dog Year" or "The Dogs of Bedlam Farm," I advise you not to read this book. Those two books touch the heart, caused me to be a better guardian, one in which I could relate to since I have herding dogs of my own. But how could I ever read those books again after reading this one? I can't and won't. It was all just a big lie.

That poor dog never had a chance in the first place.
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Format: Hardcover
So he has money to elaborately renovate his playfarm, to landscape and hire gardeners and helpers, to buy an ATV (the better to "commune" with nature -- like he went to the mountain for solitude but quickly got MTV), and he didn't hesitate writing out a check for a new dog not long after he euthanized his "soulmate", but when it came to spending a few thousand for Orson to get a thorough vetting over, to build him a secure fence around an acre or two, or to even hire a competent dog trainer or a dogwalker to give him the supervised exercise the dog needs (riding on an ATV not much for an energetic border collie), Katz tells us it is immoral to spend that kind of money on a dog when there are people in his hamlet who live in tar paper shacks and hunt for food. Apparently not immoral, though, to spend the same funds on flowerbeds or repointing a fireplace, on ATVs or MTV.

He tells us he can rescue fifty dogs for what it would cost to take Orson to one specialist. But he's already told us in previous volumes he doesn't believe in rescue dogs, in second hand dogs, but in getting "good" dogs from "good" breeders.

This guy was too cheap and lazy to take his dog to even one canine veterinary specialist when the dog's behavior worsened, or to build him a decent fence with a beware of dog sign, to hire even one good dog trainer. All of those things -- vet care, training, fencing -- are basic responsibilities that come with owning a dog. But he didn't leash his dog when necessary (something he has a history of never doing), never put up proper fencing (Orson regularly got out of his NJ fence at home and even the puppy Clem was nearly mowed down by a semi at the farm), never supervised Orson properly around visitors. And then he was astounded when there were incidents.
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Format: Hardcover
I feel exactly the same way as the previous reviewer. My husband and I don't have border collies; we have dachshunds. Dachshunds can also be very protective of their owners and territory and also have a very strong prey drive. We have a dachshund that bit one of my neighbors while we had the dog out for a walk. Their cat was out and my dog went after the cat and bit the neighbor instead (he was in such an overexcited state he literally did not know what he was doing). Note: my dog was on leash when this incident occurred. He is never off leash outside our property. Luckily this lady was an animal lover and she was absolutely gracious about it.

The incident taught me a very hard lesson...but a necessary one. I had to be absolutely vigilant about my supervision of this dog. How I introduce him. Where I walk him. I changed the leash from a regular 6ft leash to a 4ft slip lead (NOT a choke chain). I have also applied some local trainers' ideas about noticing the early signs of excitement in my dog and learning how to channel the dog's attention so that he never gets to the excited state. It has been over 2 years since the incident and we have had no other incidents. But, as I said, my husband and I are vigilant about our supervision. I do not take lightly the fact that my dog bit someone. I think I lost sleep for a month when it happened. But, that memory now serves as a constant reminder to me to maintain my awareness with my dog and be constant in my supervision - which really all dog owners should do with all dogs.

I have all of the Orson books and I, too, was enjoying reading them. I thought, here is someone who understands what I am going through in dealing with an anxious dog.
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