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Soul of a Dog: Reflections on the Spirits of the Animals of Bedlam Farm Paperback – May 4, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Book Description
Do animals have souls? Some of our greatest thinkers--Aristotle, Plato, Thomas Aquinas--and countless animal lovers have been obsessed with this question for thousands of years. Now New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz looks for an answer and finds even more questions as he recounts the lives and stories of the residents of his celebrated Bedlam Farm: Rose, his beloved workaholic sheepdog who runs the farm, and an array of gentle donkeys, industrious chickens, docile sheep, obnoxious goats, and a murderous yet loving barn cat.

Do these remarkable creatures have consciences? Do they possess free will and reason? Do they have a sense of self, or an existence in the spirit world? Do they shape their own lives? Or are we projecting onto them traits we want and need them to have, allowing ourselves to be manipulated into trading food and shelter for what we see as unconditional love?

With his signature wisdom, humor, and clarity, Katz relates the stories of the animals he lives with and finds remarkable kinships at every turn. Whether it is Rose’s brilliant and methodical herding ability, Mother the cat’s keen mousing instincts, or Izzy’s canine compassion toward hospice patients, Katz is mesmerized to see in them individual personas and sparks of self-awareness. He marvels, too, at the distinctions between the species--our desire to change and our ability to edit and censor ourselves, and their capacity to live in the now. And yet the differences never keep Katz from fully enjoying, loving, and cherishing his unusual cast of Bedlam Farm characters. Katz’s reflections on this eternal debate will resonate with anyone who loves dogs, cats, or other animals--and who wonders about the spirits that animate them and the deepening hold they have on our emotional lives.

"If no two dogs are alike," Katz says, "neither is there a universal relationship with them." Such an observation helps to shine a light on the powerful interspecies connection that is redefining the human-animal bond in our time.

A Look Inside Soul of a Dog

Click on thumbnails for larger images

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“A lyrical yet unsentimental memoir about the bond between people and animals.”
Chicago Tribune

Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; 1 edition (May 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812977734
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812977738
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #786,907 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
On Bedlam Farm, Jon Katz rules his kingdom of 3 dogs, 2 steers, a cow, 4 donkeys, 3 goats, a rooster and some hens, 2 barn cats, and a flock of 28 sheep. Reading "Soul of a Dog" is like taking a stroll with him through the farmyard to meet and greet some of the special ones - past and present - which have touched his heart and changed his life.

Rose is the quick and smart border collie. Through hard work and tireless energy, she has maintained order amid the chaos of so many critters. Elvis the Snickers-eating steer saved himself from the slaughterhouse. Lenore the black lab pursued a unique friendship. Meet the sweet yet stubborn donkeys, Mother the affectionate natural born killer cat, a Greek chorus of goats, and Henrietta the exceptional hen. Katz also includes the stories of two extraordinary dogs Fly and Magnus, who left their imprints as brief visitors to the farm. Even the spirit of Orson, a troubled yet much-loved border collie, materializes.

Throughout this pleasant outing Katz draws on the beliefs of great philosophers, poets, authors, and an incorrigible preacher to illuminate a variety of spiritual perspectives. As though peering through a camera lens into the animal world Katz examines the meaning of life with a focus upon memorable relationships between animals and humans.

Anyone who has ever loved a dog, or any critter, will devour "Soul of a Dog" in one sitting and contemplate its meaning forever. Those who have never bonded with an animal will discover what is missing from their lives. Katz explores the question of whether animals have souls with the humor and drama of a masterful storyteller. Readers will leave Bedlam Farm with a keen awareness of the key to unlock their own souls.
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Format: Paperback
To begin with, the title is misleading, because Katz spends most of the book arguing against the idea that dogs (or other animals) have souls, or experience an afterlife.

If you're interested in reading a book in which the author presents increasingly dogmatic rationalizations about why dogs don't have souls, don't need souls, "don't think about their souls or afterlives," and won't be accompanying you through the Pearly Gates, then by all means read this book.

Katz may be going through some trials and tribulations in his private life. I'm not sure; but certainly his perspective seems to have shifted (though not widened or, to my mind, deepened).

I take issue with so many things Katz has written, throughout this book, that I cannot address them all. In one chapter he writes,

"Everyone I ask who loves a dog tell me their dog has a soul, and they haven't much doubt about it. I think they are really telling me something about their own souls."

Everything in this man's universe must relate to him and, by extension, his own species: Thus, an animal's idea of his existence depends upon our human perception of that existence; hence, the animal's existence depends on our perception of him. An amazingly humanocentric perspective!
He goes on:

"The dogs are never participating. They don't really need to talk about souls, and neither to the donkeys, cows, or sheep."

My question: Does the fact that they don't need to TALK about souls, preclude the possibility that they HAVE souls?

He writes, "My animals, especially the dogs, live in the now. Their lives are elemental. They worry about food, and the life and smells around them.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
i could not wait for this one. Katz makes me feel like I live on that farm with him. He really does a great job of bringing you into his world. I love him and his animals. His insights about animal's souls are amazing. i am looking forward to his next one even as I read his newest.
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Format: Hardcover
Author Jon Katz knows a great deal about dogs. His upstate New York Bedlam Farm houses a random number of sheep, goats, chickens, a rooster, a mother cat, a humongous steer, and, of course, at least three dogs. In SOUL OF A DOG, he analyzes the possibility that animals possess souls. Backed by 10 years of close communion with his animals, he doggedly researches the idea. Multiple vignettes explore the personalities, idiosyncrasies and lovable characters of his animal companions.

Each chapter of SOUL OF A DOG begins with a quote from a philosopher, theologian, writer, or Biblical passage. Especially fitting is his prologue quote, from Ambrose Bierce in THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY: "Dog, n. a subsidiary Deity designed to catch the overflow and surplus of the world's worship." This chapter opens with a tale of Katz's border collie, Rose, working to corral a feisty goose, an African Grey weighing nearly 40 pounds. Obnoxious, the goose flaps, squawks and flutters, keeping Rose at bay. Having given up, he is shocked to see Rose finally lugging the goose out of a swamp, through the woods and into submission. Rose lives for work, is heroic, determined and gives her life in service to her master. She embodies the spirit of an animal who, in companionship, gives the closest asset she possesses. Katz believes her worthy of consideration when it comes to having a soul.

Throughout the book, Katz refers to the great thinker Aristotle, who believed that humans are distinct from all other forms of life in that they have a moral and ethical capacity. They can reason between right and wrong behavior. Animals cannot, thus leaving them behind in the possession of soul. But Katz strives to find, in his animal relationships, a glimmer of hope that they can be humanlike.
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