You get the dog you need--this is author Jon Katz's take on people adopting dogs. Not only do we purposely look for a dog to fill a void in our lives--the dog intuitively senses what we are seeking and fills that role.
Maria came along in Jon Katz's life when he was at a low. He was over sixty, alone and separated from friends and family. His marriage was ending and he was despondent.
It was love at first sight -- at least, that's how Jon felt for Maria. Frieda, the traumatized guard dog Maria chose because she protected her from men....
This story is not just about Frieda, but Jon's recovery and Renaissance and the budding late-life romance between him and Maria. It's a hopeful tale all-around.
While I read the entire book, I found myself wanting to move past the people and back toward the dog--it wasn't for lack of compassion for either Jon or Maria, I picked up the book because of the title and I was hoping for more of a dog tale. Frankly, I needed badly to escape people for a bit. I'd say about 1/3 of the book is Frieda--her training and her story. Those pages had me riveted and often in tears because that's what I wanted and needed to read about. That's why I chose this particular book.
If the dog's story being a smaller portion of a larger tale is enough for you, you're good. Katz is an excellent author and an excellent detailer of his own character and that of our current society. I would gladly read more of his writing, but this tale should perhaps best be titled, "A Second Chance Life."
Rebecca Kyle, October 2013
It's what I think of as the Jon Katz Dance: he brings out a book; people review the book; Jon Katz reviews the reviewers. It can be unnerving, particularly if the reviewer doesn't love the book. So I am happy and relieved to say that this is my favorite of all Jon Katz's books.
I have been reading Jon Katz since his Suburban Detective mystery series in the 1990s (which I still consider his best fiction). When he started writing about his life at Bedlam Farm in 2004, I was instantly hooked. I did notice that other than Katz himself, there weren't a lot of people in those books. In one of my reviews I speculated that he was more comfortable writing about animals than about people. I am a regular reader of his blog and I know that he writes often about the people in his life. Maybe it was a book-length in-depth examination that he shied away from.
After reading this lovely book, I realize that it's a daunting task to write a whole book about meeting your soulmate.
Readers of the blog know that Jon Katz has a strong point of view. He comes across as quite confident and pretty much in control of his life. He does not keep it secret that at the time he met Maria, he was in a bad place emotionally. His marriage was breaking up. He was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But when he writes about Maria on the blog, it is pretty much about the present, how grateful he is to have her in his life, how much he loves her.
The book is the story of how they met. The Jon Katz of the book is way more vulnerable and tentative than the Katz of the present-day blog who reminisces about their meeting and coming together from a much stronger place. (At the time they actually met, I was not reading the blog.)
The equally compelling component is Maria's dog Frieda, a Rottweiler-Shepherd mix, fiercely protective of her mistress. Both Maria and Frieda needed to be integrated into the life of the farm, and it seems that Katz approached both with equal care and diligence. He needed to understand Frieda's roots. He traced her beginnings to a backwoods guard dog breeder. He learned that she had been abandoned in the Appalachians when she became pregnant, that she lived for some time in the mountains and then on the fringes of a college campus until she was finally captured and sent to a shelter where Maria adopted her when she was close to being declared unadoptable and put down. Katz approaches dog training from a very organic perspective: every dog is different and requires a different approach; he just kind of listens to the dog and does what feels right. He is very outspoken about his dislike for humanizing animals. However, Frieda is a very special case. Frieda is the key to capturing Maria's heart.
To the spoiler-averse, this is more plot than I generally provide, but honestly, you need to read this book for the writing. It is unquestionably Jon Katz's best. It amazes me how he can produce books that contain plot points his blog readers know by heart, and yet the books are so beautifully written and fresh and rewarding on their own. Highest recommendation.
This was a beautiful 2013 story about a loving spirit, a survivor-dog who only wanted love. Thorough Frieda's love, others also found love. It's as though she brought two troubled souls together at just the right time and gave them the strength they needed to clean up their own lives.
If you are a dog-lover, and especially if you "feel" for those animals who have been mis-treated and denied of the unconditional love they are so eager to give, I believe you will love this story as I did. It's not really like reading most stories. Our author, Jon Katz, writes in a way that made me feel that I was sitting across an old wooden kitchen table from him, with a cup of tea, while he told me his story. In an old farm house, with several old barns on the property, I could "see" everything so clearly as he explained how he came to meet Frieda, a Rottweiler-Shepherd mix, and Marie, Frieda's human.
Frieda was a rescued dog. Maria got her from the Queensbury, New York ASPCA. Frieda had fended for herself for some time in the harsh, cold winters of upstate New York, specifically living wild, abandoned and pregnant in the Adirondaks. As you read the story of Frieda's past, you will understand why she has certain behavioral qualities, extremely loving, yet obsessively protective, agressive, yet gentle. Can Frieda be retrained to share her big loving heart with others?
This book was really hard for me to put down. I read it almost straight through, with some sleep in between. Usually, I am a slow reader, but I felt compelled to hear all of Fried'a story. You will also find a website in the book, where you can go on-line to meet Frieda. I suggest you read her story first.
Reviewer's note: From the moment I saw Frieda's picture on the cover, I fell in love with her. I also had a rescued Rottweiler mix. I think my "Lady" was Rott-Doberman because her head was thinner, but looking at Frieda's picture, they look like twins. Lady belonged to all of us in the house, but was clearly MY dog. We connected from the first second I saw her in my home. She was so big, all 120 pounds of her, and I had no doubt she would lay down her life for me. Although she has passed on, I will never forget the love and loyalty of that wonderful dog. I also connected with Saratoga Springs, a city mentioned in the story, apparently not far from the farm property where Jon lives. I visited this beautiful town a couple of years ago.
on November 26, 2013
The book was written well, but seemed very dark and depressing to me. So much written about the author and his wife and their struggles with depression. I wanted more about the dog, as that is why I bought the book. He needed to write about his struggles in another book.
I've followed Katz's books since he first moved to Bedlam Farm in upstate New York. I feel as if I know him and his dogs so well. But Second Chance Dog is, by far, his most persona book.
You see while the focus is on Freida, a shepherd-rottweiler mix, there is a searching light on both Katz and Maria Wulf, his wife. That's because Freida is Maria's dog. A rescue dog who had lived in the wild for some years, Freida is fiercely protective of Maria. Since the dog is a mix of two highly protective species & was trained as a guard dog, Freida means business.
As Jon & Maria's friendship and, later, love grow, Katz must deal with the seemingly irresistable force in their way -- Freida the dog. She is from a past so different from his Labs and Border Collies. Her past is mysterious. he lived in the wild and then in a shelter. Katz has to learn how to understand Frieda, how to engage her, and how to understand her.
This is no small task, and he must do it as his life is falling apart and as he sees Maria's life falling apart and becoming more difficult, even as she opens up as an artist.
By speaking frankly about his problems, the difficulties he faced with Frieda, and about his tremendous love of and admiration for Maria, the reader is transported.
Katz calls the story a "fairy tale" several times. And it is. It tells us how love can conquer so many difficulties, how we can find the strength to continue and to grow, how we all deserve second chances. And, finally, how happy endings can be real.
I just love this book, it's probably my favorite so far.
on January 2, 2014
Didn't love it, didn't hate it. Because I buy into the idea there's a lid for every pot, John and Maria finding each other is a happy ending...for them. Not so much for me.
These are not easy people to either like or warm up to. Jon's panic attacks and self-pity meeting up with Maria's crippling insecurity are difficult to read about, mainly because Jon didn't write in a way that made me care about them.
So I give this one a big EH.
It seems to be necessary once again to preface my review with a couple of comments about the Amazon Vine program. Contrary to the assertions made in a recent NPR story, I didn't join this program for the "goodies" I receive; indeed, I've expressed on a number of occasions that I am ONLY interested in reviewing books, and only in extreme circumstances do I consider selecting other items. Further, I feel no great NEED for the books I select from the Vine newsletters; I have an extensive library which, frankly, I would like to devote more time to re-reading. That said, I have actually been extremely blessed and thoroughly delighted by many of the books I've selected and read as a result of this program. "The Second Chance Dog" by Jon Katz, is certainly one of them.
Actually, I had no idea what kind of book I would be getting when I "clicked" on this selection. I had not previously encountered the author's work. However, I tend to prefer memoirs to fiction. Although I am a "cat person" more than a "dog person", I DO regularly enjoy the "rescue stories" on the Animal Rescue Site on the Greater Good Network, and I suspect my subliminal impression was that Katz's book would be a longer version of one of these. Instead, I discovered it to be an intense and deeply honest narrative of the author's own experiences during a particularly stressful time.
The subtitle calls this book "A Love Story" - and it is certainly that, describing vividly the struggle the author undertakes to learn to love and train the canine who is essentially the most important "significant other", almost the child, of Maria, with whom he wishes to share a life. Obviously, Jon Katz is a profoundly creative but very conflicted person, facing the challenges of aging and trying to deal with the struggles, both financial and otherwise, of the breakup of his 35-year marriage and his own crisis of confidence. His focus on trying to win over Frieda, this very aggressive and prey-oriented Rottweiler-shepherd mix, brings him face-to-face with some of his own gravest flaws as well as greatest strengths.
There is perhaps no stronger recommendation for this book than to say it immediately motivated me to visit the author's webpage and blog, and from there to visit Maria's gallery of quilts and fiber art. Since my husband is a quilt maker, I e-mailed the link to him, knowing he would find it of great interest (he did). Certainly the ability that Katz provides "on line" to connect with him, view videos of his dogs (including Frieda) and other animals, and to see his exceptional photography and read his ongoing narrative puts this book in a whole new category of interest and inspiration, not only for animal devotees, but for anyone who wants a glimpse into a creative life.
on February 22, 2014
In his next book, John Katz will write a "heartfelt, touching" pack of lies about his "sorrow" after he euthanizes poor Freida. He knows that people love (and BUY) books about dogs; he knows they want to come to terms with losing their dear pets; and he SURE knows how to capitalize on that. Check out his "body count" throughout his volumes of "work". Ever notice how he "has to" put down at least one (usually more) dogs with every vile book he publishes? He is also a very prolific writer so the numbers add up to a lot of murdered pets. Do the math instead of buying the books.
on December 19, 2013
After reading six chapters of this book I can tell you the story is more about the author and his life,and relationship with a woman than the dog. Don't waste your time and money. I have enjoyed many of Jon Katz's books. But, with this one, it appears he is trying to sell a book with a dog on the cover.
Jon Katz has a winner here. This is a story of second chances both for a man and a woman and for a difficult dog. It shows that patience, perseverance and unconditional love can bring miraculous changes to a life. It's an easy but fulfilling read, filled with lessons on how to love unconditionally.
It is at its core a love story between Jon and Maria, with the secondary love story being about Maria's very aggressive, very difficult to train, very protective dog Frieda.
Jon is in his early 60's when he finds his life falling apart, getting divorced after a long marriage, and Maria enters his life first as a friend. He finds himself falling for Maria, not knowing she too is at the beginning of the end of her marriage. Maria is a frustrated artist who has been restoring old barns with her then-husband, and he offers her the use of one of his barns as a studio. Jon owns several well-trained dogs, and Maria owns a dog that is almost uncontrollable - a rottweiler/shepherd mix that is a one-person dog, and is very aggressive with anyone but Maria.
The author holds little back in his writing - there are panic attacks while each are going through divorces, and as friends they try to lift each other up. Maria comes to use the studio barn, but at the beginning she keeps to herself. The friendship grows as the book goes on, and Jon decides he wants to marry Maria. She's not so sure at the beginning, and Frieda always has to be kept locked up or on a leash. As the relationship progresses Jon becomes determined to train Frieda so she doesn't have to be kept away from the other animals on the farm, but this is much easier said than done.
As he delves into Frieda's past (and it's quite an interesting one), he sees why Frieda is the way she is and develops some of his own ideas for training her. He loves Maria and constantly asks her to marry him, and he knows he can't ask her to give Frieda up. At first Maria doesn't seem to take his proposals seriously, but as time goes on she finally says "maybe".
This is a man in love - willing to do just about anything to get his girl, and it's a really beautiful story. He works with Frieda while Maria is at work and accomplishes amazing things with her, which of course gets him far in his pursuit of Maria. He uses patience he didn't know he had to win Frieda over, and he is winning Maria over in the process.
I don't want to give away the ending(s), but this is a very entertaining, heartwarming story, with many lessons in it. I highly recommend it - I rarely give a book five stars, but this one earns them!