BOOKS: A Good Dog
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2006:
A Good Dog by Jon Katz
Villard (Random House Publishing Group, 1745 Broadway, New York,
NY 10019), 2006. 216 pages, paperback. $21.95.
Once in a lifetime, if one is lucky, an animal may come
into one’s life with life-changing consequences. This is the story
of one such animal, the border collie Orson.
“Orson radically altered my life,” writes Jon Katz. “He
came at a pivotal time and provoked–with no conscious part in the
process, I’m sure–a series of actions and reactions that caused me
to change almost everything about the way I lived and worked and
Katz was living at the time in suburban New Jersey with his
wife and daughter. Because border collies have such super-canine
energy as to be incompatible with suburban life, Katz decided to
take Orson for training sessions in rural Pennsylvania, run by sheep
farmer Carolyn Wilkie. Initially, his aim was to calm Orson by
burning off some of the dog’s energy. However, this modest aim soon
evolved into the purchase of the land that became Bedlam Farm,
inspiring Katz’s 2004 book The Dogs of Bedlam Farm, and the
acquisition of livestock, including donkeys, sheep, and two more
Even with all this scope for interesting activity, Orson
remained troubled. He had previously been studied by animal
behaviorists and trainers. He enjoyed the attention of two vets,
one holistic, the other traditional, as well as a shaman, and his
diet included Chinese herbal supplements. Notwithstanding all these
remedies, Orson’s personality defects persisted until Katz bought a
four-wheeled all-terrain vehicle to get around the farm in.
Suddenly, Orson found his purpose in life. “He had found his
work–intense, exciting, in close proximity to me. Unlike
sheepherding, which he had to watch from a distance, on the ATV he
was in the center of the storm, right where he always wanted to be.
The machine gave him the chance to run like a fiend, which he loved,
and then to navigate, which he loved even more. And there was no
way to do it wrong or screw it up. It was all positive, all the
This is an emotionally charged book, written with humor and
insight, about a commitment not many people would give, and
unwavering love between a man and his dog.