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Review of a Dog Story or Memoir

The Dogs of Bedlam Farm: An Adventure with Sixteen Sheep, Three Dogs, Two Donkeys and Me  By Jon Katz | Click to order this book

This latest book by Jon Katz offers a remarkable look at the personalities and performance of working dogs -- and their relationships with people.  While Katz was not originally a dog writer, but rather a journalist on diverse topics, his last three books about canines have made him a leading and popular dog writer. Tales of his life with Labs and Border Collies offer readers great insights on the world of working dogs. Click for full book review.

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The Dogs of
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A Dog Year
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Review of a Dog Story or Memoir, continued

The Dogs of Bedlam Farm
By Jon Katz | Click to order this book

Working border collies have changed Jon Katz's life. In the process, the dogs gave this prolific author lively and appealing adventures and deep insights on the bond between humans and dogs that fill his three most recent books.

For readers who enjoy a sense of chronological order to their reading, it is worth starting with his first dog book -- A Dog Year: Twelve Months Four Dogs and Me -- and then his thoughtful look the changing nature of what people ask of their dogs, captured in the book The New Work of Dogs: Tending to Life, Love, Family.

If you do that, you'll know that Jon was leading an idyllic life as a book and magazine writer with two stalwart canine companions, his yellow Labrador Retrievers Julius and Stanley. Calm, devoted, steady dogs. And that Jon was convinced to adopt a Border Collie male named Devon, a dog with a troubled youth who introduced the author to the needs of active working dogs. You'll know that another Border Collie -- the pup Homer -- arrived, and that Jon and dogs had begun active participating in sheep herding. [Read an interview with Jon Katz here.]

Life with Active Dogs at Bedlam Farm

As the newest book opens, we discover that Jon's passion for giving his working dogs a chance to fulfill their heritage has taken a dramatic turn -- he has sold his beloved cabin and purchased a 42-acre farm near West Hebron in upstate New York, about an hour northeast of Albany.  He has stocked it with a herd of sheep and two donkeys, and settled in to a new radically life.  Yet a third border collie, young Rose, has joined Jon's family.

One thread in this book is the strong values of small town life in rural areas, where everyone knows everyone, and people still pitch in to help each other in times of need. For the suburbanite author, and I suspect for many of the book's readers, this is a new world.

Another thread is the education of the border collies as they improve their herding skills. One of the most wonderful images in the book is Jon opening the farm gate and heading out, followed by the flock of sheep who in turn are followed by one of the dogs, keeping in the sheep in line and moving forward.

Adding to the book's appeal is Jon's admission that much of his adventure at the farm is about being a better dog trainer and a better person. Through the challenges of the bitter cold winter, the lambing season, his reunion with his sister and her dogs,  and more, he shares his thoughts about caring for animals, for making difficult decisions about the right home for Homer, and much more.  

This book is humorous, heart-warming and thought-provoking. Just as I said about Jon's first dog book, A Dog Year, this is a volume that every dog lover deserves to have, to read and reread. You will enjoy the tales of people and dogs -- and find yourself pondering the importance of animals in our lives. I strongly recommend it, whether you order it for yourself or as a gift.

AUTHOR: Jon Katz
in 2004 is the author of thirteen books, six of them novels and seven works of nonfiction, with his three recent books focusing on life with dogs. Recent dog books are The New Work of Dogs: Tending to Life, Love, Family and The Dogs of Bedlam Farm. A member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, he is a contributor to to Bark magazine. Among his earlier books are Geeks and Running to the Mountain. A two-time finalist for the National Magazine Award, he has written for The New York Times, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, and Wired. He currently writes about technology, media, and culture for the Web site, and is a contributing editor to public radio’s Marketplace.  He lives in northern New Jersey with his wife, Paula Span, a reporter for The Washington Post, and their college-student daughter, Emma Span. Jon Katz can be e-mailed at or

Review by Barbara B. Petura, Webmaster
Member, Dog Writers Association of America

PUBLISHER: Villard Books, a division of Random House,
New York, 2004.

  Click here to order The Dogs of Bedlam Farm

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