The New Work of Dogs by Jon Katz
I have just finished Jon Katz’s The New Work of Dogs (#55 ADE).
I have read most of his dog books: Katz on Dogs: A Commonsense Guide to Training and Living with Dogs (HC, very good); Izzy and Lenore (library, about his lab pup and one of his border collies?); A Good Dog: Orson, the Dog who Changed my Life (Library, about one of his border collies – this might have been the one who was really damaged); Soul of a Dog (Library); Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm (library); Running to the Mountain: A Midlife Adventure (library). I own A Dog Year (ADE) and The Dogs of Bedlam Farm (ADE) but I’m not sure that I’ve read them yet – now that I can read them on my ipad, I’ll find out.
I enjoy his writing very much (obviously!). He has a good sense of humor and we have a lot in common. He loves upstate New York to which he moved about 10 years ago, he loves to read, he loves dogs, and he’s a loner.
We share a philosophy with regard to dogs (and all animals, really).
This is to say that:
1) Dogs are not people – I’m not their mommy, they lack most human emotions (like guilt), and they are not born with the ability to learn English or any other human language (they can respond to verbal cues, but this is different than language acquisition);
2) We humans have tremendous responsibility for the dogs we take on. We are responsible for their quality of life: keeping them safe, keeping them well-fed and watered, keeping them well-exercised and having fun; keeping them mentally challenged and active; taking care of their medical needs, including reducing pain and treating things like arthritis; and making the hard decision IN THEIR INTEREST (not ours) when the time has come to euthanize;
3) We have a responsibility to use positive training techniques to ensure their safety and ours and to help them understand human expectations;
4) Shelters that “warehouse” dogs for years are not acting in the dog’s best interest; and
5) The world doesn’t need another mean dog. If a dog is vicious and no amount of training is going to change that, the dog should be euthanized.
The New Work of Dogs is a brilliant book that I read in about a day. It has a fascinating premise that seems so obvious in hindsight, which is that today’s American dogs always have work and a job, but it usually isn’t what they were bred to do. Their job is usually to be companion, exercise partner, friend, and, sometimes, defender. I never thought about it this way. He uses one or two cases per chapter to illustrate the invaluable roles our dogs play today for the ill, the aging, the young, the harried, people going through emotion trauma, and so on. Instead of the herding, hunting, guarding, and pulling that various breeds were created to do.
The book includes lots of touching stories of elderly people whose dog is their only real companion, of a woman who is dying for whom her dog is an invaluable helpmate, and a young boy in a poor neighborhood with a dog who defends him (the boy, however, hits the dog to “juice him up” and stand up for the boy, this is a sickening part of the book).
He also includes a chapter about two dogs owned by neighbors. Both are large herding and hunting breeds. And their stories are very different. One family treats their dog like furniture, refusing to crate or train them or really exercise them. As the dog gets to 70-80 lbs, it ends up tied outside most of the time, bored, lonely, and unloved. In contrast is the dog across the street with a family that trains and crates the dog, exercises it, and takes it everywhere. The dog is happy. The family is happy. The people who meet this dog are happy.
In a week when the American Kennel Club announced a new therapy dog title: THD for dogs that get Delta (or other society) certification and make 50 therapy visits to facilities (woohoo!) I found it particularly fitting to read a book from such a thoughtful writer that recognizes the changed role that dogs are playing in society today. I highly recommend his books.
How about you? Are there any dog-related books that you’ve particularly enjoyed?
Happy reading, Ruby