Book Review: A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me and The Dogs of Bedlam Farm: An Adventure with Sixteen Sheep, Three Dogs, Two Donkeys, and Me


By: Jon Katz
I was given these two books earlier this year as a birthday present by a friend
who is a professional dog trainer. I was immediately taken in by the photos of
the border collies on the covers, as I know little about the breed but was
interested in what makes them tick.

I was pleased to discover that "A Dog Year"
also stars two yellow Labrador retrievers. So I wasted little time diving into
these books.

"A Dog Year" is the autobiography of a writer, Jon Katz, who turns his somewhat
sedate life with two trusty Labs completely upside down, when he agrees to adopt
a wily, incorrigible border collie that was bounced from its previous home. The
border collie, Devon, is shipped to New Jersey from Texas and escapes from his
crate while still in the airport. This is only the beginning in a surprising
test of wills between man and canine. The Labs, Julius and Stanley, are
initially puzzled by the sudden chaos in their lives caused by the small black
and white blur of fur that is Devon, but do accommodate him fairly quickly. Jon
Katz’ adjustment to Devon, though, is problematic and takes considerably longer.

Devon in fact is so out of control that he is at first nicknamed "the Helldog".
He leaps on top of moving vehicles and kitchen tables, through windows and over
fences. He figures out how to open cabinets, the refrigerator and a sliding
screen door. He even tries to herd school buses. For a man accustomed to
low-key, exceptionally well-behaved dogs, Devon is a whirling nightmare. But
just when Katz has nearly given up the notion of ever making peace with Devon,
he has a series of breakthroughs, and both man and dog are transformed.

Katz incorporates some lovely passages about the strength of his relationships
with his Labs and the adventures the three of them share. But, welcome or not,
time brings change, and these changes are described honestly yet poignantly.

And then just when Devon starts to feel secure and Katz’ life starts to become
manageable again, he is convinced to adopt another border collie, a cutie named
Homer. It turns out that while Homer is a sweet and cooperative dog, Devon
perceives him as a threat, and the household again erupts in chaos. In time
though, Devon and Homer form an uneasy truce and eventually begin to enjoy each
other’s company. Toward the end of "A Dog Year", Katz helps fulfill every border
collie’s dream by taking Devon and Homer to a farm to herd sheep. The experience
is so profound that it precipitates an even more dramatic change to follow.

"A Dog Year" is funny, sad, surprising and the perfect set up to the story that
follows in "The Dogs of Bedlam Farm". In the second book, the stars are Orson
(formerly Devon; Katz gave him a new name in honor of how much the dog had
changed), Homer, and a new border collie pup named Rose. Katz makes the
astonishing decision to purchase a farm house on 40 acres in upstate New York
and turn it into a working sheep farm, assisted only by his border collies. He
acquires 15 ewes, a ram named Nesbitt and a lonely donkey named Carol. Katz is
in his mid 50’s and has no prior experience raising sheep. He knows he is in for
a challenge, but is not really prepared for being pushed to the breaking point
more than once by the harshness of winter, lambing season and the threat of
predatory animals.

Despite what appear to be overwhelming challenges, as in the first book, thanks
to remarkable dogs, in "The Dogs of Bedlam Farm", Katz emerges a better man than
he was prior to his adventures. He re-establishes a bond with his estranged
sister, befriends neighboring farmers, survives frostbite and hypothermia,
completes lambing season with relatively few losses, and learns a great deal
about himself.

I recommend these books to any self-professed dog lover, particularly anyone who
wants to learn about border collies and the work they originally were bred to
do. "A Dog Year" is especially well-written, yet a quick read. "The Dogs of
Bedlam Farm" is more complicated but manages to hold your attention as well.
Curl up on the couch and read them with your pup.

Review Written By: Karen Brauer

Title: A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and
Author: Jon Katz
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
IBSN: 0-8129-6690-2
Title: The Dogs of Bedlam Farm: An Adventure
with Sixteen Sheep, Three Dogs, Two Donkeys, and Me
Author: Jon Katz
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
IBSN: 1-4000-6243-8