Today, on this “Hot Enough for you Day” (very appropriate with record-breaking heat expected here in NJ) I extend a Happy Cousins Day to all my 42 first cousins (many of them dog lovers) throughout the nation, many of us who will be spending time together in the very near future.
When I started my work on the National Dog Week Movement, I learned how Captain Will Judy and those who would follow in his “paw prints” literally helped America go to the dogs. Because of the good Captain and his canine-loving cohorts, we even have an entire week in September just to honor them for all they do for us as well as the opportunity to address the deplorable conditions in which many of the nation’s dog still find themselves despite our great show of love for them.
When we’re not playing, feeding, walking, brushing, snuggling with our dogs we are reading about them. I happen to be one of those legions of readers who just can’t get enough of these dog books whether they are Fiction of Non, and love to loan my dog-eared copies.
Last Christmas, my brother John gave me a signed copy of author Jon Katz’s A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs and Me. The book chronicles Jon’s relationship with four dogs in the span of a year. When Jon rescues an energetic, troubled Border collie named Orson, his life, and the peaceful existence of his two placid Yellow Labs, Julius and Stanley are turned upside down. Most people would have given up on the “impossible” Orson within a week’s time, but in facing the challenge of saving the life and soul of this dog, Jon would find his true life’s path.
Over the course of time, Jon would move from a bustling suburb of New Jersey to the bucolic farm country of upstate New York to a place called Bedlam Farm, his life turned over to the dogs and the happiness and pleasure they can bring. On the Bedlam Farm website Jon states, “My dogs are the heart of the farm, the reason I came here, the thing I love the most and write about the most.”
What I found so engrossing about this book was the way Jon contrasted the temperaments of his Border collies (a calmer border named Homer would ultimately join the pack) with the docile nature of his labs. Not every Border or Lab is alike, but each breed possesses a basic temperament that owners need to be aware of when welcoming them into their lives.
Because I am very familiar with the North Jersey town Jon brought Orson to, and by fate, my brother John now lives in a hamlet not far from Bedlam Farms (a town I spent many years visiting) I contacted the author to share this information, and tell him how much I enjoyed reading this book, and of course to let him know about my efforts on the part of National Dog Week. Jon not only responded, but graciously offered me an opportunity to interview him.
Our talk focused on something I think is very fundamental, but often ignored in our rush to acquire dogs (purebred or otherwise); breed knowledge, and the necessity of obedience training. If we don’t understand what dogs have been bred for over centuries, and we don’t take the time to train accordingly, we are doomed as a nation in our quest to make this world a better place for them.
For Jon, breed knowledge, and the willingness to properly train a dog is a life or death matter. For example, Jon explains that dogs like Akitas, and Huskies, evolving from cold regions where food was scarce, may become food aggressive. And our beloved Labs, bred over time as hunting “tools” can have biting issues. Making the effort to become familiar with the inbred traits of a dog, (even if it is a crossbreed) can help make for safe and comfortable living conditions for dogs and humans.
The dogs that have populated Jon’s life have come to him in many ways. Through competent breeders, and through rescue, he emphasises, “There is no single way to get a dog.” Whether you choose to work with a reputable and caring breeder, or wisely choose to rescue a dog based on intelligence and the ability to handle the situation, we as a nation need to respect an individual’s right to make choices that can lead to a suitable and loving home for that animal. And we, as purported dog lovers must honor our pledge to the shelter or the breeder to invest the time and energy to give our dogs the care they deserve, and that includes the promise to neuter and spay, as well as train.
As you can imagine, Bedlam Farms is inhabited by more than a few dogs, and Jon appreciates the gifts each one brings. There’s Rose, a true working dog that loves to herd, the soulful Izzy that brought Jon to Hospice work, and Lenore “The Light” who showers all with love, perhaps the true “work” of all dogs.
Jon now finds joy in not only writing about the denizens of Bedlam, but photographing them. On the farm’s website you Jon has lovingly captured his dogs at work and rest through an artist’s lens. Jon has a novel due out this Fall, Rose in a Blizzard followed by Bedlam Farm for Kids. To learn more about all of Jon’s books, Bedlam Farm, and read his Farm Journal, go to http://www.bedlamfarm.com.