A GOOD DOG details Jon Katz's relationship with a dog who intersects with Katz at a significant time in both their lives. One day, a border collie named Devon arrives in New Jersey and springs from his crate with the gusto that characterizes his personality from day one.
Devon is a two-year old protégé from a breeder who needs a home. Katz accepts the dog into his suburban lifestyle but discovers that Devon has "issues" and needs positive direction, away from his explosive tendencies. Devon is a herder with no clear concept of who, what and where he is expected to corral. He herds everything and everyone: FedEx trucks, school buses, dog walkers with canines in tow --- it makes no difference.
The wild dog is uncontrollable, so Katz seeks help from trainer Carolyn Wilki, who conducts seminars for sheepherders and their border collies. Devon is certain to come through the training with a sense of his background and responsibility.
Alas, Devon's future as herder appears doomed. Wilki observes that the pup is afraid of his own name, so she suggests a new one --- Orson. Katz accepts the fact that Orson will not adapt to city life and proceeds to buy a farm in upstate New York. A glimmer of hope comes when Orson actually herds the Katz sheep into the corral, though he never performs this feat a second time. Meanwhile, Katz brings a border collie, Rose, onto the farm as a working farm dog. She's the disciplined worker that Orson is not, a deep contrast. While Orson settles into a routine as a companion dog, Rose invigorates the farm with her tireless effort. Both dogs tolerate one another and establish a place in the community.
Apparent that Orson is deeply troubled, Katz seeks outside help for his neurotic companion. Healers from standard veterinarians and herbalists, to acupuncturists and an animal shaman try to subdue Orson's wild side, but to no avail. Katz faces his biggest challenge yet when violence erupts outside his own door. Orson nips, rips and ultimately draws blood on a human being.
No animal owner will read this book without feeling some sort of emotion. Katz stirs the ethical challenges of living with a troubled pet, the moral responsibility that hangs like a noose on an owner's neck and the road to difficult decisions that can be made. A GOOD DOG makes one laugh, cry and celebrate the personal relationships between a man and his "lifetime dog."
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on June 26, 2007
A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life