Jon Katz is living on a dilapidated old farm in upstate New York with his menagerie --- dogs, barn cats, chickens, sheep and donkeys. His long marriage is unraveling, and his personal life is in disarray. When he goes in search of old windows for his dairy barn, he meets a shy, younger woman, a fabric artist, whose confidence and marriage are also failing. This is hardly a typical love story; it's the story of two people who meet when both are struggling with serious problems that threaten to overwhelm them. Add an untamed rottweiler-shepherd mix named Frieda to the equation, and complications are sure to occur.
At first, Jon and Maria are friends who are at ease with each other. They seem to have a quiet rapport, but Frieda is doing an excellent job of keeping them apart. Frieda has a troubled past, having spent time as a junkyard dog, guarding property and keeping would-be troublemakers away. She was abandoned by her owners and left in the wild to fend for herself. Dogs are not meant to live that way, and life was undoubtedly difficult. She was finally rescued and placed in a shelter, where Maria eventually found her, felt a strong bond, and took her home. But she has no idea how to train or tame her, and the dog trusts no one but Maria. Clearly, both Maria and Frieda need much more than they can offer each other.
"The author is very frank in discussing his failings and frailties, and the reader can empathize with this older gent who is trying to find love and a firm footing in his rather shaky world."
Jon gives Maria the use of one of his empty barns for a studio. Frieda accompanies Maria to work there; after all, the two females are a package deal. Though Jon has trained dogs, loves dogs, and has written several books about dogs, he can make no headway with this particular canine. Perplexed yet persistent, he realizes that he must woo and win both Maria and Frieda.
As a way to earn a small place in Frieda's good graces, Jon purchases $500 worth of beef jerky online. Not that one can win over an unfriendly dog merely with beef jerky, but Jon believes that incorporating meat into his plan of training might help him make some progress with Frieda.
Both Jon and Maria divorce their long-time spouses and find themselves adrift. Jon has proposed to Maria countless times, but each time she smiles and turns him down. Still he persists. And he persists with Frieda, too. Jon believes that if he is ever to truly succeed with Maria, their relationship must and will also involve a dog who is trained and comfortable around people.
The author is very frank in discussing his failings and frailties, and the reader can empathize with this older gent who is trying to find love and a firm footing in his rather shaky world. The book includes bits of humor --- picture the author, an older man, a bit on the stout side, dancing outside in the snow, wearing only a pair of bedroom slippers and a wizard hat with flashing red and blue battery-operated lights. Frieda is not the only one who deserves a second chance at love. If you enjoy reading about real people with real problems, then this work of nonfiction will certain fill the bill. And for dog lovers, here’s a happy fact: Frieda does not die.
Reviewed by Carole Turner on November 15, 2013