The Dogs of Bedlam Farm: An Adventure With Sixteen Sheep, Three Dogs, Two Donkeys, and Me

by Jon Katz

Looking for a place that would allow his three border collies to do
what they do best --- herd sheep --- and allow him to continue
their training, Jon Katz heads to West Hebron, a small town an hour
northeast of Albany. Here, his new home is an aging farmhouse
complete with several decrepit barns, forty-two acres of pasture
and woods, a cantankerous ram, fifteen ewes, two donkeys named
Carol and Fanny, and a town full of people curious about the
"flatlander" in their midst. Presented with the challenge of once
again turning it into a working farm, Katz knows he will either
rise to the occasion or find himself headed down the New York State
Thruway back to New Jersey.

But Katz did not take up residence at Bedlam Farm (that's its
official name) solely for Orson, Homer and Rose. He also did it for
himself, inspired in part by something his friend and a
professional dog trainer, Carolyn, told him after a frustrating
training session with Orson. "Here's the truth and you just have to
face it: If you want to have a better dog, you will just have to be
a better goddamned human." Taking her words to heart, Katz got to
work on it. "What better place to test my notions about dogs and
humans," he wondered, "than here, with border collies and a bunch
of sheep? Could they become happier dogs and more useful partners?
Could I learn to be a better human? The four of us and our little
band of animals, tucked away on a hillside through a glorious fall,
the bitter upstate winter, and a cold, muddy spring filled with
lambing, could probably find out."

In THE DOGS OF BEDLAM FARM, Katz chronicles his first nine months
of the adventure and the triumphs and failures he encountered along
the way. There is the adjustment to small-town life, which he
adapts to with surprising ease. There are daily training sessions
with Orson, Homer and Rose. There are sheep and donkeys to be cared
for, repairs to make on the farm, and locals to get acquainted
with. Strikingly observant and honest, Katz weaves it all into a
narrative that is by turns hilarious, heartwarming and

Whether greeting an autumn sunrise, being battered by a belligerent
ram, roaming the hills with his beloved dogs, herding sheep,
assisting ewes during lambing season, playing matchmaker between a
neighbor and a puppy, tending a sick donkey, mentoring a troubled
12-year-old boy, or reuniting with his estranged sister, Katz
learns that being part of a community and running a farm is
backbreaking --- and sometimes heartbreaking --- work. It takes
perseverance, luck, determination and the help of a few good
friends ("those with fur and those without") to make it through the
harsh winter.

When spring finally comes, with pale rays of sunshine thawing the
winter chill, it's clear that Katz and his canine companions have
breathed new life into more than just this rambling and untended
homestead. Welcome to Bedlam Farm.


Reviewed by Shannon McKenna on December 30, 2010

The Dogs of Bedlam Farm: An Adventure With Sixteen Sheep, Three Dogs, Two Donkeys, and Me
by Jon Katz

  • Publication Date: October 5, 2004
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Villard
  • ISBN-10: 1400062438
  • ISBN-13: 9781400062430