Jon Katz,
The Dogs of Bedlam Farm:
An Adventure with 16 Sheep,
3 Dogs, 2 Donkeys & Me

(Villard, 2004)

The holidays tend to make us all a bit crazy, and any Saturday spent running errands and shopping in preparation of the holidays makes me, in particular, even crazier. So how did I end up in an abandoned parking lot listening to, of all things, a radio interview? I'd been rolling along, ticking off the mental list of places to go and things to get when the conversation coming quietly through the speakers started butting in. Did he say donkey? Sub-zero temperatures? Rectal thermometer? Well, you can just imagine why I felt I had to turn up the volume, right? I only caught the last few minutes of the interview, but it was enough to know that I would add this book to my own Christmas list.

Before reading The Dogs of Bedlam Farm I'd never heard of Jon Katz. Since then, I feel I've known him for years, if not my entire life. He is who and what I might be had I been born earlier, and male, and a gifted writer, and a big-hearted, brave -- and not a little crazy -- soul. He is a writer of fiction and non-fiction books, magazine articles and an online magazine column, co-host of a monthly radio show about dogs, and a remarkably well-balanced man considering his upbringing.

Katz admits that buying a farm in upstate New York was as great a reach emotionally as it was financially. It meant living away from his wife, also a writer and teacher, and their daughter. He would be a "Flatlander," the term used by locals for anyone "not from around here," with no prior experience save the handful of years he'd spent learning to herd sheep with his beloved border collies. He would be singularly responsible for his own life and health, as well as that of his newly acquired herd of 15 ewes and one crotchety ram, two sweet-tempered donkeys and three extraordinary dogs. Anything he was unable to build, cut, repair or otherwise obtain on his own would have to be hired, purchased or borrowed from a neighbor. Those neighbors are hard-working and harshly realistic, no-nonsense country folk who viewed him initially as a "gentleman farmer" with citified tendencies.

And yet the pull to this place, with these animals, at this time, is that of a magnet to true north.

The idea is to purchase the farm and the sheep for the dogs. The reality is a brutally cold winter of frostbite and bronchitis, feral cats and coyotes, sick, dying and dead animals, and relentlessly hard work. But also unbreakable commitment, soul-satisfying accomplishment, unselfish sacrifice, heart-warming dog love, lifelong friendships, resurrected family bonds and salvation. Along the way we learn that unlike humans, dogs often know best what they are born to do and do it without reservation. We can learn as much from them as we can teach them, but we first have to understand that we are in need of the lessons.

I did not read the last page of this book. I am that unwilling to have the story end.

- Rambles
written by Sheree Morrow
published 12 February 2005

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