18 November

An Ode To Working Dogs, The Way For Me…

by Jon Katz
Mystical Companions To Me
Mystical Companions To Me

When people talk to me about the dogs they mean to get these, almost every single one says, “of course I’ll go to a shelter,” or “of course, I’ll get a rescue dog.” I respect that, I’ve had a lot of rescue dogs myself, as well as rescue donkeys, sheep, cats and chickens. When I listen to these people, though, I often want to suggest to them that they consider several different ways of getting a dog, just as there is no one training program that fits every dog, there is no one way to get a dog, for me, acquiring a live animal for years is not a moral decision, it is a philosophical and practical one – which path offers the best life together for the dog and the person.

For me, getting a dog is not a moral decision, the morality comes in how I treat the dog, how good a life I can give him or her, how thoughtful a choice I make. I am getting good at it, I have the most wonderful dogs, they fit my life like a glove.  I am always careful about choosing a dog, we exploit animals all of the time, we all do, using them to help us feel better about ourselves and our lives.

When you have animals like Izzy, Frieda or Simon, the joys of saving a creature in need are deep and clear. The “rescue” is less important to me than the experience of living well with an animal who lives for human beings. I have come to see that the most powerful and satisfying experiences I’ve had with dogs  are with working dogs – Orson, Izzy, Rose, Lenore, Frieda, Red. Usually, I get these dogs from breeders, not always, sometimes I get them from shelters or pluck them from trouble. For me, this seems to cement and personify what is a mystical connection between human and animal, a human being in need of service, an animal breed for many years, even centuries, to work with us, be with us, serve us.

I love working with good breeders, they have chosen the best, healthiest and most wonderful dogs for me, time and again, from Lenore to Red to Pearl to Rose. I hear many people say people shouldn’t buy a dog from a breeder, but I wonder where they think dogs like Rose and Red come from? I would hate to think of  world without border collies or Labs. The longer I live with dogs and write about them, the more I understand that I can’t tell anyone else how to get a dog – it is a very personal and individual decision, it is the height of arrogance for me to presume I know how everyone else should do what it has taken me so long to begin to learn how to do.

I need to have a dog in my life, especially, I have found, a working dog. Dogs shape my work, my photography, my creativity, even my love. They inspire me to work, keep me company through the sometimes lonely life of the writer, they ground and inspire me. They nourish me with affection and attention. My working dogs enter my lives in a very particular way, they enter into the spirit and context of my life. I see Lenore walk in the woods with Maria, this loving dog evolving into a spirit animal walking with her human in the woods. There, Lenore is transformed, as Maria has written, she becomes the dog she was bred to be, meant to be, connecting with the lives of human beings, serving them.

Rose became a similar kind of partner in my life at Bedlam Farm, she shared the work and the experience with me, gave me strength sometimes to do it. The farm brought out the strongest and most powerful working instincts in Rose, she was free to use and explore them there. When I was  alone at Bedlam Farm, Lenore offered companionship and affection – we get the dogs we need. Orson, troubled soul, sparked my turn towards writing about dogs and other animals, gave me a way to leave  my suburban life and move to the country. I have evolved, so have the working dogs in my life.

Red has brought my mystical idea of the working dog – bred in the service of human beings for so long – to another level of awareness and experience. He has that special gift of being able to enter any place I am, join in almost any work I am going. He goes into the bookstore as easily as the pasture, he intuitively greets a scarred war veteran and open’s an alien heart,  he greets people at readings as well as farm stands, he rides in the car as happily as he herds sheep, he lies by my feet when I work, an affirming and steadying presence.

Other kinds of dogs can do this, but the working dog has been bred to do it, it is in his or her genes, they love nothing more than to enter into a task with a human being, it is their purpose, their destiny, their genes, it is in their blood. There is something mystical about the well-bred working dog for me, he connects people to nature in the most elemental way, I think, this has become the only way for me to get a dog.

Every day, they open me up to new experience, they are lights on my path through life.









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