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A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life

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People who love dogs often talk about a "lifetime" dog. I'd heard the phrase a dozen times before I came to recognize its significance. Lifetime dogs are dogs we love in especially powerful, sometimes inexplicable ways.--Jon Katz

In this gripping and deeply touching book, bestselling author Jon Katz tells the story of his lifetime dog, Orson: a beautiful border collie--intense, smart, crazy, and unforgettable.

From the moment Katz and Orson meet, when the dog springs from his traveling crate at Newark airport and panics the baggage claim area, their relationship is deep, stormy, and loving. At two years old, Katz's new companion is a great herder of school buses, a scholar of refrigerators, but a dud at herding sheep. Everything Katz attempts -- obedience training, herding instruction, a new name, acupuncture, herb and alternative therapie -- helps a little but not enough, and not for long. "Like all border collies and many dogs" Katz writes, "he needed work. I didn't realize for some time I was the work Orson would find."

While Katz is trying to help his dog, Orson is helping him, shepherding him toward a new life on a two-hundred-year-old hillside farm in upstate New York. There, aided by good neighbors and a tolerant wife, hip-deep in sheep, chickens, donkeys, and more dogs, the man and his canine companion explore meadows, woods, and even stars, wade through snow, bask by a roaring wood stove, and struggle to keep faith with each other. There, with deep love, each embraces his unfolding destiny.

A Good Dog is a book to savor. Just as Orson was the author's lifetime dog, his story is a lifetime treasure -- poignant, timeless, and powerful.

224 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2006

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About the author

Jon Katz

51 books441 followers
Jon Katz is an author, photographer, and children's book writer. He lives on Bedlam Farm with his wife, the artist Maria Wulf, his four dogs, Rose, Izzy, Lenore and Frieda, two donkeys, Lulu and Fanny, and two barn cats. His next book, "Rose In A Storm" will be published by Random House on October 5.
He is working on a collection of short stories and a book on animal grieving.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 368 reviews
Profile Image for Willa.
203 reviews20 followers
December 22, 2007
**Spoiler Alert**

Look into the eyes of the dog in the picture on the cover of this book and you are looking into the eyes of a troubled dog whose adoptive owner (Orson was a rescued dog) gave up on him and was too lazy to do the things that would have truly helped Orson. This is a horrid, horrid book about a horrid, horrid man who prides himself on being an amazingly wonderful dog lover, but who in the end MURDERS his dog because he just can't be bothered to take the time to ensure the dog's safety at the same time as ensuring the safety of those people who might come in contact with him.

Yes, Mr. Katz spent many, many hours working at training with Orson, and yes, he bought a home in the country so that Orson would have land to roam and enjoy, but ultimately those things came across as selfish actions, not selfless as he would have his readers believe.

He took Orson to training as a sheep-herding dog and admits that his goal was for Orson to compete and earn a ribbon. He says he wanted Orson to have a sense of accomplishment instead of the failure he seemed to feel so often, and yes, I do think dogs can feel such a sense of accomplishment and that it is very important to them. However, just think of all the failure Orson had to experience before reaching that goal of a ribbon, which ultimately allowed the author to show off in front of others and praise himself.

Living in the country. Sorry, I just don't believe that was all about the dog either. The author is an author and he wanted a quiet, relaxing place to write. I don't blame him for that, who wouldn't? Just don't try to sell it to me as some purely selfless action designed to help your troubled dog!

Yes, Orson bit three people. Bit them pretty badly. Only one of the incidents would have worried me, and that was when Orson bit the woman who worked in Mr. Katz's garden. However, even she admits that her actions probably spooked Orson, a dog she knew to be easily spooked. It's happened to me with a former dog of my parents. Twice. Led to stitches and everything. And guess what? That dog was kept and was loved just as much as ever before. Safely and happily, too, because we took the time to learn how to make him a safe dog and to properly supervise situations which might frighten him into attacking someone.

The other two people Orson bit reached over the fence into his dog run while he was barking at them. Okay, yeah, a pretty stupid thing to do. Okay, yeah, I agree that it's still the owner's job to make sure that doesn't happen. So, why couldn't Mr. Katz just keep Orson inside unless he was outside with him to supervise his behavior and to keep people from doing stupid things that might endanger themselves. Mr. Katz had stated multiple times that Orson, unlike his other Border Collie Rose, was perfectly happy to hang out in the house b/c he just wanted to be with the owner he loved. Seems like a pretty simple solution to me.

And after he's committed the murder of Orson, he tells us that an animal shaman has contacted Orson, who tells her that he wanted to be 'set free' from the confusing, scary human world and she thinks Orson may have attacked those people as a way to give Mr. Katz an excuse to set him free and that he's now blissfully happy. It's bad enough that Mr. Katz did what he did, but to give us this reasoning to justify it is truly sickening.

Yes, I know this review is interminable, but I don't believe in attacking a book without providing my reasons for speaking so strongly against it. Also, just look at the number of people involved who asked for their names to be changed in the book. Understandably, they did not want to be associated with something this truly awful.

Mr. Katz, you should be truly and thoroughly ashamed of yourself and you should never be allowed to care for an animal again.
Profile Image for Bev Sykes.
34 reviews22 followers
September 6, 2007
Katz has taken a lot of flak for his story of Orson, a trouble dog ultimately put to sleep for attacking three people, but I found this the story of a man fiercely devoted to trying to change the behavior of a "broken dog," to the point of buying a farm and spending hundreds of hours doing everything he could to discover how to fill the dog's life so that he would not feel the need to lash out unexpectedly. This is written with great love, and having been in the position of having to make that difficult decision about how far to go to keep a dog alive, I could sympathize and applaud him for his actions throughout his relationship with Orson. This is a good dog story-- but lay in the Kleenex before you get to the end!
Profile Image for Judith.
521 reviews3 followers
May 21, 2008
Moral of the story--don't rescue a troubled dog if you can't do the work, don't take on more than you can handle, and don't quit on your dog like Katz did to Orson. Jerk.
Profile Image for Sera.
35 reviews
December 4, 2013
I read the book based on the fact that the book reviews dealt more with the morality of euthanizing dogs versus the merits of the storytelling.

I really enjoyed A Dog Year (by the same author) but did not enjoy this book. It wasn't because of the very sad and conflicting ending, it was because Jon Katz's storytelling was self consumed and overly self indulgent. This book was not about his dog it was about himself. I really enjoy his other books, but think he missed the mark here.
Profile Image for Carol.
2,258 reviews71 followers
January 19, 2022
I have trouble reading books like this. I have devoted so much of my life to animals and have been "owned" by several very special dogs and cats. Like so many animal stories, this one is compelling and sad, yet it's peaceful at the end. The author made a difficult choice, which all pet owners face in time, sometimes prematurely. Orson was one lucky dog to have met Jon Katz and the best part of the whole book is that NO DOGS DIE! A really great read for any animal lover.
Profile Image for Joan Colby.
Author 45 books63 followers
April 27, 2011
As usual Jon Katz managed to annoy the hell out of me so why do I persist in reading his dog stories? I guess I hope he’ll eventually have some insight on his relationships with canines, and occasionally he makes steps in this direction recognizing that the acquisition of border collies was a springboard to a change in life for a man bored with his suburban existence. Fair enough. Katz’ Labs weren’t providing that challenge so he obtained a known problem: Devon, on the recommendation of a sheepherding trainer (what was she thinking…and cynically, despite Katz oblivious genuflections to all his mentors, I think the answer is money). Devon is of course a demon, a hyperactive mischief maker and Katz becomes the worst possible master constantly citing how Devon—renamed Orson on the advice of a mentor who says “Devon” has bad vibes for the dog from his previous life—dashes from his yard to “herd” school buses –and schoolchildren, challenges skateboarders, slips his leash, collar, whatever. Katz! Pay attention to the damn dog.
But Katz is always in a reverie, falling down due to his “bad leg” which becomes a “bad back”—that the 100 or so extra pounds he carries might have something to do with that never seems to occur to him. So Orson inspires Katz to purchase an upstate New York farm, a flock of sheep for Orson to terrorize and assorted other critters. Soon Katz acquires Rose, who proves to be an accomplished border collie, a worker not a pet and Orson is retired to the pet category which also is not a success. Katz spends a small fortune on vets, alternative vets, dog whisperers and shamans to no avail, but it all contributes to fodder for the book he’s writing. Orson’s behavior further deteriorates. Having bitten three people, now Katz determines Orson is “dangerous” and his moral duty, after considering the options of retraining—too much effort—more physical and mental testing—too expensive—confining Orson (Here Katz really irritates me as he posits that to pen Orson in an actual enclosure that he could not escape would be “like imprisonment”—do let’s poll human death row inhabitants on which alternative they would prefer). But Katz has made his moral decision. Death is the only solution he says as he babbles on about the wonderful support the vet (who actually sounds somewhat dubious) is providing. Then once Orson is safely dead he can become that “good dog” and Katz compounds this by having visions and spiritual visitations where Orson thanks him for bringing him peace. Katz concludes that Destiny brought him Orson to gift him with his new way of life. Katz is a master of self-regard and self-delusion while posing as genuinely self-critical. He rejects conventional training as “not right for rebellious spirits like him and Orson.”
Poor Orson whose fate illustrates the axiom “the only good dog is a dead dog.”
Profile Image for Theresa Kennedy.
Author 9 books434 followers
September 18, 2020

I'm writing this directly TO you. I hope you can handle it. I recently read your 2006 book, "A Good Dog: The Story of Orson Who Changed My Life." I finished it today to be exact, and frankly, I was appalled. I think you probably enjoy knowing that. Something in my intuition tells me you get a kick out of offending and even probably hurting the people who represent your readership. You strike me as the type.

From what I can tell of your book, it is not an incredibly written book, but is more along the lines of a book written by someone of average skills. In terms of mechanics and vocabulary, you're passable but definitely not the best writer I've ever read. As of two weeks ago, I had no idea who you were, and this book is the only book of yours I have read but I want you to know, I will NEVER read you again. You should know the reasons why.

From what I've learned, after doing a close reading of your book here, you are clearly a complete narcissist and one of the worst dog owners I've ever read about. Your arrogance is unmatched in the way you attempt to come across like the White Savior of stray or unwanted dogs. You're not a real dog rescuer though, not really and certainly not in the case of Devon/Orson.

SPOILER ALERT FOLKS. Jon kills Devon/Orson in the end because he becomes inconvenient.

Why? Because Devon/Orson became inconvenient but also because he represented Jon's failures. Jon's failure to heal Devon/Orson was a very real dynamic in why Jon decided to end the life of a healthy joyful dog who would have been fine somewhere else, and ((with)) someone else.

First off, Jon, you didn't buy your old beat-up farm for Devon/Orson, you bought it for yourself. Be honest about that, as its so painfully obvious to anyone over the age of 40. You didn't buy your farm FOR Devon/Orson, you bought it for yourself. And really, in future, you shouldn't try to Virtue Signal like that, to build yourself up, as you have in this book. Virtue signalling dynamics are transparent these days and they just make the people who use them seem pathetic and self-serving.

You bought the farm due to your own self-interest. Period.

And you didn't euthanize a perfectly good, healthy, joyful dog because it was the best thing for either Devon/Orson OR humankind in general. You arranged Devon/Orson's death because he became inconvenient and you wanted to play God. Well, good for you. You did. You got to play God but you also revealed yourself in the process.

How so? Your LANGUAGE reveals you. :)

I'm a creative writing instructor, a writer and an author too. Along with that, I am an animal rights activist and rescuer. I have rescued over 100 cats in the past 35 years, and 18 dogs. NOT ONCE did I euthanize a dog because of aggression or biting. I changed their environment and/or, I gave them simple medication, such as Prozac, (yes, dogs can take Prozac too) to calm their moods and stabilize their responses to potential threats or perceived threats.

That is because I understand dogs. Clearly better than you, Jon.

Sadly, Jon, it is apparent that you don't understand dogs. To you, they really are no more important than one of your fish, who after dying, you simply end up flushing down the toilet.

You talk of how much you loved Devon/Orson, and how many thousands of dollars you spent on him, on his training, on veterinary care, on naturopathic veterinary care, including Chiropractic and Acupuncture, and even on communicators, (ostensibly the reader is supposed to genuflect in your direction because of how saintly you are) but you still felt it was your right to end the life of a dog with health, and intelligence and many more years to live and be the individual creature that Devon/Orson SHOULD have been, to fulfill HIS destiny to survive, unhindered by YOUR deluded choice to end that life because of your laughable semantics on the care of dogs.

In the book, you reference Devon/Orson by name and as "the dog." This is done countless times. It was fascinating to me because of what it reveals. The pattern illustrates your disconnect with the true acknowledgment that Devon/Orson was actually an individual creature deserving to live out HIS life and not just an extension of some form of YOUR property.

The pattern shows and illustrates an emotional, psychological and spiritual disconnect on your part to a beautiful animal who should have lived until his body became old and feeble.

You skirt the issue of the abuse that must have occurred in Devon/Orson's life, prior to you taking him on. You mention it repeatedly, but never really examine that likely scenario with any manner of honest exploration or depth. Despite your expressed suspicion that he was abused, which you approach numerous times but never actually state with any honesty, you never at any time sought the information that would likely have been readily available to you, if you had felt it important enough to do some digging.

Was Devon/Orson abused? In my opinion, yes, undoubtedly. Abused dogs become aggressive and they bite. Can it be from bad breeding? Probably that too, but given Devon/Orson's history, I'd wager money that he was beaten and berated when he didn't perform well, or as expected in his obedience dog years, as a competitor.

One thing I notice in your book, Jon, is the way you tell the reader what Devon/Orson was feeling and or what he "wanted" for you. Do you really think you can pull that off? Do you really think you have that right, without coming across like a New Age Woo Woo nut? You'll never really know what Devon/Orson wanted, because I don't think you ever really understood him, at all.

What I can tell you about highly intelligent dogs, and I understand you must know this, is that they watch us. Sadly, many of our motivations are unconscious and how do we express those hidden unconscious motivations? Generally non-verbally. So, the three people that Devon/Orson attacked and bit? I would not be one bit surprised if you had an issue with ALL three of them. Perhaps they reminded you of someone you didn't like? Perhaps the young woman who worked for you was a young woman you felt a sexual attraction for but did not want to admit to yourself? And that feeling made you resent her?

Devon/Orson would watch your EYES. He would listen to the subtle tone in your voice, and he would be able to ascertain this. The message your nonverbal body language would tell him is: "Jon doesn't really like that person. They seem nice to me, but JON is narrowing his eyes. His voice is different. He's telling ME there is something wrong with them. I should be wary of them. They are not Jon's friends. They are his enemy. And now, they are MY enemy."

Could it be, Jon, that Devon/Orson attacked all three of those people because of you? Because of some message you conveyed TO him? I think that not only is that likely, I think that is indeed what happened.

The issue of Euthanasia: In the book, Jon, you do not once write of tranquilizers as a viable option for Devon/Orson. This is telling. Many vets, both traditional and naturopathic will prescribe tranquilizers for dogs, with wonderful results. You didn't do this.


Instead, you decided, in extremely melodramatic, self-serving terms, to euthanize a perfectly healthy, joyful dog, who I would have loved to have rescued and any number of other more enlightened people would have loved to have rescued. And then in the final analysis, after callously killing Devon/Orson, you benefit from Devon/Orson's death by writing a book about the dog you destroyed?

For money. For gain. For recognition. For sympathy.

Frankly, you sicken me. I will never read you again. I know your character too well, simply from the language you use in this book, the patterns you use and your nauseating self-serving narcissism.

Your language reveals you so effectively.

I further hope you understand that the reason you've taken such a beating since this awful 2006 book was published is because what you did was WRONG.

What you did was wrong.

One telling thing is the photo of Devon/Orson, on the cover. The eyes of this lovely creature are frightened. He looks uncertain. The hyper-vigilant look of your typical abused animal. That you could betray this beautiful animal, as everyone else in his life did is reprehensible.

I hope whoever sells you another dog is aware of your easy ability to destroy an animal when it becomes inconvenient to you.

That you were not even unwilling to arrange his euthanasia at your farm, (which would have been easier for him) but decided to lug him to your Vet instead, indicates an incredible amount of selfishness on your part. That you were aware that he was frightened and trembling, and probably also knew that he as going to be killed, also utterly reprehensible on your part.

Another aspect to your book, that was quite revealing was your stated and implied masochism. Yes, that is indeed what I wrote. You write in the book repeatedly of how much pain you are in, how you ignore it, how you don't tend to your health needs but accept daily pain in your legs, hips and knees. This was bizarre. Most well adjusted people aren't willing to experience chronic pain like that. But you were and you seemed to almost blame Devon/Orson for it.

But the interesting aspect of chronic pain is that with people like you, who don't tend to it, but rather choose to experience the masochistic pain of it, there is another element to masochism and masochistic natures and that is sadism. I believe that there was a part of you that enjoyed the power of destroying Devon/Orson. Deep down, I think you enjoyed the power of playing God. When you mention how you invite him to go on his last ride on your farm vehicle, up to the hill and "pass" the hole in the ground, his grave, on the way up, it sounds almost like some form of perverse mental masturbation. Sick.

Yep, Jon, you're one SICK PUPPY as they say in NY and in Portland. ;)

I hope one day, the realization that what you did was sick and perverse finally sinks into your selfish, avoidant, neurotic and emotionally indifferent head. Don't get anymore Border Collies. You're not up to the task and they deserve a better "Guardian" than you. Because that is what you SHOULD have been to Devon/Orson. YOU should have been HIS guardian. He should never have been considered your guardian, because that's not how it works. They may protect us upon occasion but WE are THEIR guardians, not vice versa.

You FAILED jon. You FAILED him.

And finally, that is one thing you never were. You were never Devon/Orson's "Guardian."

You were his "owner."

Sincerely, Theresa Griffin Kennedy~
Profile Image for Lori.
1,376 reviews
May 30, 2013
An almost four. Jon Katz has written many books about the animals he has owned. Especially dogs. this one is mostly about Orson. Orson is a border-collie he got when Orson was about three years old. Orson was a very wild dog. even for a border collie. he had a tendency to chase. buses, trucks, people etc. he also tended to snap at and even bite. he was very anxious dog. Jon Katz tried very hard to tame this out of control dog. took him to Veterenerians, even a vet that specialized in holistic medications. a vet who did accupuncter,.It was clear that Orson's first few years had trauma in it. he did not trust, was very anxious and would lash out when scared. I give Jon Katz credit for spending a lot of money and time giving this "damaged" dog a loving home. Jon had to make a heart breaking decision about what to do for Orson. the dog bit a few people chased others etc. it was not known what happened in Orson's past but he clearly was hurt somehow. I have read a few of Jon Katz's books. he clearly loves animals and goes the extra mile for his pets. {If I were a dog I would want to live with him} a good and sad read.
Profile Image for Steffany Cartellone.
26 reviews2 followers
January 6, 2008
After I finished this, I immediately called my friend Dori and told her to read this book. Sometimes I think my love of animals is strange and then I read a book like Katz's and realize I am not the only one. I cried so hard while reading this book and when my beloved kitty died in September, re-read the ending again and cried all over again. The tears were of pain but also a wonderful realization that something so small had touched your heart and life forever. I also read Dog Days: dispatches from Bedlam Farm and fell in love with his cow! Thank you Jon Katz for your love of animals and for sharing with the rest of us. My life, and many others, are better because of your words.
Profile Image for Pris robichaud.
73 reviews11 followers
January 4, 2009

The Broken Parts of Me, The Broken Parts of Orson, We Healed, 15 Nov 2006

"Two things fill the mind, with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heaven above me and the moral law with in me". Immanuel Kant

"Owning and loving a dog is a very individual experience. Orson's story was complex, his behavioral problems probably stemming from multiple sources.' Jonathan Katz is a writer and a writer of prose where Orson is concerned. This book is one of the best love stories I have read between a man and his dog. It is so wonderfully amusing and heartbreaking that it is difficult to put into words what this book means to me. This is the third book of Jonathan Katz I have read, and each time I leave the book with regret and tears. With this book, the tears flowed freely and for a long time. This story of love and regret and survival and finding your way and the future.

Orson came to Jonathon Katz as Devon. He was part of a brood of dogs and he was different. He needed a good home and his owner trusted Jonathan and thought this was a good fix. It did not take Jonathan and Devon long to fall in love with each other. A bond formed even though Devon would run out and try and herd anything in his way: school buses, boys on skateboards and cars, and Jonahtan wouold have to retrieve Devon. This was not the place for Devon, a New Jersey city. Jonathan had a small cabin in upper state New York- they went there while he looked for a farm. And, a farm he did find. He and Devon and Rose, the real sheep herding dog, moved to the farm. Jonathan's wife and daughter would come up for visits but their home and work was in the city. They found their niche and life was wonderful, well almost. Devon's behavior was not changing for the better so a friend suggested his name be changed to seeif his behavior woudl improve. Orson, was the name that was chosen and it worked. Voila, for a while things were better, but the behavior continued and it was not good for anyone. Jonathan must decide what is best. He and Orson are such a team and love each other. Again. there is a bond. This is their story. Jonathan, the man and Orson, the dog. Jonathan used to read this poem to Orson when they would go far into the woods and in the sky would see Sirius, the dog star.

Dream by Boris Levinson

"I, a child
Try to reach the stars
Sirius is no near
I run to the nearest hill
My reach is always too short
Wait til I am a grown man
NOW, I am old and bent with years
No more running to the hill and mountain top
Yet a warm, steady, life giving glow
Reaches me from Sirius...the unattainable
I collect'
White iridescent and evanescent star beams
For my trip home to
Sirius the dog state."

A lifetime treasure to savor, along with the other animals on the farm; the irritable rooster, Winston and his relationship with Orson, and the sheepherder dog, Rose, who makes it her life to herd those sheep. The picture of Orson on the book cover is so beautiful it will draw you in; ahhh you're hooked! So Heartily Recommended. prisrob 10-06-06

Profile Image for Caroline.
497 reviews555 followers
May 20, 2015
I enjoyed the parts of the book dealing with Jon Katz and his life, especially his life on his marvellous farm. I did not enjoy so much the parts of the book covering the story of his beloved border collie Orson. The poor dog just had too many problems. I don’t know if anyone could have solved them, and I don’t know if the kindest thing to do was try and solve them. But that is easy to say retrospectively. You don’t know that until you try, and Katz - in his fairly offbeat way - tried really hard.

The book raises issues about taking on a dog whose past isn’t known. But Orson came from a breeder, who rang Katz up and warned him that Orson had issues. I don't think he was a regular rescue dog from a major rehoming charity, and I hope this book doesn’t put people off adopting rescue dogs, where usually they are given a battery of tests to check they are sociable. Everyone I know who has taken on rescue dogs has found them a delight, and wonderful family members.

I was very touched about what Katz wrote of his childhood, and his description of life on the farm. I felt he had really found his place in the universe when he went to live there, and I wish him well.
Profile Image for Jill.
46 reviews3 followers
February 27, 2009
I learned to expect that most books about dogs end badly and I am bound to cry my eyes out...
No, seriously, this book (and others by this amazing man) restores my faith in humanity because I realize that I am not the only one who is touched deeply by things I learn from the experiences I have with my companion animals as well as how they directly express love and pyschic, spritual wisdom through their sweet personalities.
Here is a sample,
"Lifetime dogs intersect with our lives with particular impact; their're dogs we love in especially powerful, sometimes inexplicable, ways. While we may cherish other pets, we may never feel that particular kind of connection with any of the rest. For lack of a better term, they are dogs we fall in love with, and for whom we often invent complex emotional histories."
I don't always agree with Katz but I respect his ability to share his relationship with a difficult Border Collie named Orson.
A must for any dog lover.
206 reviews1 follower
March 6, 2012
In another book, Jon Katz states right up front, "No dogs die in this book." So forewarned by the fact that no such disclaimer appeared in A Good Dog..., I opened the book with some trepidation. Yet, as soon as I began reading and until I turned the last page, I could hardly put it down. What makes this such a special book is not only its touching and sometimes hilarious descriptions of what it is like to live with a psychologically wounded, behaviorally impossible, and totally engaging dog - but also its honesty about the agonizing choices that we psychologically wounded humans must make when a dog we love with all our heart and soul behaves in such a way that they become a danger to others. I think anyone who has faced or anticipates facing the choice of terminating a beloved animal companions life will feel they have discovered a kindred soul in Jon Katz. I laughed, I cried,and I was very glad to have read this fine book about the richness of the human/animal bond.
27 reviews1 follower
January 6, 2019
This one was a doozy, having lost my 'lifetime dog' less than a year ago. I did make it most of the way through without crying... Although the story of Orson was much different that the story of my Shadow, the lesson is the same. The author brought me to a few realizations that I had a hard time putting into words on my own. Dogs bring us closer to nature which gives us a deeper understanding of all life. And he says 'you gave me so much and I gave you so little back. isn't that the story of humans and dogs?' yes, yes it is. we can never repay them for how much they teach us about life and love. i loved this book and think I needed to read it. Thank you Jon Katz. I feel like maybe it is ok to go on and love another dog again someday.
Profile Image for Heather.
776 reviews28 followers
September 13, 2007
See my review for A Dog Year or whatever the name of the other Katz book is. This one retells all the same stories anyhow, so why should it get its own review? Oh, and, HE KILLS THE DOG. JESUS CHRIST ALL MIGHTY HE KILLS THE DOG.
Profile Image for Wendy.
45 reviews
April 24, 2008
While I didn't enjoy the writer's style, I related strongly to the story. I cried uncontrollably because it touched me on such a personal level. Anyone who has ever had a "once in a life-time dog" will understand what Jon Katz had to overcome when making such a difficult decision.
Profile Image for Gemma.
37 reviews3 followers
April 8, 2009
When I read the reviews on Amazon, I was horrified. Could the author I'd come to appreciate as a source of insight into canine-human interaction, and a fellow dog lover, really have 'given up' on his beloved Orson? I immediately ordered the book from my local library, and read it within 48 hrs.

So, did Katz give up on Orson? Absolutely not.

A lot of people are claiming that he didn't do all that he could for Orson. I feel as if their emotions made them overlook key details from the book. To begin with, Katz exhausted all standard vet options bar one, which was the option of taking Orson to a specialist for a brain scan that would look for tumours. This specialist would cost $6000 and would be the final of a long series of tests that had already been performed on the reactive Orson. Expense aside, let us ponder for a moment what would have happened if Katz had gone to this specialist and found a tumour lodged in his beloved dog's brain. That would have left two options: the tumour would be inoperable, or it could be removed and Orson would require brain surgery. I'm not even sure the latter is possible with dogs (due to the intricate musculature all around their skull) and, even if it were, at what cost? Not just financial, but for Orson. What pain would he suffer? What risks would he face? What would his quality of life be like?
I work in greyhound adoption and have seen a number of dogs suffer through major surgery (amputation), and it is never pretty. They live with a great deal of pain following the surgery, and even though they face it stoically, can you imagine what brain surgery would be like for an animal that cannot understand what is happening?

Aside from exhausting standard vet tests (barring this specialist), Katz also tried acupuncture and other holistic methods to no avail. It's important to note, also, that Orson went from being reactive and giving warning before a nip, to biting unannounced, even biting people he knew and liked. This is a serious concern. Maybe he really did have a brain tumour, considering his blood work came back clean. If that was the case, there was no choice here.

I feel as if a lot of readers are mad at Katz because they do not understand what was being asked of him, and of Orson. I love my dog so much, but I would never force him to have more and more painful, invasive tests to soothe my own ego, to deal with my own need for comfort. I would never put him through dangerous surgery if his quality of life wasn't going to be good. There are limits to what I will do for my dog because I love him too much to make him suffer on my account. I also feel that, because Katz spoke frankly about the financial side of his choice, people are judging him harshly. I am immersed in 'dog culture' due to my role in dog adoption and my love for these wonderful animals, and I often hear people claim they would live in a cardboard box before giving up their dogs. Fine, but does your dog want to live there with you? Is that fair? We treat the subject of money when it comes to our animals as something dirty, but we all have limits on what we can spend. Katz bought a farm for Orson, he took him to shamans, animal communicators, acupuncturists, holistic vets, standard vets; he trained him daily, loved him fiercely, and even then he couldn't discover what had made sweet Orson start to seriously bite people beneath the throat. He dared to speak about the financial cost as part of his decision, and now he's being lambasted for it. I know it's hard to talk about in a world where people claim they 'can't afford' to adopt, or 'can't afford' their dogs shots, food, standard medical needs and/or bills; choosing instead to abandon them, give them to a shelter, or even euthanise them. I have been at the front desk when people turned over their dogs to the shelter I used to volunteer for. I have heard every poor excuse in the book and, even still, I appreciate Katz' honesty on this issue.

I don't agree with all of Katz decisions. In his previous book, where he gives away Clem, I seriously questioned his decision to buy her in the first place. We certainly disagree on breeders and the buying of dogs, as well as a few of his opinions about us crazy dog folk. But I have to agree with his decision to let Orson go. I believe wholeheartedly that he did everything he could for that boy. I know from my volunteer experience that there are some dogs who move beyond our help, no matter how hard we fight. Letting them go is sometimes the kindest thing we can offer; our final act of love.

This book is moving, haunting, riveting. I cried through the final chapters and went to hug my dog. Please read it fully before judging Mr Katz. His love for his dogs shines through in his every word. This is not a man who gave up; this a man who knew when to stop fighting for the good of his beloved pet
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Nancy.
768 reviews2 followers
February 1, 2017
I’m giving this book a 4 star rating, not because I agree with the author’s ultimate solution, but because he tells the story of his life with Orson clearly and engagingly. I can empathize with the dilemma of this difficult dog. My special dog, a Belgian Malinois named HHarpy, also has serious issues with self-control and aggression when stimulated by her triggers. She too has lost control, gone into what we call “The Red Zone” and bitten. We have also participated in extensive training, found “work” for her, and attempted to help her control these dangerous and self-destructive behaviors. Our success has been limited, as Katz’s was with Orson.

The difference is that we are willing to go beyond “purely positive training methods” with HHarpy when necessary. Meat balls and other treats are great, but some of these dangerous impulsive behaviors appear to be hardwired; chasing, biting, and initiating confrontation with fast moving objects—including joggers and bicyclists—are far more reinforcing to HHarpy than any positive reward we have. Her obedience under normal circumstances is beautiful. She is fond of people, and sleeps between us on goose down every night. She loves us, and I adore her beyond reason. But that does not change what will happen when a motorcycle goes by or is heard in the distance. HHarpy goes into full blown attack mode, and we become irrelevant or worse—obstacles that impede her.

And so we protect her. We manage her. We prevent her from harming herself and others. In public, she is ALWAYS on leash with a strong collar, and she wears a muzzle. That prevents her from biting anyone, and it discourages unknown people from approaching her. She is never out of her crate, even in the house, unless one of us is present. She is never free when we have unfamiliar people on the property. And she is never outside in the yard unattended. Does that limit her freedom? You bet it does, but HHarpy is alive, healthy and very happy with her life...most of the time.

While the author of this book loved Orson deeply and went to great lengths to help his dog, I noticed that the serious problems occurred when he was not physically present. There were a number of descriptions of his hearing screams, shouts of pain, etc., but when he responded, running to the scene, it was too late to prevent disaster. If you have a reactive dog, you need to train, exercise, and engage, of course. But you also need to manage the dog at all the times. It’s a huge responsibility and not a relaxing way to live with your dog. But it is necessary. Such vigilance protects the dog and everyone else.

I will not condemn Jon Katz for his actions. He did the best he could with the information he was given. I do believe there was another way had he been more realistic about the true nature of this Border Collie. Working dog breeds, such as Border Collies and Belgian Malinois, are not normal dogs like Labs, especially if the dog has a history of aggression. People need to truly understand that before entering into such a relationship. Acceptance of a given dog’s true nature could prevent a number of tragedies like the one described in this book.

The book is sincere and thought-provoking. Living with some dogs is extremely challenging, but it also can provide great rewards as well as opportunities to find and develop our better selves.
Profile Image for Kattie.
86 reviews3 followers
February 26, 2008
Like other reviewers, I too had problems with this book. At times it drove me to frustration. There are some slow areas. I too had problems with the author's decision to put the dog down. He describes Orson as his version of a "heart dog" but doesn't really get to why. The dog drove him nuts and misbehaved but still loved his owner deeply. He owned much more affectionate labs (a breed he admits is his favorite,) but we never really get to the root of why Orson was so special, so needing to be "fixed" from the wild dog he was. I do not doubt that Katz has a deep love for animals. And I did gain my own personal deeper reflection for the way dogs learn, especially my own dog, but I am not saying that everyone will gain this understanding from this book. I would not recommend this book to my fellow dog-loving friends.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
23 reviews
September 15, 2010
Not all dog stories are automatically heartwarming. I became so annoyed with the actions of the author in the story I couldn't finish this book. Mainly because my eyes got sore from rolling them so much. I felt so sorry for Orson. His owner is so willfully clueless about dogs it burns. He's willing to buy an entire farm, ostensibly 'for' his dog, and yet can't make himself see that dog as an individual - he can apparently only treat him as a cliche, either angel or monster, with only a passing nod to the possibility that the dog's actions might, perhaps, be because of poor decisions on the human's part.
1 review
January 11, 2008
As a person living with a true "animal" I thoroughly enjoyed all of the ups in this book - I even laughed out loud and woke my husband from a sound sleep - The downs brought tears to my eyes and it all evened out eventually - This is a story written from the author's heart and soul and any person who lives with pets will certainly be touched by this life story
Profile Image for Stephen Wallace.
473 reviews66 followers
January 20, 2022
I love Jon Katz's writing. I like it when a paragraph or a few sentences seem to contain wisdom and are written in a endearing way. There is a lot of that in this book. When they are really striking I copy them out to put in my list of favorite quotes. There was a lot of quotes of that caliber or near so, but so many, it felt best to just save it for when I read the book again.

For the first half of the book I was thinking it was going to become one of my favorites. Then the second half came bringing with it a difficult question. I am not going to add a spoiler but maybe a few opinions to engage in any conversation with anyone who has also read the book. If he had made a different choice, what if it was wrong? We just need to make our best choice. You never fully know about what the outcome of the other road would have been. Makes me want to tie my dog close to me and keep him safe.

I still give it 5 stars even though the last half of the book was tough. It is obvious Mr. Katz thinks a lot, and then he shares his thoughts in an insightful way. I like his wisdom. I love getting to know his dogs and animals and farm. Nice pictures too. He didn't try to write a book with just stuff people would want to hear, but with what happened, so you were walking along with him on this part of his path of life that included an interesting yet complicated dog.
Profile Image for Arminzerella.
3,708 reviews86 followers
January 15, 2009
Orson has issues. Dog issues. And these are pretty much unfathomable to his owner, Jon Katz, who despite having plenty of his own issues, vows to do right by Orson. He uproots himself from his New Jersey home in order to move to a farm in upstate New York where he can raise sheep and donkeys and chickens and have plenty of space for his dogs to be. Before moving, Katz commits to months and months of training, working with Orson to make him more obedient and give him the work that every Border Collie needs. Orson, however, is a complete failure at the traditional Border Collie’s work – he can’t herd – the sheep just get him too excited. In fact, a lot of things get him overexcited and in this state, Orson doesn’t respond to commands, or even seem to know what he’s about (chasing and herding school buses, skateboarders, nipping and attacking FedEx drivers and other delivery persons and workers).

The move to the country seems to help. As do a number of other treatments that Katz tries – an ATV, Chinese herbs, a holistic vet who gives Orson chiropractic treatments and acupuncture, an animal shaman who collects the *lost* parts of Orson’s soul and communicates some of his needs back to Katz. Some of these things just sound hokey and weird, but each *treatment* helps Katz understand his dog better. Katz eventually realizes that he himself has become Orson’s *work.* They are inseparable buddies and the dog follows him, guards him, cares for him as best he can.

Unfortunately, Orson’s behavior becomes more and more erratic. He begins biting and attacking people unpredictably, and Katz can’t find a solution to the problem. He doesn’t want to imprison Orson, nor can he be with him every second of every day to keep him out of trouble. Eventually, he settles on euthanizing him – an agonizing decision. At the same time Katz is suffering from all sorts of physical ailments of his own. When Orson is put down, Katz nearly follows him.

I don’t think many people have to make this kind of decision. Most of the time, people choose to put their pets down for health or age related reasons, not because of aggression (although this is a common reason in animal shelters). I’m not sure that I agree with Katz’s decision, but I do sympathize with his pain. It’s difficult enough to lose a pet through natural causes, but having to euthanize an otherwise healthy animal because of irreconcilable behavior problems (especially when the animal would never harm *you*) has got to be awful. Katz felt that he had to make this choice because Orson had become dangerous to society at large, and he, Katz, was not capable of keeping Orson safe. It’s a heart-breaking moral dilemma.

Katz’s narrative jumps around a fair amount, and for awhile you’re left to wonder who this “Orson” is anyway, because when Katz first adopts Orson, he’s got a different name. There’s some repetition from chapter to chapter, and the book could have benefited from a more linear storyline. Still, it was a touching story of Katz’s determination and love for a wonderful, yet flawed dog.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Smokinjbc.
119 reviews4 followers
April 11, 2009
I was ready to hate this book- and in many ways I still do. Jon Katz is the anti-christ of border collie culture- at least for many of us working dog folks. His books read mainly as "what not to do" examples for border collie owners and his portrayals of the sheepdog world,brief in this book, show a deliberate ignorance and just a plain laziness when it comes to becoming knowledgeable about working border collies. I can forgive him some of that, as he admits himself that he has made many mistakes. At the same time, the mind reels that he has published a book about "common-sense" dog training. Once a person sets themselves out as a dog expert, then my tolerance for making stupid choices that results in not just one, but three preventable dog bites and one dog's death becomes very short.

As an owner of six working border collies and one
"Orson" type dog that isn't a border collie- I realize that managing an aggressive, frantic dog is very difficult. I have no problem with making the choice to put down a dog that escalates in its' aggression. However, it seems to me that, at least according to the story, that Mr. Katz, aside from having people throw treats to his dog, did not control the situation but continued to allow the dog the "freedom" to become frantic and aggressive. Perhaps the dog would have felt a run was a prison- but it seems to me that Mr. Katz had plenty of one on one time with Orson that should have been enough to justify keeping the dog out of harm's way when there were visitors on the farm. I have working dogs, they are very active and driven dogs. They accept their crate/kennel time and often will open the doors themselves and seek a quiet place there. Even our very nervous, aggressive dog is calm in his crate. It seems that for all this "good dog" gave to the author, that an attempt to at least manage the situation should have been made before the second person was bitten.

I did give this two stars because it was better written than I expected and the author deserves some credit for honesty. There were some very touching moments with his dogs. I rolled my eyes a bit at his philosophical arguments for his decision but I do believe he loved the dog and the decision was difficult for him. On the surface, without the history, I would probably give any person a pass on euthanizing a dog that bit three people, epecially since the bites escalated. But with Orson's history, I wonder if bite two and three couldn't have been prevented.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Tony Lacey.
2 reviews
September 16, 2007
I had trouble getting through this one, it started out fine but about half way through the book, I felt like I was digging through a six foot wall of snow with a tea spoon, slow, tedious and laborious. But, despite that, I plodded on and was pleased I did so, it reveals how strong the human/canine relationship can grow to be, it shows the trials, Joy, success, hardship and heartbreak that taking on dogs with unknown histories can lead to. and how heart wrenching the decision to let go can be.
Profile Image for Laurie.
8 reviews
September 28, 2012
I liked it. It gave a very realistic, non-Disney look at one man's relationship with a difficult dog. He explores what the dog means to him, and the amount of work he's willing to do to make Orson (the dog) happy, including buying a farm and sheep to keep him busy.

Katz has to make a heart breaking decision about his dog, a beautiful border collie with some personality difficulties. I hope I never have to make the same kind of decision, but if I do, I hope I do as well for my dog.
Profile Image for Kelley.
845 reviews3 followers
January 19, 2009
This was not my favorite of his, mostly because it seemed more to do with him and his journey, than with Orson, but being the avid dog lover that I am, I still liked it. My parents border collie looks just like Orson in this cover, we put her down last month, kind of made this book more of an emotional read too.
Profile Image for Michael Huang.
805 reviews35 followers
September 13, 2015
Not always polished, and at times drifting into unnecessary details of the irrelevant; yet the book is overall a generally touching story of a man and his dogs that animal lovers can appreciate or relate to.

To be perfectly honest, this would be a 3 star book, maybe 3+ on a good day, but given that my sweetheart daughter gingerly recommended it to me, it earned its 4 stars.
Profile Image for Cara Achterberg.
Author 8 books158 followers
July 29, 2021
Just finished Jon Katz's book, A Good Dog: The Story of Orson Who Changed My Life. It wasn't at all what I expected, but I absolutely enjoyed it - it presents in a very open, authentic way the challenges of living with a difficult dog, modifying your life for that dog (which leads you in wonderful directions you never imagined you would go) and then ends with a tragic choice that can only be made from an authentic heart full of honest love.

A few words I underlined (I always read with pen in hand):

"Positive Reinforcement puts pressure on the human, rather than the dog...It asks a lot of people; they have to take a long view of training and curb some of their stronger instincts."

"I do think dogs and other animals enter our lives for a reason, and in some cases, if you're paying attention, you can figure out what the purpose might be."

"So many people seem sure about what ought to be done about dogs--theirs and mine. Orson taught me not that I always know what should happen, but that I don't."
Profile Image for Andy.
946 reviews37 followers
July 23, 2019
warts and all account of author's attempts to train and live with an adopted dog with multiple challenging traits, potentially down to early life experiences

not all sweetness and light depiction, but among all the dogs in his life, despite or because of the issues, he feels this is his special dog among all the others he has owned, and it is the one that prompts him to move to countryside and try his hand at farming life
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