Week with our pets: Jon Katz gives us ‘Soul of a Dog’

JEFF BRIDGES in the movie version of Jon Katz’s “A Dog Year”If you love pets, you’ve probably already discovered Jon Katz. The guy is everywhere! He’s written more than a dozen books, half fiction and half non-fiction. He’s appeared in the New York Times, Wired, Slate and various magazines. He’s often on radio.

This week, we’re publishing stories about the spiritual side of our relationships with animals:

Why We Care about
Katz and His Dogs

Thousands of books have been published about animals, so why recommend this particular author in the pages of ReadTheSpirit magazine? Because Jon Katz understands and helps us explore our spiritual relationships with animals in an honest and compelling way. Yes, there are lots of tales of animal antics and heroism in his books—stock in trade over the centuries of memorable animal literature.

But, Katz fundamentally understands that he’s writing about the souls of people as much as he’s writing about the “Soul of a Dog,” his latest nonfiction title. In his 2003 book, “A Dog Year,” which was turned into a movie starring Jeff Bridges, Katz writes about his relationship to other dog trainers this way: “I hired a trainer to train me, to teach me how to teach them how to come, sit, stay, lie down, and walk reliably beside me without leashes. Professional dog trainers and handlers understand that their real work is to train dogs’ owners. Dogs more or less know what they need to do.”

In the Special Features included on the DVD disk of the Jeff Bridges movie, the real Jon Katz appears on screen briefly and tells viewers: In a Darwinian sense we don’t need dogs—or pets. We can get aong without them. But there’s something about them that enriches our lives. At their best, they lead us back to other people.

Clearly, there’s as much human spiritual wisdom in Jon Katz’s work as there is canine adventure. What Katz and Dr. Robert Pasick both are telling readers is: There’s a great deal to be discovered in our own spirits, through living with the spirits of animals. (And, stay tuned all week—we’ve got more on this theme.)

Shopping for a Jon Katz Gift for a Dog Lover on Your List?

THE REAL JON KATZ and one of his dogs.Where to begin!?! Jon Katz has given us so much through the years! If you’ve got a dog lover on your shopping list and you visit Amazon or a bricks-and-mortar bookstore—you may be overwhelmed. There are so many Katz titles. Or, you may completely overlook the book-and-video combination that’s now available through the new DVD release. Amazon doesn’t automatically connect the two for customers, nor do bookstores.

Note to budget-conscious shoppers: All of these choices are reasonably priced. Assemble a special gift containing a book (or two) and the DVD. This year, we recommend these top choices:

DVD of the HBO movie A Dog Year, starring Jeff Bridges as Jon Katz. We’ve previewed this film and dog lovers—especially the men on your shopping list—will enjoy this filmed version of Katz’s 2003 book. At that point in Katz’s life, he already was nationally famous for writing about dogs. The dog in the title of this book is a border collie—a super-charged, unruly force of nature shipped to Katz by a fan of his earlier books. The movie is a pretty faithful rendition of that book, although lots of small details have been changed. Of course, it’s also pretty clear from seeing the beloved actor Jeff Bridges in the title role that this angry writer eventually will come through his psychological crisis—and his pet-care crisis. The movie also explains for newcomers to Katz’s work how the writer winds up at Bedlam Farm.

A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me, the book by Jon Katz. The new HBO movie is pretty faithful to this 2003 book. For example, both the book and the film open with nostalgic snapshots of some dogs in Katz’s past. Of course, in the book, these snapshots are prose sketches of those earlier dogs. If you’re getting a dog lover the movie as a gift, this book is a good choice, as well. We don’t see the depth of Katz’s reflections in the movie, so the book really is a different experience. However, if you want something fresh, then you might want to choose one of Katz’s newer titles.

Soul of a Dog: Reflections on the Spirits of the Animals of Bedlam Farm. This is nonfiction and opens with a very engaging description of the working dog Rose. You’ll find yourself flipping one page after another and not wanting to stop. Then, you’ll suddenly find yourself thinking about Aristotle, Thomas Merton, Carl Jung and even a passage from Genesis. This is a terrific book for the pet lover on your list who also is actively engaged in spiritual life. Katz tries to connect a lot of those dots in this book. He even writes a bit about the experience of the HBO production, making this a nice companion to the DVD.

Rose in a Storm: A Novel. You may be looking for fiction—a well-told tale. Katz has proven his skills in earlier novels and, in this work of fiction, we meet that same working dog Rose, but in a tale told through Rose’s eyes. It’s Katz’s newest book, so it’s a smart choice for anyone who might have collected some of his earlier works.

CLICK any of the titles above to jump to Amazon, where you can order copies at an Amazon discount!

Come back tomorrow for more great recommendations on media about our love of animals.

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(Originally published at readthespirit.com)

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