Katz and dogs discovered at the library

by Alicia Rudnicki, Library Mix

While books lead us on worthwhile journeys, it is often librarians who lead us to these books.

So, before I dive into some thoughts about New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz’s loving reflections on the therapeutic qualities of dogs and how we help ourselves by helping others, I feel compelled to note that I would not have discovered his 2008 book Izzy & Lenore if not for a librarian who placed it prominently on display.

One hallmark of a good library is that staff call our attention to books they want to share. It may be that a book fits into one of the library’s monthly themes or a librarian has read it and wants more people to know about it or it appeared in a review of books or it simply seems intriguing to the eye.

Sometimes these volumes contain big bookmarks announcing that so-and-so on staff says they are great reads. Dear librarians who do this, all I can say is “Thank you.” I have never been disappointed by your opinions. I certainly am not disappointed by Jon Katz.

A sucker for dog stories
First, I should admit that I am a sucker for dogs. So if you don’t love dogs, you may not want to read further. It was the picture of Lenore, a black Labrador puppy, on the cover of Katz’s book that caused me to pick it up.

Katz is a former New Yorker who escaped from his life in print and broadcast journalism to become a mystery novelist. But it wasn’t until he began to write non-fiction books about his life with dogs that his book signings became lively, crowded events.

These days, Katz lives on Bedlam farm in upstate New York where his Border collies have plenty of space to herd sheep. Since moving to Bedlam Farm, he has acquired goats, a number of donkeys that love cookies in the morning, a massive but mellow bull named Elvis, his collies Izzy and Rose,  Lenore the “Hound of Love”, and a bossy rooster named Winston (as in Churchill).

Katz is a prodigious writer and photographer who has turned out 14 books in 14 years as well as numerous articles for online and print magazines. One recent piece, in the cheeky online magazine Slate, recounts an interspecies “love affair” involving Lenore and a ram who is not afraid to stray from his flock in order to follow his heart’s desire.

Solutions for depression
At the beginning of the book, Katz is burnt out from a numbingly nonstop publication tour for one of his other dog books. He explores a year in his life marked by a deepening depression that is partly related to the grind of the book tour and partly due to bad memories from an abusive childhood.

There is no single magic solution to the Katz’s malaise. However, the unconditional love of his many feathered and furry barnyard compatriots becomes a major component of his journey toward wellness.

Another important element is his choice to reach beyond his pain and help others. Katz becomes a hospice volunteer and trains one of his dogs, the abandoned and nearly feral Border collie Izzie, to work with the patients as well.

Therapeutic role of animals
“It seems clear that animals’ presence in nursing homes, hospitals, and schools, where they can work with adults and children with a wide variety of illnesses, disabilities, and emotional problems, can have real emotional impact,” Katz writes. “They soothe people, make them feel better, make them smile.”

As to his role as a hospice volunteer, Katz discovers that he and Izzy “made a difference, we knew it, could feel it, and we left those homes with a sense of perspective, accomplishment, well-being. What could be more healing than that?”

Although Katz rescues Izzie from certain death at the beginning of the book, it is largely Izzy’s gentle intuition about how to reach out to the ailing that rescues Katz by the end of the story.

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