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Old 05-27-2013, 07:40 AM
 
5,554 posts, read 2,828,355 times
Reputation: 12309
Default Jon Katz’s status as dog expert? SERIOUSLY???

This is a VERY long post, but it’s a topic I think about quite intensely from time to time and I wanted to float it all out here on these boards. I initially was thrilled with the books of Jon Katz – he was bumbling through dog ownership, and I’m a bit of a bumbler in most things, even if I laughed at or was occasionally shocked to the core by his rookie mistakes. I empathized with his bumbling in a major way, especially as he gained confidence.

Then he wrote “A Good Dog” and I stopped reading his books entirely out of pure disgust. That was several years ago. But after moving to the Denver area where dogs are such an integral part of everyday life and as I watch my 15-year-old border collie totter serenely to the end of his days, I find myself more and more appalled by his actions. Curious how other people feel on these boards if they are familiar with his work.

SPOILERS FOLLOW:
Just to recap, Katz rescues a supposedly “problem” border collie, Orson (also known as Devon) in one of his earliest books. The relationship with that dog is the foundation for other books, all of which put him on the bestseller list and make him millions. However, the dog ends up biting three people, and Katz decides to put him down. As a lifelong dog owner, I saw the way he handled everything from that first bite onward as a dog ownership fail in a bigtime way. However, Katz received mostly kudos for the “responsible” way he handled the “difficult” decision and has acquired new dogs and gone on to continued fame (and many more millions of dollars). I can barely look at his books in the store.

My own 15-year-old border collie (acquired around the time I read the Katz book) is a rescue of sorts (mostly left to his own devices and neglected, never abused). He had bitten many people in his old home – even sending some of them to the hospital. For some reason I don’t understand (but am grateful for), these bites were never reported and he was never the focus of any animal control attention. I had no qualms about taking him into my home despite a total lack of experience with vicious dogs on my part, because –like Katz’s Orson – he was a situational biter. As an alpha dog in charge of a large pack of dogs in an enclosure, he had a perimeter he saw as his responsibility. His previous owner was HIS “alpha,” and when the owner wasn’t in charge, my dog – let’s call him “Ace” – was responsible for the property. People he did not recognize as “authorized” who came into his enclosure would be attacked as threats to his pack. Workers on the property were told this, but would forget this because he is normally a friendly dog – then bad stuff would happen. If they were properly introduced to Ace (a grooming session or a long walk on a leash during which commands were given and obeyed), though, they could come and go in the enclosure without problems. But there were some pretty bad bites.

I lived in a condo at the time, which ironically was the perfect scenario for Ace. He had no territory to patrol, and he was never unsupervised. He LOVED not having the responsibility of being an alpha dog. When I left the condo, he was in a crate, and when new people came over, he was introduced to them immediately. He was always on-leash except when we went to the dog park, where he got along just fine with other people and dogs because it wasn’t explicitly his territory. Ace never so much as snapped at another human being after walking through my door, and vets, dog groomers and boarding kennel employees have mocked me for even suggesting that he would ever bite them, even though they know his history.

In the book, Orson is unsupervised by his owner on each biting occasion – and each time, it involves a person who is not his owner entering what he sees as his territory. One was a neighbor who drove onto the property and got out of his car while Orson was loose. Another was a child who reached over a fence that defined Orson’s territory. Another was a worker on the property who – I believe – was carrying a tools and moving around unrestricted/unsupervised by Orson’s owner (which would have blown my Ace’s mind completely).

At no point after these bites were Orson’s movements on the property restricted with any consistency and any sort of supervision imposed. I don’t even think a professional trainer was ever hired or consulted about this specific problem (I could be wrong about this though). Katz did try a regimen of acupuncture and “calming herbs” though. What utter crap. (And I generally do believe in veterinary acupuncture's efficacy for health purposes.) After that first bite EVERYTHING about Orson’s life should have been restructured, starting with a schedule of complete supervision and a restricted territory – both of which Katz was perfectly capable of providing.

What drove me around the bend though was Katz’s insistence that it would be irresponsible to re-home a “dangerous” dog like Orson. That’s just beyond utter crap. Katz is a guy with severe physical limitations and no previous experience with problem dogs like Orson – he had no experience with those behavioral issues and could not provide the supervised exercise necessary for a high-energy dog like Orson. I thought back then – when I had little contact with dog rescue people and lived in Jersey – that it would have been difficult but not at all impossible to find Orson a responsible and qualified home (a person who lived in a condo like I did, but also had a jogging habit maybe or participated in dog sports). However, since moving to Denver and becoming involved with people who participate in dog sports and who do herding dog rescue every day (and adopting a challenging dog through them myself) I have encountered just in this one city perhaps thousands of people who would be more than capable of providing a home for a dog like Orson. And I’ve met dozens of dogs who could easily have been Orson. That dog was really just a normal border collie.

I have concluded that Katz simply viewed Orson as an embarrassment and a threat to his future earning power as a “dog guru.” Re-homing Orson would have simply been admitting that he didn’t have the ability to fix him – so Orson was declared “unfixable.”

I remember reading the book with a growing sense of dread and horror as Katz set up his rationalizations – I knew what was coming, but couldn’t believe it. His philosophical meanderings and justifications after the fact (the best was when he asked how he could justify spending more money on a dog like Orson when there were so many dogs that didn’t get the advantages of those kinds of resources – how about because he made you millions and you were his owner, who had the resources?) were stomach-churning in their narcissism and laced with all sorts of New Age spiritual claptrap.

What has perhaps shocked me the most is the way his fans have accepted his decisions as wise and moral. When I have brought this up previously in reviews and chatboards, I have inevitably been chastised by posters who have claimed to be experienced dog handlers or even professional trainers and who say that Orson was an unsalvageable danger to society and Katz made the only moral decision when he put Orson down. I felt like the little boy pointing out that the emperor has no clothes on these boards, but nobody would believe me.

I’m just curious if anyone on these boards has formulated any opinions about the guy or the situation. I will say though that in more recent years, I have encountered more negative reviews of his early works than before. Maybe people are waking up. But because I read a lot of dog books, his works are continually showing up on my Amazon pages as “recommendations.” Ugh. Every time that happens my entire brain twitches in revulsion.

Sorry for ranting.

Last edited by JrzDefector; 05-27-2013 at 09:08 AM..
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Old 05-27-2013, 11:28 AM
 
Location: SE Michigan
6,198 posts, read 5,979,464 times
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Agree with every word you write. I haven't read a single thing he's written since then.

Katz is a self-absorbed putz when it comes to dogs. And lazy - I guess it was easier to write a navel-gazing book about his heroic yet doomed efforts to manage this dog than to take him to Cornell vet school for medical, neurological or behavioual assessment. Something he easily could have afforded, but didn't bother to do. Instead, he came up with all sorts of noble reasons why the "kindest" thing to do was to have his dog killed, without putting any real effort into understanding Orson. Made for more book sales, I guess.

He also gave away a subsequent BC because it was "too shy."
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Old 05-27-2013, 12:45 PM
 
5,554 posts, read 2,828,355 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chiroptera View Post
Agree with every word you write. I haven't read a single thing he's written since then.

Katz is a self-absorbed putz when it comes to dogs. And lazy - I guess it was easier to write a navel-gazing book about his heroic yet doomed efforts to manage this dog than to take him to Cornell vet school for medical, neurological or behavioual assessment. Something he easily could have afforded, but didn't bother to do. Instead, he came up with all sorts of noble reasons why the "kindest" thing to do was to have his dog killed, without putting any real effort into understanding Orson. Made for more book sales, I guess.

He also gave away a subsequent BC because it was "too shy."
Thanks! But honestly, I don't even think Cornell was necessary. Years later, having interacted with far more border collies than I'd ever dreamed, this is almost standard behavior. They are dogs that often benefit very well from structure because they feel the need to take charge when they are not told otherwise (my friend's cattle dog is like this too - we call her the "fun police").

Just some common sense methods implemented by the rescue folk I know would have likely taken care of the problem behaviors Orson was exhibiting. I grew up with hunting dogs that were allowed to roam free, so I get the farm dog concept, but as an adult, I will probably never own a dog that is not fully supervised when it is out of the house.

Cornell would have definitely solved the problem, I'm sure - but I don't think Katz was interested in being told he'd been doing things wrong all along with Orson. It wouldn't make for a good story, as you suggest.

Sigh. So sad. I'm not surprised he gave away another dog for shyness. Another problem that is often (though not always) easily solved with border collies. I've watched amazing turnarounds in so many dogs in these last couple years. One friend's dog would just crouch in a corner and tremble when she first got him about 18 months ago - he aced his first disc dog competition last week and had a blast doing it.
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Old 05-27-2013, 01:29 PM
 
Location: SE Michigan
6,198 posts, read 5,979,464 times
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Well I revisited this (through Wiki, then following links) and it was Katz himself who pondered the idea of going to Cornell, then decided, "nah....." There's a link to the relevant chapter in his book somewhere on the wiki link. That's why I brought up Cornell.

This is one of many spittle-filled message board discussions I found:
So what happened to Orson? - General Border Collie Discussion - BC Boards

I grew up for many years in Scotland and we had several hundred sheep and working BCs. They are not easy dogs! And I've also had a couple of dogs (not BCs) in my life who were biters/potential biters/had serious issues and with one, I actually discussed with my vet having her PTS because she was such a mess. I ended up not doing so and am so, so, so glad I didn't. And she lived a full life, too, not stuck in the yard or a kennel.

We learn little from the "easy" dogs. But we can learn a lot from the difficult ones. Jon Katz is a quitter, apparently, and either kills or gives away the dogs that are too much of a bother. I too have not read anything of his since the book about his navel-gazing journey with a difficult dog during which he doesn't do much of anything but prattle on, then kills Orson and then writes a book about how difficult it was for him. Bah.
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Old 05-27-2013, 02:27 PM
 
Location: boston
559 posts, read 167,339 times
Reputation: 545
Totally agree with this post -- I, too, read the book and never knew this was Orson's/Devon's outcome in life. Just another person who thinks only of themselves and the dog as a possession and not of the animal as an independent life. So sad that they perpetuate these myths of "bad dogs" and absolve themselves of their involvement.
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Old 05-27-2013, 09:09 PM
 
Location: Chicago
5,550 posts, read 8,312,832 times
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To be quite blunt, wasn't Katz just some overweight writer living in suburbia with two sedate Labs before getting Orson?

I was one of those people who fell in love with border collies after seeing Babe. Then I read Katz's books (someone gave me A Dog Year when it came out) and shied away from the breed after it seemed like they were a lot of work. I never read much of his works after the one about Bedlam(?) farm so never got an update about what happened to Orson. This thread is the first I've heard about his outcome and I'm shocked and sickened by what happened to him .

Sounds like a dog who ended up in the wrong hands and suffered the ultimate consequence as a result. Sadly, it happens all the time with regular folks and other breeds of dogs, but in this case, the owner was famous and so got paid $$$ to write stories about his failures.
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Old 05-28-2013, 06:44 AM
 
Location: boston
559 posts, read 167,339 times
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Someone gave me A Dog Year, too, eevee. I thought he was a twit in the book but thought he learned from it--that he was to blame for not understanding what the breed is all about and not the dog.

BCs are the best -- there should be a ban against people owning these wonderful dogs unless they take a breed specific class and PASS.
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Old 05-28-2013, 08:36 AM
 
1,257 posts, read 2,524,906 times
Reputation: 967
Quote:
Originally Posted by JrzDefector View Post
This is a VERY long post, but it’s a topic I think about quite intensely from time to time and I wanted to float it all out here on these boards. I initially was thrilled with the books of Jon Katz – he was bumbling through dog ownership, and I’m a bit of a bumbler in most things, even if I laughed at or was occasionally shocked to the core by his rookie mistakes. I empathized with his bumbling in a major way, especially as he gained confidence.

Then he wrote “A Good Dog” and I stopped reading his books entirely out of pure disgust. That was several years ago. But after moving to the Denver area where dogs are such an integral part of everyday life and as I watch my 15-year-old border collie totter serenely to the end of his days, I find myself more and more appalled by his actions. Curious how other people feel on these boards if they are familiar with his work.

SPOILERS FOLLOW:
Just to recap, Katz rescues a supposedly “problem” border collie, Orson (also known as Devon) in one of his earliest books. The relationship with that dog is the foundation for other books, all of which put him on the bestseller list and make him millions. However, the dog ends up biting three people, and Katz decides to put him down. As a lifelong dog owner, I saw the way he handled everything from that first bite onward as a dog ownership fail in a bigtime way. However, Katz received mostly kudos for the “responsible” way he handled the “difficult” decision and has acquired new dogs and gone on to continued fame (and many more millions of dollars). I can barely look at his books in the store.

My own 15-year-old border collie (acquired around the time I read the Katz book) is a rescue of sorts (mostly left to his own devices and neglected, never abused). He had bitten many people in his old home – even sending some of them to the hospital. For some reason I don’t understand (but am grateful for), these bites were never reported and he was never the focus of any animal control attention. I had no qualms about taking him into my home despite a total lack of experience with vicious dogs on my part, because –like Katz’s Orson – he was a situational biter. As an alpha dog in charge of a large pack of dogs in an enclosure, he had a perimeter he saw as his responsibility. His previous owner was HIS “alpha,” and when the owner wasn’t in charge, my dog – let’s call him “Ace” – was responsible for the property. People he did not recognize as “authorized” who came into his enclosure would be attacked as threats to his pack. Workers on the property were told this, but would forget this because he is normally a friendly dog – then bad stuff would happen. If they were properly introduced to Ace (a grooming session or a long walk on a leash during which commands were given and obeyed), though, they could come and go in the enclosure without problems. But there were some pretty bad bites.

I lived in a condo at the time, which ironically was the perfect scenario for Ace. He had no territory to patrol, and he was never unsupervised. He LOVED not having the responsibility of being an alpha dog. When I left the condo, he was in a crate, and when new people came over, he was introduced to them immediately. He was always on-leash except when we went to the dog park, where he got along just fine with other people and dogs because it wasn’t explicitly his territory. Ace never so much as snapped at another human being after walking through my door, and vets, dog groomers and boarding kennel employees have mocked me for even suggesting that he would ever bite them, even though they know his history.

In the book, Orson is unsupervised by his owner on each biting occasion – and each time, it involves a person who is not his owner entering what he sees as his territory. One was a neighbor who drove onto the property and got out of his car while Orson was loose. Another was a child who reached over a fence that defined Orson’s territory. Another was a worker on the property who – I believe – was carrying a tools and moving around unrestricted/unsupervised by Orson’s owner (which would have blown my Ace’s mind completely).

At no point after these bites were Orson’s movements on the property restricted with any consistency and any sort of supervision imposed. I don’t even think a professional trainer was ever hired or consulted about this specific problem (I could be wrong about this though). Katz did try a regimen of acupuncture and “calming herbs” though. What utter crap. (And I generally do believe in veterinary acupuncture's efficacy for health purposes.) After that first bite EVERYTHING about Orson’s life should have been restructured, starting with a schedule of complete supervision and a restricted territory – both of which Katz was perfectly capable of providing.

What drove me around the bend though was Katz’s insistence that it would be irresponsible to re-home a “dangerous” dog like Orson. That’s just beyond utter crap. Katz is a guy with severe physical limitations and no previous experience with problem dogs like Orson – he had no experience with those behavioral issues and could not provide the supervised exercise necessary for a high-energy dog like Orson. I thought back then – when I had little contact with dog rescue people and lived in Jersey – that it would have been difficult but not at all impossible to find Orson a responsible and qualified home (a person who lived in a condo like I did, but also had a jogging habit maybe or participated in dog sports). However, since moving to Denver and becoming involved with people who participate in dog sports and who do herding dog rescue every day (and adopting a challenging dog through them myself) I have encountered just in this one city perhaps thousands of people who would be more than capable of providing a home for a dog like Orson. And I’ve met dozens of dogs who could easily have been Orson. That dog was really just a normal border collie.

I have concluded that Katz simply viewed Orson as an embarrassment and a threat to his future earning power as a “dog guru.” Re-homing Orson would have simply been admitting that he didn’t have the ability to fix him – so Orson was declared “unfixable.”

I remember reading the book with a growing sense of dread and horror as Katz set up his rationalizations – I knew what was coming, but couldn’t believe it. His philosophical meanderings and justifications after the fact (the best was when he asked how he could justify spending more money on a dog like Orson when there were so many dogs that didn’t get the advantages of those kinds of resources – how about because he made you millions and you were his owner, who had the resources?) were stomach-churning in their narcissism and laced with all sorts of New Age spiritual claptrap.

What has perhaps shocked me the most is the way his fans have accepted his decisions as wise and moral. When I have brought this up previously in reviews and chatboards, I have inevitably been chastised by posters who have claimed to be experienced dog handlers or even professional trainers and who say that Orson was an unsalvageable danger to society and Katz made the only moral decision when he put Orson down. I felt like the little boy pointing out that the emperor has no clothes on these boards, but nobody would believe me.

I’m just curious if anyone on these boards has formulated any opinions about the guy or the situation. I will say though that in more recent years, I have encountered more negative reviews of his early works than before. Maybe people are waking up. But because I read a lot of dog books, his works are continually showing up on my Amazon pages as “recommendations.” Ugh. Every time that happens my entire brain twitches in revulsion.

Sorry for ranting.
Wow. Good to know. I read one of his books during a trip. Won"t buy his book anymore.
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Old 05-29-2013, 10:06 AM
 
Location: Cary/Apex, NC
1,233 posts, read 1,009,609 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JrzDefector View Post
But after moving to the Denver area where dogs are such an integral part of everyday life
Unless they are pit bulls.
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