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“Sometimes human-dog relationships are simple, unrelated to the emotional lives and histories of either species. But often people acquire and love dogs with little awareness that they might have complex and revealing reasons for choosing the dog or pet they choose, loving it the way they do.”
Writing about his own dogs in A Dog Year, Jon Katz became immersed in a larger community of dog lovers and came to realize that in an increasingly fragmented and disconnected society, dogs are often treated not as pets, but as family members and human surrogates.
The New Work of Dogs profiles a dozen such relationships in a New Jersey town, like the story of Harry, a Welsh corgi who provides sustaining emotional strength for a woman battling terminal breast cancer; Cherokee, companion of a man who has few human friends and doesn’t know how to talk to his own family; the Divorced Dogs Club, whose funny, acerbic, and sometimes angry women turn to their dogs to help them rebuild their lives; and Betty Jean, the frantic founder of a tiny rescue group that has saved five hundred dogs from abuse or abandonment in recent years.
Drawn from hundreds of interviews and conversations with dog owners and lovers, breeders, veterinarians, rescuers, trainers, behaviorists, and psychiatrists, The New Work of Dogs combines compelling personal narratives with a penetrating look at human/animal attachment, and questions whether this relationship shift is an entirely positive phenomenon for both species. Katz offers us a portrait of a community, and by extension a country, that is turning to its pets for emotional support and stability—a difficult job that more and more dogs are expected to do every day. The New Work of Dogs is a provocative and moving exploration of the evolving role dogs play in a changing and uncertain world.
BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Jon Katz's Going Home.
Katz, a novelist and nonfiction author (A Dog Year; Geeks), here explores the bond between dogs and their owners. Focusing on 12 people-dog relationships in Montclair, N.J., and drawing on current research into attachment theory, interviews with animal workers and psychiatrists, as well as conversations with dog owners, Katz offers nuanced portraits of what happens when humans depend on dogs to satisfy their emotional needs. He contends that high divorce rates, an unstable workplace and the shrinking extended family are some of the reasons that people have come to rely on pets instead of one another during times of crisis. Donna, a divorced woman with terminal cancer, turns to her Welsh corgi for comfort and as an antidote to loneliness. In a darker portrait, Katz tells the story of Jamal, a troubled 14-year old and the owner of a pit bull whom he clearly loves, and yet beats daily. Katz also describes the laudable work of Betty Jean, who devotes her life to rescuing dogs from shelters--but who gives little attention to her grown children or grandchildren. Although Katz, a dog owner himself, appreciates the strong tie between humans and dogs, he fears that many owners use their pets as support during hard times, only to discard them later: Kate's German shepherd, for example, helped her recover from her husband's death, but she gave the dog away when she remarried. In this well-written and thoughtful account, Katz makes a convincing case that dog owners must be more self-aware and responsible when they use their pets as human substitutes.