I've read several Jon Katz books over the years, my favorite being The New Work of Dogs about our modern relationship with our best friend. If I remember correctly, even when his own dogs were the subject, Katz did not get into many details about his personal or family life in previous books, and The Second Chance Dog is probably his most introspective to date, a story of love and redemption, of both dog and human conquering fear.
While some people may not be as interested in the parts of the book that stray from the dogcentric, I enjoyed learning a bit more about Katz, his struggles with anxiety, and the beginnings of his relationship with Maria, whose Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix Frieda is the story's star.
When Katz meets Frieda, she is spending most of her time in the studio barn with fiber artist, Maria, Katz's love interest. Frieda was in the shelter for a year before Maria adopted her, and Katz goes through considerable effort to piece together her heartbreaking past. Although she has bonded deeply with Maria, Frieda is frighteningly unfriendly to all other residents of Bedlam Farm: human, hooved, pawed and feathered. Katz makes Frieda his personal project, knowing that she will have to be integrated into farm life if he and Maria are to be together.
He is obviously a great lover of animals, but Katz has a uniquely pragmatic philosophy about their role in our lives which has been met with some harsh judgment, particularly in regard to his Border Collie Orson as detailed in A Good Dog. He is a prolific blogger, branching out to subjects beyond dogs such as spirituality and homelessness.
I did find myself unsettled by the fact that his greatest breakthrough with Frieda was due to an inadvertently physical incident, but overall he exercised great compassion and patience during her rehabilitation. He does not believe in coddling or anthropomorphizing animals, and in fact suggests that we do them harm by doing so. Whether or not you agree with his viewpoint, this is still a worthwhile read, and one that brought tears to my eyes with passages like this one, from a dream he had while working with Frieda:
"We looked at each other for the longest time, and then I broke the silence and said, "I don't know what to do with you. I love you and want to live with you, but I am sad and frustrated. I've tried everything I can think of but what else can I do? What do want from me?"
And then, without moving her lips or snout, without making a sound, Frieda spoke to me.
"Trust me," she said.""
This book was a Christmas gift from my boyfriend, who needs a clever alias. I gave The Second Chance Dog four stars on Goodreads.
Dogs add such richness to our lives, and I can't think of a better way to spend a Sunday winter afternoon than curling up with a good dog book and a good dog. I'll be continuing this series and hope you'll share some of your favorites, too!