"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.
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. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 06, 2003
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Excerpt from The New Work of Dogs by Jon Katz
AS GRACIOUS as the shady township of Montclair is, as hip and pricey as it is becoming, there's no escaping the fact that it sits squarely in New Jersey, a beacon in the vast sea of ugly industrial and suburban sprawl that is the state's most famous characteristic. Malls and condo complexes lap at its lush borders from every side.
But Montclair remains an enclave of old homes on streets lined with giant oaks and maples planted eighty years ago, some of which fall in every big storm. It has more movie screens than hardware stores and more Thai and Japanese restaurants than fast-food outlets. It is utterly obsessed with education and the present and future development of its much-attended-to children. Founded as a summer retreat for wealthy New Yorkers, it also reflects the sobering disparities in wealth that characterize contemporary America. Along the ridges of the Watchung Hills, the living rooms of vast, meticulously maintained mansions have clear views of the Manhattan skyline. In the South End, small apartments and houses are home to most of the town's poor residents.
For reasons few can recall, Montclair is actually divided into two parts -- Upper Montclair and plain old Montclair. The two Montclairs share the same government, municipal services, and school system, but Upper Montclair is richer and whiter, with an upscale shopping area and its own zip code.
Partly because of its proximity to the cultural and media institutions along Manhattan's West Side, Montclair attracts rafts of writers, artists, editors, journalists, TV producers, and other media people. So even minor civic squabbles tend to make their way onto the pages of The New York Times, since half the people who work at the paper live here, or so it sometimes seems.