Soul of a Dog: Reflections on the Spirits of the Animals of Bedlam Farm

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Overview

Do animals have souls? Some of our greatest thinkers—Aristotle, Plato, Thomas Aquinas—and countless animal lovers have been obsessed with this question for thousands of years. Now New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz looks for an answer. With his signature wisdom, humor, and clarity, Katz relates the stories of the animals he lives with on Bedlam Farm and finds remarkable kinships at every turn. Whether it is beloved sheepdog Rose’s brilliant and methodical herding ability, Mother the cat’s keen mousing ...
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Soul of a Dog: Reflections on the Spirits of the Animals of Bedlam Farm

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Overview

Do animals have souls? Some of our greatest thinkers—Aristotle, Plato, Thomas Aquinas—and countless animal lovers have been obsessed with this question for thousands of years. Now New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz looks for an answer. With his signature wisdom, humor, and clarity, Katz relates the stories of the animals he lives with on Bedlam Farm and finds remarkable kinships at every turn. Whether it is beloved sheepdog Rose’s brilliant and methodical herding ability, Mother the cat’s keen mousing instincts, or Izzy’s canine compassion toward hospice patients, Katz is mesmerized to see in them individual personas and sparks of self-awareness. Soul of a Dog will resonate with anyone who loves dogs, cats, or other animals—and who wonders about the spirits that animate them and the deepening hold they have on our lives.
 
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Jon Katz has written eight books about dogs, including most recently several about the Noah's Ark menagerie at his upstate Bedlam Farm. None of them, however, have touched directly on a philosophical question that has, over the centuries, attracted the attention of many of the world's greatest thinkers: Do animals have souls? Fortunately, modern readers will find Katz's observations on the subject more amenable and readable than those of Thomas Aquinas and Scotus Erigena. In fact, Katz's insights are often not only downright entertaining, but also deeply heartwarming. Soul of a Dog is best read in a comfortable corner chair within easy petting distance of your favorite furry friend. Now in paperback.

From the Publisher
“A lyrical yet unsentimental memoir about the bond between people and animals.”
Chicago Tribune
School Library Journal
Adult/High School—Beginning with quotes from Aristotle regarding the inability of animals to reason about ethics, Katz proceeds to ponder the relationship between animals and humans and the profound question of whether animals have souls. In chapters centering on the many animals that inhabit the farm, the book challenges readers to think about good and evil in animals, whether they are capable of making moral decisions, and whether conscience exists in their world. The author shares the joy and solace he finds in his relationships with his animals, but is clearly wrestling with higher philosophical questions such as their place in our lives and how much they mean to us. He shares discussions he has with psychologists, behaviorists, and priests, and concludes that animals teach us humility and foster humanity within us. A mistake, he asserts, is that we try desperately to remake animals in our own image rather than recognize the impact they have in the faithfulness, friendship, and comfort they provide. Throughout Katz's anecdotes and ruminations, his pure joy and amazement shine through. Each chapter, whether about dogs or chickens or donkeys or sheep, will engage readers and tug at their heartstrings. An engaging and thought-provoking read.—Jane Ritter, Mill Valley School District, CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812977738
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/4/2010
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 359,990
  • Product dimensions: 8.04 (w) x 5.22 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Jon Katz
Jon Katz has written eighteen books–six novels and twelve works of nonfiction–including Izzy & Lenore, Dog Days, A Good Dog, A Dog Year, The Dogs of Bedlam Farm, The New Work of Dogs, and Katz on Dogs. A two-time finalist for the National Magazine Award, he writes columns about dogs and rural life for the online magazine Slate, and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, GQ, and the AKC Gazette. Katz is also a photographer, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and co-host of the radio show Dog Talk on Northeast Public Radio. He lives on Bedlam Farm in upstate New York with his dogs, sheep, steers and cow, donkeys, barn cat, irritable rooster Winston, and three hens.

From the Hardcover edition.

Biography

"I really don't know anyone in media who's been given the freedom I've had to spout off on a wide range of subjects," Jon Katz wrote in his 1998 farewell column for HotWired. As a writer for web venues such as HotWired and Slashdot, Katz has waxed enthusiastic about Internet culture and championed "geek life." As a contributor to Wired and Rolling Stone, he's written articles on technology, politics and culture. And as a book author, he's penned mystery novels, memoirs and more, at the rate of nearly one per year since 1990.

Katz began his career in traditional media, as a reporter and editor for the Boston Globe and Washington Post and as a producer for the CBS Morning News. His experiences in television became fodder for fiction in his first novel, Sign Off, which Publishers Weekly called "an absorbing, well-paced debut" about the corporate takeover of a television network.

Disenchanted with the world of old media, Katz signed on to the cyber-revolution as a contributor to Wired magazine and its then-online counterpart, HotWired. As pundit and media critic, Katz became a prominent voice of the libertarian, countercultural, freewheeling spirit that prevailed on the Web in its early years. After HotWired underwent a corporate transformation, Katz moved to Slashdot, a free-for-all e-zine that allowed him to continue spouting off on a wide range of subjects (for Katz, "open source" is not just a method of software development, it's a metaphor for free expression).

Meanwhile, Katz began a series of "suburban detective" books featuring private investigator and family man Kit DeLeeuw, who operates out of a New Jersey mall. The intricately plotted mysteries serve as "a framework for the author's musings on suburban fatherhood, a subject on which he is wise and witty and honestly touching," wrote Marilyn Stasio in The New York Times.

In 1997, Katz's digital-age pontifications took book form in Virtuous Reality, which tackled censorship, online privacy and the shortcomings of the media. Katz struck a more personal chord with Geeks (2000), a work of gonzo ethnography that follows two computer-obsessed teenagers and their struggle to escape the Idaho boonies. "Katz's obvious empathy and love for his 'lost boys,' his ability to see shades of his own troubled youth in their tough lives, gives his narrative a rich taste that makes it unlike other Net books," said Salon writer Andrew Leonard.

Katz turned to himself as the subject for a meditation on middle age, Running to the Mountain (2000) which chronicles the three months he spent alone in a dilapidated cabin in upstate New York. The result is "a funny, moving and triumphant voyage of the soul," according to The Boston Globe.

Then there's Katz's other pet subject: dogs. In A Dog Year , Katz writes about a high-strung border collie -- a canine "lost boy" he adopted and gradually bonded with. "Dogs make me a better human," said Katz in an interview. Given his recent contributions to The Bark magazine, dogs may make Katz an even more versatile and prolific writer, if that's possible.

Good To Know

Katz is so persuaded of the power of interactivity that he's refused to have his work printed by publishers unless they'll run his e-mail address with it. His published e-mail addresses include jonkatz@slashdot.org, jonkatz@bellatlantic.net and jonkatz3@comcast.net.

After a Slate writer made a disparaging comment about Katz's basement, Katz wrote a column describing the basement office where he works. Its accoutrements include a wooden cherub, portraits of Thomas Paine and Abraham Lincoln, and a collection of gargoyles. A Haitian voodoo "frame thingy" (in Katz's words) graces his computer.

In our interview, Katz told us more fun facts: "I see every movie that comes out, usually alone in a megaplex. I love the New York Yankees because they win a lot. My one brilliant move in life was marrying my wife Paula."

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    1. Hometown:
      Montclair, New Jersey
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 8, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Providence, Rhode Island
    1. Education:
      Attended George Washington University and The New School for Social Research

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

 Dogs and Souls

If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons. —James Thurber

Until recently, i’d never spent much time with aristotle, one of the world’s pioneer thinkers. When I finally sat down with him, I found his essays tough going but rewarding; his ideas came as something of a jolt.

Like many of the early philosophers and scholars, Aristotle took a hard, clear line when it came to animals and souls. He exalted the rational being that a human had the potential to become. There was nothing like it, he wrote. A human could develop morality and responsibility. Since animals aren’t widely believed to possess those traits (not even in our contemporary animal-worshipping culture, although that’s changing), he argued that humans had a higher status, that human values and attributes—including the soul—couldn’t and shouldn’t be attributed to animals.

What made humans distinct from other living things, Aristotle believed, was that very ability to reason about ethics, to be held morally accountable for their decisions. Our ability to perceive what was right, and to struggle to do right rather than wrong, was our most distinguishing characteristic.

Animals (and children) weren’t able to determine right from wrong, Aristotle believed, and thus existed on a different plane. One could no more attribute human consciousness to animals than to trees.

Religious scholars, sorting out questions of faith and the afterlife, carried these arguments further and codified them. In the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas established Aristotle’s ideas as part of Christian doctrine, which states clearly that animals, lacking reason, don’t have immortal souls. Animals couldn’t read the Bible, accept God, or worry about heaven and hell. Therefore, they bore no responsibility for their choices. They were beasts, under our control, subordinate.

Mainstream Christianity, writes contemporary theologian Andrew Linzey (who believes that animals do have souls) remains “firmly humanocentric.”

Maybe so, but in the United States at least, the faithful are creating their own animal theology. Society’s broader view of animals has shifted radically. Scientists’ investigations suggest more intelligence and consciousness among animals than Aristotle or Aquinas could have perceived. Animals, particularly dogs and cats, are moving toward the center of our emotional lives. It sometimes seems that our love, even adoration, of animals is approaching the dimensions of religion itself.

A number of studies in recent years have indicated that the occasional border collie, elephant, or chimpanzee shows signs of self-awareness, some ability to see itself as an indi?vidual apart from the others of its species, though most researchers are candid about this work being far from conclusive.

Meanwhile, liberal theologians like Linzey, animal-rights activists like philosopher Peter Singer, and many millions of pet owners and lovers profoundly attached to their animals are reshaping the way we view other species, and are developing their own theologies.

I’ve been asking dog and cat lovers for years if they believed their animals had souls. By now I’ve met few dog owners who would consider their companions thoughtless, subordinate beasts, incapable of reason or self-awareness. Quite the opposite—I meet people all the time who tell me in considerable detail what their dogs and cats are thinking, feeling, and planning, and who find the very idea that their companion animals might be barred from heaven heretical.

Anthropomorphizing isn’t merely a trend in our culture but an epidemic. Some animals who have not learned to live with and love humans (raccoons, for example) do not seem to be benefiting from this new consciousness. But dogs and cats, who’ve lived among us for thousands of years and have us figured out, are on a roll.

Though I know better, I attribute human emotions to dogs myself, all the time. It’s almost impossible not to anthropomorphize, if you love and live with animals.

Consider the way that Rose, who usually spends the night in distant corners of the farmhouse—I rarely know where—occasionally comes to wake me, hopping up onto my bed to look at me or, if necessary, lick my face or ear.

At first, I shooed her away, annoyed at having my sleep interrupted. But I came to realize that this behavior meant something was amiss. Rose moves around at night, looking out the windows, keeping an ear and eye on things. When something isn’t right, she knows it.

It might be a fox or coyote on the prowl, or a broken fence, or a sick animal crying out. Once, a goat had escaped from its enclosure and was wandering around the driveway. Once, a rabid raccoon was trying to get into the barn. Another time, the donkeys had nosed open the gate and were heading for the road.

What is Rose doing when she wakes me in the night? Does she intend to warn me of danger, or is she just reacting to her finely honed working instincts? And how would I know the difference?

Animals generally do react out of instinct, genetics, environment, and experience, if you accept what vets and behaviorists tell us. We want our dogs to love us madly because we’re wonderful, but most of us who spend a lot of time around dogs come to understand that they love us because we feed them—and that’s one of the reasons we do.

They certainly have strong spirits, emotions, perhaps imaginations—the truth is, we still really don’t know a lot about what’s going on inside those furry heads—but an ethical self seems a human trait. Humans possess the ability to use narrative, language, and self-consciousness to reason, to struggle with right and wrong and make good decisions, to ponder questions of a spiritual nature. These are not things dogs can do.

I’ve never seen a dog, cow, or chicken resolve to be a better dog, cow, or chicken and work on improving itself. Domesticated animals seem to live the opposite way, following instincts and training, accepting their roles.

Aristotle wasn’t calling animals inferior to us. He was saying they were different, not comparable, and that we ought not diminish people or animals by assuming they have the same qualities, capacities, and emotional constructs we do. The human conscience is unique in all biological life, and there is no evidence, beyond our tendency to romanticize other species, that such an extraordinary trait exists in the animal world. The fact that that’s become a somewhat controversial notion is remarkable.

Aristotle’s philosophical and theological heirs, Augustine and Aquinas, did believe, for different reasons, that humans were inherently superior to animals. If anybody in Aquinas’s time had claimed that dogs were just like children, he would have been shunned.

Our values have changed. Rationality was an almost sacred trait to thinkers like Aristotle, whose culture had emerged from darker, more primitive times when little was understood about the natural or scientific world.

Rationality was the groundwork for learning, morality, even democracy. To Aristotle, it formed the core of what it meant to be a human being, and the human soul was uniquely precious. Animals weren’t idealized or personified; they were valued as workers—or food.

Aquinas, also enormously influential in shaping notions about animals and souls, further theorized that since animals lacked all reason and self-consciousness, humans couldn’t be cruel to them. They existed, were created, for our benefit and had no awareness of their condition beyond instinct. The reason to treat animals well, Aquinas argued, was primarily to foster compassion toward other humans.

It’s important to remember the context of those much harsher times, marked by starvation, war, disease, suffering, and superstition. Pets existed, even then. Dogs were used for protection and companionship, and cats prized as rodent sentries, but other animals were on the periphery of our families and emotional lives, not so central. They were rarely seen as childlike or as possessing human-style emotion.

The number of domestic dogs in this country has exploded in the last generation, from roughly 15 million in 1960 to more than 75 million today, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Figures for cats, rodents, birds, reptiles, and fish are less reliable. In the past, owning a dog was simpler. They were rarely purchased, often ate human food, and were not generally walked, cleaned up after, or permitted to sleep in our beds. They didn’t have human names, and expensive health care for them was almost unheard of. Bites were common, leashes rare, gourmet snacks and play groups unimaginable.

There was little discussion of animals and souls, or much expectation of them joining us in the afterlife.

Certainly they weren’t as emotionally engaged with their human owners. Dogs sometimes provided companionship, but more often assisted with hunting, herding, and guarding.

Largely beasts of burden, animals were useful—vital—for pulling carts and plows, for hauling and transporting and fighting, for providing wool and meat and soap. Few people in Aquinas’s time had the resources to feed companion animals or spend money on their health care. The notion that they might have human-style thoughts, motives, or reasoning was centuries away.

Now and then, pushing a cart through the aisles at a pet superstore, I like to imagine Aristotle or Aquinas at the mall with me, gawking at the overwhelming variety of toys, beds, collars, scoopers, shampoos and deodorizers, exotic foods and snacks. I suspect both men would be horrified.

From the Hardcover edition.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 37 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 6, 2009

    Katz Delivers Again with Another Insightful Book

    Do dogs and other animals have souls? This and other questions about animal behavior are once again brillantly issustrated by Jon Katz who doesn't force any particular answer but offers a myriad of stories with his unique insight and humor about animals he has known. Anyone who has read his books about his dogs and animals on Bedlam Farm will be familiar with most of the animal characters. This book asks the qustions and let's the reader think about their own perspective and experience with dogs and animals to draw their own conclusions. Very informative, inquisitive and often humorous, this is a must read for anyone who has a special animal in their life.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2013

    Nicky152

    They always say a mans best friend are dogs!!cute

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Another Winner from Jon Katz

    Dog and animal lovers alike will appreciate the touching way Jon Katz relates his interactions with his rural companions.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    John Katz's books are always enjoyable.

    Just general reading. I teach dog training classes, and find John Katz's works enjoyable and informative.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Do they or don't they?

    For followers of Jon Katz and the animals of Bedlam Farm, this book doesn't disappoint. And if any still have questions about whether animals have souls, making a deeper acquaintance with these animals should put them to rest.

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  • Posted February 4, 2011

    Fantastic!!!

    Highly recommended. Great flow and a pleasure to read. Jon's insight on the relationship with all is animals is refreshing - humbling in a way. A must read!!!

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  • Posted January 29, 2011

    Marvelous book!

    Loved it. Thought provoking, tender and sensitive. All my animals have souls, too!

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  • Posted December 7, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Another Fine Book by Katz

    I enjoyed reading this book very much. Katz relates stories about numerous animals on his farm and then waxes very philosophical on the finer points of the stories. While you may not agree with everything he writes you will enjoy the Rose the dog stories, the Winston the rooster stories, Elvis the steer and his love for snickers, and all the other animals that make up the farm life Katz loves. This is just another installment of the wonderful Jon Katz books I have already enjoyed reading.

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  • Posted October 23, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Another winner by great author

    Jon Katz's writing is so elegant, his story is so clear, that it is a pleasure to read anything he writes. This book follows the memoir-type quality of his other books, taking you along on his journey. this is one of my two favorite new books, the other is Paws & Effect: The Healing Power of Dogs by Sharon Sakson, which is about how the bond with your dog helps to heal humans.

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  • Posted October 20, 2009

    BEDLAN FARM

    LOVE IT-WILL BUY MORE BOOKS BY JON KATZ. GOOD ENOUGH TO RE READ. ANIMALS ARE COOL.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2009

    a great read for the animal lover

    Jon Katz gets into the mind and heart of the dog. He has a canny understanding and love of his pets...all of them! and the animal show a love and respect for him. this book will make one want a dog because it gets deep within the soul of a dog. the soul is the seat of the will and emotions of an animal and of man and this book proves both possess souls! a great read....thoroughly enjoyed it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2009

    Soul of a Dog

    I certainly enjoy reading any of Jon Katz's book and this was no exception. Entertaining and thought provoking. Now why can't we get him to come to a Barnes and Noble in Woodbury on next years tour?

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