Jon Katz Lives The Dog's Life

When Winston the rooster crows, morning begins on Bedlam Farm, with breakfast for every animal living there, served by the farm's only resident human, Jon Katz.

"I can't wait to get up in the morning," Katz told Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith. "And I go out and, you know, the goats are yammering away and the donkeys are braying 'cause I haven't given them a cookie yet. So I really love it. And I think being connected to this and knowing this is my walk in the morning, every morning, I can't believe how beautiful it is."

Bedlam Farm is almost a cliché, with its red barns and its clean, neat animals like Mother the cat, taking a break from rat-chasing, and the three border collies, Izzy, Emma, and the star of the farm, Rose.

Rose is an accomplished sheep herder. To Katz, she's much more like a farm manager.

"She has a map in her head of how the world ought to work, which I do not have," he said. "I don't know that I could live here without her."

You see, farming isn't exactly in Katz's blood. In fact, he may be the most unlikely farmer you'll ever find.

Not that long ago, Katz was a suburban dad living in New Jersey, a former newspaper reporter with an exciting new career.

"I ended up in television in New York, and I think it was definitely a nightmare pretty much all the way through," he said. "I was unhappy. I really do not like it. It was too much pressure, I wasn't especially good at it. I didn't feel comfortable with it. I never felt that's where I should be."

He quit to write mystery novels, but wasn't exactly an overnight success.

"I went to a lot of quiet book signings for many years," Katz said.

But that silence was broken by, of all things, a dog: A troubled untrainable border collie named Orson, that Katz took in to train.

"I think I was probably a little bit like him, my guess would be," he said. "I had a lotta problems with authority and a lotta problems with going on a clear path, with learning things and making good decisions. And I think I identified with him."

Katz switched from writing novels to writing real-life stories of his struggles with Orson, a book that would be his breakthrough, called "A Dog Year."

"It was successful," he said. "People came to my readings. That's what I remember: 'Wow, the dog people will come to readings. This is great!'"

"A Dog Year" sold millions of copies, but Orson had an even more profound affect on Katz's life.

"A trainer in Pennsylvania turned to me one day, I was yelling at Orson," he recalled. "He said 'Look, Katz, if you wanna have a better dog you're just gonna have to be a better human.'"

His efforts to help a dog find its calling allowed Katz to find his own.

"I would take him sheep herding in Pennsylvania to try to help him out, straighten him out," he said. "And one thing led to another. As my daughter says, the book of my life should be called, 'One Thing Led To Another.'"

And so Orson led Katz to Bedlam Farm, a place where Katz's growing pack of border collies can herd sheep full-time, and where donkeys - considered useless by most farmers - are most welcome. Katz often farms with his heart instead of his head, like the time a fellow farmer came to him with a problem.

"He said, 'I have this steer, I don't wanna send him to market,'" Katz recalled. "I said, 'Who would be stupid enough to buy an animal like that and not send him to market?'"

The steer, Elvis, became the first of three cattle on Bedlam Farm. Stories like these have some of Katz' loved ones shaking their heads, like his wife Paula.

"'Poor Paula,' as she's known in most of America," he said. "Poor Paula. Everyone says at every reading: 'How is poor Paula? How is poor Paula doing?'"

Poor Paula has been married to Jon for 35 years, but now they live apart. She teaches at Columbia University and wasn't about to move to Bedlam.

"He knows how to drive a tractor and fix a donkey's hoof," she said. "But he doesn't know how to get to 116th and Broadway on the subway. And I do."

Still, Paula visits the farm often and has come to accept her husband's new way of life.

"He's a farmer," she said. "He's friends with cows. I personally am not friends with cows."

But if Katz is friends with cows, his relationship with his dogs is what fuels him. Since the success of "A Dog Year," he's written more books, every one about his life with dogs. Every one has been a bestseller.

As for Orson, well, a year after they moved to Bedlam Farm, he bit three people. And Katz decided to put him to sleep. Orson is buried at the top of a hill overlooking Bedlam.

"You know, I've learned a lot. I mean, he taught me a lot," Katz said. "I do feel like I owe this life to him. I do absolutely. I feel like I have to acknowledge that."

Rose and Izzy dominate the farm now, and Katz has become a kind of philosopher when it comes to interaction between man and animals.

"I think it's almost … it's arrogant to make them into little people," Katz said. "I mean, what I most love about these dogs and certainly an animal like Elvis is that they're not people. They don't go on cable talk shows and scream at each other. And they don't sue each other. They really live by food, attention and weather."
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