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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the May 14, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Dogs at Work: A Management Test

Jon Katz is a dog writer — one who has published

books about dogs — who believes that dogs do important work, and

he isn’t talking about sheep herding or sled pulling.

"All dogs are working dogs," writes Katz. "Nearly every

breed — even lap dogs — were developed for specific tasks.

Every dog is descended from creatures who aided primitive, frightened

humans when they most needed it. Today, when we are less primitive

but still frightened, they are working harder than ever."

"Since pets both give and receive affection, they come to function

as emotional substitutes, helping to maintain morale when people struggle

through transitions," he writes. "In a society where people

often live away from their extended families, watch more and more

TV, hook up to cable and the Net, and feel increasingly isolated,

where adjustments to new technologies and disruptions of workplaces

and relationships characterize modern life — dogs have a lot of

new work to do."

Katz has 12 novels and non-fiction books to his credit and was twice

a finalist for the National Magazine Award. He has written for the

New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, and Wired,

and he contributes to public radio’s Marketplace program. Accompanied

by his border collies Homer and Devon, he will speak and sign his

just-published book, "The New Work of Dogs: Tending to Life, Love,

and Family" (Random House-Villard, $23.95), on Friday, May 16,

at 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in MarketFair. Call 609-716-1570 for information.

"The range of dogs’ work these days is breathtaking: they join

search-and-rescue missions, help the blind, guard property, sniff

for bombs and illegal drugs, and comfort the elderly, the traumatized,

the bereaved, and the lonely," writes Katz. "Therapists enthusiastically

enlist dogs in treating drug and alcohol addiction and in a broad

range of rehabilitation work. They increasingly use dogs to help emotionally

disturbed children."

The author’s two border collies illustrate the range of canine jobs.

One can do the traditional work of shepherding. Devon, on the other

hand, is high strung and excitable but, inexplicably, makes an excellent

therapy dog. An excerpt from the poignant scene where Katz discovers

this with a small boy named Joey:

"Joey spotted Devon and began to shout. His words weren’t

clear. He was clutching a frayed stuffed animal and he was making

a lot of noise. With Devon still by my side, Joey began to get frustrated,

pounding the arms of the chair and kicking out with his feet. I quickly

stepped in front of Devon; he was excitable and unpredictable. I had

no idea how he might react to the highly animated Joey. But Devon

walked straight over to the boy, hesitated for just a moment, then

put his head in Joey’s lap. Then he crawled into Joey’s lap."

"As if a switch had been turned off, Joey calmed almost instantly,

as Devon sat completely still. I saw no canine danger signals: no

squirming or struggling, no panting or other signs of stress. In fact,

he looked quite at home draped over this boy in a wheelchair. Something

unusual was happening, I slowly realized. This was a different kind

of work for my working dog."

Katz introduces us to those who work with dogs as their jobs

and those whose dogs help them cope with their jobs. Both categories

have functional and dysfunctional relationships.

In the first category, Katz shows us the dog walkers, the veterinarians,

and the dog rescuers, including a woman so obsessed with her rescue

mission that she makes time to see her grandchildren, who live nearby,

just twice a year.

In the second category, he describes functional relationships like

those in "the Divorced Dogs Club," a support group of women

whose four-footed helpers are helping them get through emotionally

rough times. Or the dog belonging to a terminally ill cancer patient

that tirelessly watches over her and comforts her. When the patient’s

health spirals downward, she makes arrangements for the dog to go

to another good home so he can make a smooth transition.

"Our real-life dramas tend to be intense but mundane: unemployment,

divorce, illness, loneliness, fear, abandonment. This seems to be

the kind of work dogs can sometimes actually handle," he writes.

Dysfunctional in the second category is Rob, a well-paid

lawyer who commutes to Manhattan, works long days, has lots of stress,

and has few friends. He gets up at 4:40 a.m. every day to walk Cherokee

and hires a walker for the mid-day exercise. "Rob was somebody

you wouldn’t mess with, somebody who said little but said it bluntly.

An orderly and disciplined man, Rob was perpetually apologizing for

Cherokee’s unruly behavior," writes Katz. "As successful as

he was, surrounded by his wife and kids, there was a disconnectedness

about Rob — from the town he was away from all day, from his children,

from the society beyond his work and home. He had no close friends,

not even the dog guys (who went on the early morning exercise walk).

He had no interests and little time to pursue any. In some ways, Cherokee

filled that void."

"Rob couldn’t stand to have a badly behaved dog, but given his

own past, he really couldn’t stand to discipline him, either. In Rob

and Cherokee I saw some of men’s happiest and saddest traits simultaneously:

their ingrained loneliness, even in the midst of family; their lack

of meaningful friendships; their inability to talk openly, even with

people who loved them; their loyalty, honesty, and steadfastness.

I was glad Rob and Cherokee had each other, because, in some elemental

ways, neither had anyone else."

"Some people get dogs for simple reasons — for company, security,

hunting, or work — with few psychological motives," he writes.

"But more people than ever see dogs as partners or surrogates

as they deal with serious problems in their past or current lives.

Sometimes people don’t want to recognize that they are replaying old

issues in their own lives through their dogs."

Dogs as companions? Or dogs as shrinks? The canine/human profiles

that Katz describes make you think that human resources interviewers

should include a "Relationship with Pet" question to really

fathom the personality of a potential hire. If you can’t make your

dog behave, maybe you shouldn’t be in management.

— Barbara Fox

Katz on Dogs, Barnes & Noble, MarketFair, 609-716-1570.

Author appearance by Jon Katz, author of "The New Work of Dogs:

Tending to Life, Love and Family in a Changing World." His two

border collies, Homer and Devon, will accompany Katz, but audience

members are asked not to bring their pets. Friday, May 16, 7 p.m.


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