Corrections or additions?
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
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:
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."
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
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.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.