Jon Katz, his wife, Maria Wulf, and their dog, Frieda.


"The Second Chance Dog: A Love Story," by Jon Katz

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By: Jon Katz.

Publisher: Ballantine Books, 267 pages, $25.

Review: Katz is at his strongest when he gets inside the canine mind, imagining the life that led his girlfriend’s Rottweiler-mix, Frieda, to a shelter, and puzzling out how best to help the dog.

REVIEW: 'The Second Chance Dog,' by Jon Katz

  • Article by: STEVE NOVAK
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • December 21, 2013 - 2:00 PM

In what is now his 13th book about dogs, Jon Katz again shows that there is virtually no limit to describing and discussing man’s best friend.

Katz’s new book, “The Second Chance Dog: A Love Story,” is a departure of sorts from his usual update about the current array of dogs at his upstate New York farm. This time, Katz tells the story of a rescue dog named Frieda, a Rottweiler-shepherd mix owned by a woman who would later become his second wife.

Anyone familiar with Katz’s books knows that he usually takes great care in choosing his own dogs. His previous works detail the lineage and the history of some of his choices: Orson, Lenore, Izzy and Rose.

But this time, Katz has a different situation. He meets Frieda when he meets her owner, Maria. In their first encounter, Frieda is very protective, barking at him nonstop. Maria explains that Frieda is the same way with almost any stranger — she is fiercely loyal and wary of everyone except Maria.

Because Maria and Frieda are, in effect, a package deal, Katz gets to know more about the dog each time he sees the woman. The dog is a challenge. Maria had adopted Frieda from a dog shelter about a year before Katz met her. Shelter officials said the dog had been on the loose, probably for years.

Of the estimated 74 million dogs in the United States, many have been or will spend time in a dog shelter at some point. Katz’s descriptions show that shelter life for an animal is similar to an orphanage for a child, in that it puts the dog into an atmosphere entirely alien to its nature.

Another consideration is the circumstance that led to a dog being placed in a shelter. Often the animal comes from an owner who didn’t want it. Other times, the dog has escaped from its owner and has spent weeks or months living on its own.

Katz is at his best when he tries to get inside the mind of a dog. After several visits with Frieda, he imagines a history for this dog. In one long passage, Katz imagines the scenario of Frieda on her own before being caught by shelter officials.

“She had no experience in the forest, but her memory was strong and full of images of the past. Her instincts, her prey drive, were sharp and focused. She was already a different dog.”

It is Katz’s intention to slowly ease himself into Frieda’s world so that she will begin to trust other people besides the woman who rescued her. The story he tells gives hope that no animal is beyond help, as long as enough love and patience are thrown in.

Steve Novak is a book critic in Cleveland.

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