Twenty years ago, bestselling author, journalist and photographer Jon Katz left a busy Manhattan life to buy his first farm in upstate New York. In his new work of nonfiction, Talking to Animals, Katz reflects on two decades of living close to animals. But this new book encompasses much more than Katz recounting how he’s learned to communicate with the animals in his life: unforgettable dogs, as well as a blind pony, a donkey, an old rooster named Winston and a 3,000-pound Swiss steer called Elvis. Talking to Animals is also an autobiography of sorts, a meditation that illuminates the author’s journey from childhood trauma, through divorce, to healing, fulfillment and love.
One of the pleasures of Katz’s writing is getting to know the individual animals that have played such an important part in his life—especially the dogs. From his first puppy, Lucky, who provided solace to a bullied child, to the wonderful Border Collie Rose, who helped Katz learn to live on a farm and take care of lambs, each animal comes alive as fully as a character in fiction. Rose was also part of the dramatic encounter that revealed to Katz the possibilities of communicating with animals in a different way. One evening in the woods, he and Rose found their path blocked by three coyotes. Fearing that the untrained young dog would charge ahead, Katz closed his eyes and painted a picture of what he wanted to happen: “I imagined Rose still, ears up, tail up, back straight.” To his astonishment, Rose followed his visualized command, intimidating the intruders.
Looking back, Katz notes that each animal in his life “has taught me something. Sometimes it is about listening, sometimes about talking. Often it is about me.” Readers who live with and love animals might well say the same—and may find themselves looking at their four-legged companions in new ways.