An excerpt from Jon Katz's A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life.

Pets and people.
Sept. 26 2006 7:33 AM

A Good Dog in Trouble

My beloved Orson kept biting people. What should I do?

Jon Katz's A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life.

When I got Orson in 2000, we were both in bad shape. The 2-year-old border collie was excitable and aggressive. I was living (unhappily) in northern New Jersey, writing (unhappily) about media and technology. I had few interests outside my family, and I had few friends.

Five years later, almost everything about my life was different. I was writing (happily) about dogs, animals, and rural life, living (happily) on a 110-acre farm in upstate New York. Orson had become my beloved sidekick. We were always together, day and night. His arrival had sparked the best and most important change in my life.

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But he was still troubled. I'd tried every tactic from sheepherding to acupuncture to calm him, and I'd had considerable success—I thought. But in the spring and summer of 2005, for reasons that weren't clear, he suddenly became aggressive and bit three people. The following is adapted from A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life, published this week.

I had four choices.

I could build a more secure kennel for Orson behind the house, away from traffic and visitors.

I could find a more isolated and peaceful home for him, where fewer people visited to alarm him.

I could take Orson to a veterinary school like Cornell's for more sophisticated testing—MRIs, brain scans, further blood work—to make certain that no medical issue (a tumor, for example) was causing his violent behavior.

I could take him to my vet and have him killed.

The next morning before dawn, Orson and I rode up on the ATV to see Sirius, the Dog Star. I brought a piece of toast for breakfast. I sat munching on it, tossing Orson bits and scratching him under his chin.

Dogs, dogs. One day he's biting somebody's neck, the next morning he's sitting on the hilltop with me, gentle as a kitten.