Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Summer, 'Dog Days' & Pets

Woof! Woof! It's hot! The 'Dog Days' of summer are once again upon us. Named after Sirius, meaning 'scorching', it was once believed that the star's heat combined with the heat of the sun, created the hottest of weather, making us feel sometimes irritable, often lazy, and just plain... 'dog tired'.

In his book, "Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm", author Jon Katz moans... "I understand why the Romans blames Sirius, The Dog Star, for the greatest heat of July and August. Somebody needs to be held responsible".

Responsible, as he further explains, for the long sweaty days, for slowing down his animals, the plague of mosquitoes,  gnats and flies, the browning and yellowing of things, withering of grass and flowers and sagging of gardens, and for nodding off in mid-afternoon, getting drowsy, and slow like a slug.

Unless you're a goldfish, constantly hydrated, with a three second memory, humans and animals alike must endure these grueling months and do the best we can to cope. Pointing fingers and blaming others like Sirius, the Romans, Mother Nature, or our local meteorologists, will do no good. The 'Dog Days' are here to stay.

Speaking of dogs... I should tell you I don't have one or any other kind of pet... at least one that lives and breathes.

I do have these.

They're clever little pencil sharpeners. Insert a pencil, crank the tail and 'voila'... a sharpened pencil! I have a good size collection of plastic toys, some are dollar store items, others designer creations. Plastic animals are a lot easier to care for than the real thing. They don't need to be walked, fed, or entertained... just kept from direct sunlight and dusted every now and then... more then, than now, in my case.

I wasn't always petless.

Our first family dog, my father's pride and joy, was a Cocker Spaniel named Lady Ginger of Bayside. Here's a photo of Ginger and me.

Notice Ginger is sitting a full arms-length away from me with eyes focused elsewhere... probably looking towards my dad. The two of them were inseparable. She was a gem of a dog... even won awards taking first and second place prizes for Tricks and Obedience at the Ken-L-Ration Dog Show on Long Island, NY. I was six years old, the same age as in the photo above, when I proudly walked her through her paces... the usual sit, stay, give me your paw, count, roll over, play dead along with the more difficult task of crisscrossing through my legs as I walked. Truthfully, a monkey could have taken my place and Ginger would still have won her blue ribbons. Dad had her well trained.

When she passed away, we were all distraught, my dad devastated.

It was years before another dog was allowed into the house. It was only my dad's soft spot for me, and my constant pleading, that got me a dog of my own. Free pups were being given away at our local gas station and I was given the pick of the litter. Inside a large cardboard box were puppies jumping, yelping, and begging to be held except for one... the quiet one, sitting peacefully still, and looking up at me... my 'zen' dog, tan in color, a mixed breed, mostly Golden Retriever. I named him Tawny.

Here's a photo of Tawny and me... both of us grown up.

Notice how close he sits with his eyes focused adoringly on me. Tawny wasn't trained like Ginger. He did have a few tricks of his own, like knowing where the dog biscuits were kept, opening the cabinet with his nose, and letting us know he was hungry by pushing his metal bowl around the kitchen floor like a fast moving hockey puck.

He was a smart puppy, but a lazy dog. He preferred being indoors and didn't care much for taking walks... much like me. So often when I'd attach a leash to his collar to venture out, he'd lay still, barely lifting his eyes, as if to say, "I'm tired, you go without me".

One day I did.

I left for college and only returned home for the occasional weekend visit or on holidays. I have so few regrets in life, but abandoning my dog was one of the biggest. Tawny remained with family, but I was no longer a good parent.

I so admire people who remain good parents to their pets throughout the duration of their animal's lives. I have quite a few friends who care for their animals as family members often inconveniencing themselves and making big sacrifices.

There's Joe who wakes up from a deep sleep each morning around 5:30 AM to feed his cat Patty because that's when she's hungry and ready to play.

And Christine who often and lovingly mentions her children Morgan and Emmalene in the same breath as the four-legged members of her family... Muggles, a Boston Terrier, and Honey, a Pit Bull mix. Christine asked to have Mickey, another Boston Terrier, included in her list of loved ones. She said, "Mickey had to be put down in January due to cancer. I still include him in everything I do... I just haven't let go yet". She has pictures and stories galore of all of them.

Then there's Bev H. whose preference for pets lies with rodents... first a rat purchased as a class pet then reluctantly given to a student who cared for it over the summer and hated to part with it. As a replacement, Bev accepted two free gerbils, which she kept for herself. She named them Peanut and Squirty... both female, sisters, and pregnant. Bev had no trouble telling them apart and could describe with great detail their different personalities and daily routines.

And Lisa, still grieving over the recent loss of her longtime companion, a black Labrador named Hadleigh. For years, Lisa drove home from work at lunchtime, to care and spend time with her dog. And for times when scheduling became difficult, she hired a trusty dog minder as a friendly substitute. When 'Hads' health declined and he could no longer climb steps, Lisa moved in downstairs and slept on the living room couch to be near him. I can only hope someone cares for me in my last days as she did for him, making my passing as peaceful and painless as humanly possible.

These are a few of the 'special ones', people I know, who love their pets unconditionally and put their animals before themselves.

Of course there are those who own pets but shouldn't and those like myself who choose not to have pets for any number of reasons.

There's an old show business adage that says, "Never work with children or animals". Their behavior is unpredictable and they often 'steal the show'.

In college, I remember being forewarned by my instructor..."Photograph any subject, just no children or pets". I doubt he had an aversion to them, but perhaps it was just his way of defining the difference between family snapshots and Fine Art.

So how do you explain these great works of art? They look pretty fine to me.

'Nancy'  Danville, Virginia 1969 ~  Emmet Gowin

'Jessie In The Wind' 1989 ~ Sally Mann

'Top Dog In A Top Coat' ~ William Wegman

These may be the 'Dog Days' of summer, for most of us, but for a few loyal pet owners, it's... 'days with dogs' and other animals all year round.

Aren't these cute?

They're calendars from the designers at Scout Creative. You can download them and others for free here. Print on a heavy cardstock, cut, score, fold and glue.

Here are a few more links you might find interesting:

A touching tribute to dear Penny, her dog, by Lisa Scottoline here.

A short video on William Wegman and his dogs here.

And for all you bird lovers out there, an article on B95, Moonbird here.

Do you have an interesting name for your pet or an interesting story to tell?

Michael's family's second dog was a purebred... a Great Dane who arrived by plane and came with registered papers and the name Great Zulu King. Oddly, whenever an airplane passed overhead, this enormous animal, with a warrior-like name, would cower... poor pooch.

How are you dealing with these 'Dog Days' of summer?

Woof!... Keep cool and carry on.

Happy Birthday Dave... we miss you.


  1. Dyan:

    Thankyou for a wonderful positive post. I know I along with anyone else who reads this post will be touched. After reading the post, I looked around me and started being "grateful" for All that I have and my wonderful experiences, love, friendships I created with my dogs/family instead of dwelling on the past. I also know that I am not alone in the lost of a love one.... Thank you !! Thank you for taking the time to share a little bit of everyone's story... God bless you!


  2. Thanks to Marks Dorcel for the following comment:

    "You have enjoyed your dog days completely and make a great fun with your dog.
    Your way is very interesting one and I appreciate it."

    Marks seems to be a real dog lover.

  3. If "Dog Days" refer to those world weary moments of summer then "Cat Days" belong to the cool times of autumn. Patty, the 5:30 princess mentioned above, has an unconditional loyalty which resembles the crisp colorful charm of an October afternoon. The stroking of one's pets, lowers blood pressure so says medical research. I find the relationship to pets help me to embrace life with an ever so gentle smile.

  4. We were never allowed to have pets when I grew up. As an adult, I wasn't interested in having any either. I did consent to a few fish and a hamster, however. But I was sure I didn't want to be a dog owner until.....I fell in love with a little ball of fluff. His name was Jasper and we had him for 16 years. He was supposed to be my daughter's dog, but you know how that goes! He was my dog, especially after she went away to college. He lived for our walks and I loved to watch him proudly walk with his tail curled up high behind him. Those little legs could really go and I had to walk at a good clip to keep up with him. (I forgot to mention that he was a Shi Tsu) After we got Jasper I became a dog lover. They are such wonderful creatures! My husband never "felt the love" but only tolerated him. The fact that Jasper destroyed the wood frames around the doors and stained the carpet didn't endear him any.

  5. Unbelievable!
    Today was filled with thoughts of dogs, cats, mosquitos, laziness. I go to check out your post and there it is, in your words. I never knew the particulars about your dogs. What wonderful pets you had. Thanks for memorializing hads. That was sweet of you. I loved seeing pictures of you at other stages. All in all, I know you're gearing up for what's next, and I will look forward to it.

  6. To all those compassionate animal lovers out there, especially those who took the time to comment on this post... you are a 'special' breed.