I’m always fascinated to learn where common expressions originate. You’ve probably heard of “the dog days of summer,” those hot days when we all want to lay around and nap like a dog. But that expression comes from a canine constellation spotted back in Roman times. Sirius — the dog star — is one of the brightest stars visible from anywhere on Earth during the summer months. It’s part of the constellation Canis Major, the great dog. When Sirius lined up with the sun in early July through the middle of August, the Romans thought it created additional heat, making those summer months even hotter — and the dog days expression was born.
It makes me think of some of my favorite canine companions as well. Dogs have long been an important part of my life. I was in third grade when we got our first dog, a blonde German shepherdgolden retriever mix. A man who claimed to be Bing Crosby’s brother was selling a puppy. The backstory for this dog intrigued my father, a huge Bing Crosby fan and an avid singer himself. Because of this “connection” to my father’s favorite crooner, we took the dog home and named him Crosby.
Crosby was unbelievably adorable and loyal and the ideal family dog. Wherever we were, that’s where he wanted to be. One of his weak spots, though, was the couch in our family room. He knew he wasn’t supposed to get up on it, so after everyone went to bed and the house was quiet, up he nestled into the couch for a good night’s rest. In the morning and at the first sounds of someone coming downstairs, down he’d come with a thump. He would lie back down on the floor acting innocent without knowing that the adjacent large, round, warm, furry dent in the couch gave away his nightly habit every time. When he got older, his hearing was affected, so we now had to gently wake him from his sleep. He’d look startled, but in his sweet eyes would appear the question: “Is it time for me to get off the couch?”
Crosby was also a fierce defender of the household. He just didn’t always know what he was protecting us against. Each time the doorbell rang, he’d run to the door barking. When we’d open the door to greet the person, he’d rush past them, still barking, courageously confronting our empty front yard. After a moment, he’d trot back by the visitor and into the house, proud for having “scared away the intruder.”
In addition to Crosby, we raised two guide dogs for a year at a time to try and give them a loving home for their first year before they would head off for their formal training. In a household with six kids, we laughed and wondered how the complete lack of discipline and craziness in the dogs’ surroundings could properly prepare them for service. But it worked. Though it was very hard to say goodbye to each of them, we were blessed to later get an opportunity to observe one of them in training, from across the street, and marveled at how well “our dog” was now safely negotiating intersections and protecting the trainer from obstacles.
Lois, one of our guide dogs, was trained to go down and pick up our newspaper from the end of the driveway. I guess we got a little too excited in our praise after she first accomplished this new trick because the next morning, she proceeded to gather up all the newspapers from the neighborhood. In embarrassment, my poor mother, still dressed in her nightgown, had to quickly rush up and down our street returning all the newspapers before our neighbors noticed.
Ten years ago, it was fun to bring another furry friend into my family. My wife and I wanted a Havanese dog. They can range from 8–15 pounds, and we were set on getting a larger, tan-colored male. When the breeder asked what we were looking for, we gave her those characteristics but also shared we wanted a dog who liked to play and would not be afraid of people or lots of activity happening around them. She told us she had a dog with the physical characteristics we wanted, but he was scared of his own shadow. Instead, she recommended we consider an 8-pound female who would eventually turn completely gray. Because this female dog was said to be playful and a lover of people, my wife and children went to meet her and all the puppies in the litter. It turned out that friendly girl dog did steal their hearts. We named her Zaika, which means little rabbit in Russian. So, the “wrong” dog became the perfect dog for our family.
A lot of people have adopted dogs or cats in the last year, and this appears to be a result of long hours spent working at home during lockdown. Having pets around made isolation more bearable. It always feels good to be greeted like you’ve been gone for months even when you just returned from a quick grocery run. Studies have also determined that real physical and mental health benefits come from having companion animals. They help lower our stress levels and boost our immune systems.
I hope you and your furry friends enjoy these final dog days of summer.