Dog days

People have referred to the hottest days of summer in the Northern Hemisphere as “dog days” for a very long time. During the rise of the Greek empire, the rising of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky in the northern hemisphere, was connected with heat, drought, thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs and bad luck. The star is part of the constellation Canis Major, latin for “the greater dog.” It is so bright because it is only 8.6 light years from the earth. Compared to other stars that appear near to it in the night sky, that’s close. Arcturus is over 36 light years away. Betelgeuse is more than 642 light years away and Rigel is 864 light years from earth. On the other hand, the distance that it takes light to travel 8.6 years is a long span and it is unlikely that a distant star is affecting the weather on our planet. And although earthly observers have attached the names of animals to some of the patters of stars in the sky, the connection between actual bears or dogs seems to be all in the imagination of observers. I can’t make out a dog in the night sky, but I do know how to look for the stars of Orion’s belt and follow the line of those stars to Sirius, which is an easy star to identify.

The Greek word upon which Sirius is based means “glowing” or “scorching.” The temperatures can be scorching at the height of summer, so the name seems appropriate.

My observation of the dog days of summer, however, haven’t been based on paying particular attention to the stars, though summer nights do invite sitting outside and looking up at the night sky. I do find that I become a bit lethargic when the temperatures are high. I’ve had to push myself to keep working in the heat. Yesterday was a nice respite, with light rain most of the day and temperatures that were more moderate. I used the cooler day to its advantage, cleaning out the garage attic and making a run to the city landfill with a load of things that we have discarded.

Since we call these days dog days, however, I’ve been observing the dogs of our neighborhood and surroundings as we go on our daily walks. There is a routine that has developed between people who walk in the parks during this pandemic. We are careful to give each other the six feet of separation that is recommended. We will wave or say hello, but don’t linger for conversation. Sometimes we look away as we pass, as if to grant the other person even more emotional space. The dogs being walked by others, however, don’t know anything of the physical distancing rules of this disease. They are eager to see other people. They come running up to greet us as we walk. Mostly they are restrained by leashes, but most leaches are six feet or so long and so we bend down to greet the dogs with a pat on the head or a little scratch behind the ears. As we do so, we laugh at their eagerness and comment to their owners that the dogs know nothing of the rules of the pandemic.

Having delivered newspapers as a boy growing up in Montana, I learned early in my life to observe dogs. Nearly every home in our town had a pet dog and I knew which ones were friendly and which ones were not. I can usually determine whether or not a dog is a threat by looking at it. Most dogs, of course, are not any threat at all. Even those who bark at me often are simply noisy, not dangerous. I’ve been bitten a few times, and I know that dogs can pose a threat, but that seems to be a rare occurrence. Most of the dogs we meet are friendly and gentle.

There are, however, folks who are frightened by dogs. There is a UPS driver who often delivers packages to my sister’s home who is terrified of all dogs. Her Australian Shepherd likes to bark at trucks and will bark at the UPS truck when it comes into the yard. The dog, however, is gentle and would not bite a person. The driver, however, has made comments about how he would never keep a dog like that. He refused to get out of the truck, sometimes just dropping the packages on the ground, opening the door of his truck as little as possible. This driver delivers packages in rural Montana. He must encounter hundreds of barking dogs every day. I can’t imagine that he is very happy in his line of work. I think that the other UPS drivers know about his fears. One of them carries dog treats in his truck and gives treats to all of the dogs when he drives the route. That encourages all of the dogs to greet the UPS truck when it comes into the yard.

Personally, I like living in a world where people have pet dogs. Although we do not have a dog, I enjoy visiting in homes where there are dogs and I enjoy the pets of my siblings. Our daughter has a gentle Labrador who is such a gentle animal with our grandson. He loves the dog and it is easy to see that the affection is mutual. We joke about having a granddog.

The dog days of summer, then, aren’t all that terrible for us. As August approaches, I’m not experiencing any anxiety about the days to come. I know from experience that September is not far away and October can bring snow in this country. If I get a bit lazier when the weather gets warmer, I’ll just have to put a little more effort into each day.

We live in uncertain times and this will be remembered as an unusual summer, but I’m not thinking that the dog days are any worse than others.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!