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The Tentacle


July 31, 2007

These Dog Days

Roy Meachum

As you probably know, calling early August "dog days" has absolutely nothing to do with Pushkin and his fellow four-legged critters. Confused? Blame it on ancient Egypt.

In newsrooms I've known - and sometimes worked in - the label belongs to the kind of stories generated when all the world (except reporters and editors) seem to be on holiday. Especially was that true until the Eisenhower presidency.

The news pace began to pick up when Jack Kennedy moved into the Oval Office. Lyndon Johnson's contentiousness never let up, particularly when goaded by the anti-Vietnam demonstrators. The sometime-ornery Texan was not endeared to animal lovers when he picked up that hound by the ears. But it gave interest in media a decided up-lift. (Pun intended.)

As you must know, downtown Frederick gets into the act next weekend. First Saturday's All Dogs Welcome will be followed by the opportunity for owners to show their pooches' stuff. You should know Pushkin will not be on hand. He finds the presence of so many other critters disturbing to his general equanimity.

When dragged to similar events in the past, the English pointer rolled his big brown eyes, which darted frequently at me. Knowing my best friend, he was trying to say in plain English: Get me outta here. He lacks only words to communicate. We're working on better articulation. But we are both very fortunate to understand what's on the other guy's mind.

Of course, now and then, Pushkin does not mind checking another canine's parts; that's how they say hello in their kingdom. He's rather be home and lying on the loveseat's padded cover, given by his special lady. It's nice to have him here.

In any event, as I said earlier: Dog Days have absolutely nothing to do with dogs. I really did not understand that fact when I was a boy in the Depression-era South. I was told by some well-meaning (?) adult that this is the time when many pets revert and take on the form of wolf ancestors.

The erstwhile dogs appear on the street with froth and foam bubbling out of their mouths. My mind related to once thinking the mid-summer drought bringing them out. Put another way, we didn't worry about hydrophobia in any other season. You might know better the condition's easier label: rabies. By the way, the Greek word translates to "fear of water," which I understood as wanting no water to drink.

Starting early every summer, adults would fill kids' heads with terrible stories about mad dogs. The monsters were not interested in attacking grown-ups, we were told, but only children. A full moon really brought them out.

As for the affliction, people bitten by a mad dog would have to be tied hand and foot to a door or bed. Their teeth must be avoided because that's how they passed rabies along. They died horrible deaths, literally baying at the moon. I heard more stories when I was towheaded and visiting relatives in Arkansas.

Presumably, big cities, like New Orleans, escaped; they lacked the brush and trees where the monsters like to lurk, waiting for their prey. Cairo was no exception.

In those Egyptian summer months in Cairo, I never heard "mad dogs" mentioned. Since Farouk Muhammad Yussef delighted in sharing gossip from the al-Ahzar bazaar. My buddy and driver would have passed along any tales that had to do with critters frothing. He didn't.

Egypt got into Dog Days stew because the ancients decided to name the Northern Hemisphere's brightest star for their top god. Osirus's head in some hieroglyphics resembled that of a dog. Given the total lack of rain in this season and the skyrocketing heat, Egyptians blamed August's miseries for the heat and the longer days.

Osirus, you should know, sparked the notion of resurrection in the West. Resenting his good works and his popularity, evil brother Set locked him in a trunk thrown in the Nile. The dark god expected the good guy to drown. He didn't. The eventual triumph of the good guy appeals to people all over the world, not just Egyptians.

So, you see, dogs had absolutely nothing to do with these dog days. I thought you should know. Pushkin feels better that I passed the truth along. He doesn't want his comrades-in-fur blamed for this blistering weather.



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