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Food For Thought

We don’t hear much about the proverbial dog days of August and early September in recent years. As a child, I heard quite a bit about them during those last hot days before we finally got a little relief and began to see signs that fall was actually on its way. To my childish mind, those “dog days” manifested themselves in the image of panting dogs digging cooling holes in the flower beds on the shady side of the garage, snoozing away hot afternoons with flies buzzing around their heads, waiting for the cool of the evenings and the onset of true fall weather.
I guess that, now when hot weather seems relentless, we hear more about damage to the ozone layer and global warming– things we don’t quite understand and are reluctant to think about. For some reason, during the past month, even though nobody has mentioned dog days specifically, a great many people seem to have dog stories to tell me. And, even though the dog days are apparently over for this year, I’d like to pass on some of those doggy stories. Normally, I would have a tale or two about my own dog but, for the first time in nearly forever, I am dog-less with no prospects of getting another any time soon. As much as I’ve enjoyed those pets for my entire life, I rather enjoy being free of the responsibility, though the following stories made me acutely aware of how much I am missing.
A writer friend of mine said that she hadn’t realized that dogs could reason things through. She figured that they simply reacted in a Pavlovian manner to certain words or situations and, even though it might appear that they “understood” the reasons for things, it was simply a matter of conditioning rather than reasoning. At any rate, her dog who had known for many years that he was not allowed on the furniture, began, in his senior years, to sneak onto the sofa for naps when no human was around to catch him. Having lost some of his keen hearing, he missed the sounds of her car arriving home one afternoon and was caught napping on one end of the sofa. The family cat (possibly because cats never obey unless they feel like it) was undemocratically permitted that privilege, and was napping at the other end with a totally clear conscience. Having been caught in the act, and undoubtedly thinking he must have earned some senior privileges over the years, the dog raised his head, looked pointedly at the cat then back at my friend. She could see in his eyes that he was searching for an acceptable alibi or some excusable reason that he should be allowed to finish his nap in comfort. After all, he was quite elderly in dog years and deserved a measure of luxury. He simply stared at the cat, then at her, as much as to say, “If that cat can sleep on the sofa, I don’t see why I can’t.” Then he put his head back on his paws and went back to sleep. She left him there.
Another story I heard recently involved a dog who “worked” in his master’s bar. When the owner (and chief bartender) served drinks to his customers, the dog followed along to the table where they were sitting– but rather than return to the bar with his master, he would sit and stare at the customer. After a few minutes enduring that penetrating, expectant stare, and not being invited to pet the dog or rub his belly, the customer would become uncomfortable and try to send the dog back to the bar. What did the dog want? His own beer? A tip?
Eventually, the bartender would take pity on the customer and tell him that the dog wanted a dollar. Since customers seldom tip the bartender if they know he is also the owner (reasoning I’ve never quite understood), the customer would usually come up with a dollar bill and the dog would politely accept it and trot back to the bar where he gave it to his master. He would be rewarded with a stick of beef jerky. This “trick” benefited several people in different ways. The bar owner sold a lot more beef jerky to the dog than he did to his customers; the dog got his fill of his favorite treat and probably never had to settle for ordinary dog food; and the customers got, not only the entertainment the trick provided, but a good story to tell to their friends. Occasionally, a customer would try to trick the dog by giving him pieces of paper that resembled real dollar bills, but the dog wouldn’t accept them. Many wondered how the dog knew the difference between a real dollar and a fake one– even play money that might fool some people. I suspect that a freshly minted or well-laundered dollar bill might be treated by the dog with a certain measure of suspicion, because I suspect it is the odor of it having been handled by perhaps hundreds of people that lets the dog know it’s real. But I wouldn’t bet on it. Not any more than a dollar, anyway.