Dog day denouncement

Saturday 15 August 2015 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — International Homeless Animals Day

You know me, dear readers. I keep my thumb on the pulse of popular culture. I also keep my thumb on celestial seasons (I don’t mean the brand of tea). You are no doubt aware that, cosmically speaking, the dog days of summer are fading away. 

What, you ask, are “dog days” anyway? Allow me to enlighten you. Centuries ago, dog days were troubling times in the kingdom. “The sea boiled, the wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies,” (archaic spelling of “frenzies”), according to Brady’s “Clavis Calendaria” (1813). Some said the sweltering summer heat was caused by the increased brightness of the stars at this time of year. 

In the language of academia — hogwash. My pet greyhounds, Transit and Justin, lie about lethargically all 12 months of the year. It’s what they do. 

After extensive scientific research, I propose the hypothesis that the phrase “dog days” originated with the ancient Greeks and Romans. Since the ancient Greeks and Romans are no longer around to refute my hypothesis, it will forever remain unchallenged. 

The ancients were big fans of the stars (not the Hollywood stars, but the heavenly constellations). In the summer, they were especially fascinated by Big Dog (not the clothing brand but the constellation known in Latin as Canis Major). They imagined Big Dog to be stalking the heavens with his master Orion (“The Hunter,” in English). But wait, there’s more. The Big Dog in the sky was chasing the constellation Lepus (the hare or rabbit). Those ancients had terrific imaginations. 

The brightest star in the summer sky is the one that serves as Big Dog’s imaginary nose. Big Dog is, according to my esoteric studies, the prototype of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer — but I digress. This nose star is called Sirius (not to be confused with satellite radio by the same name). The dog days of summer are determined by the rising of the star Sirius. The name, by the way, is derived from the ancient Greek word for “scorcher,” a most appropriate choice. 

At any rate, Sirius (like the commercial jingle for Certs chewing gum) is two stars in one. We call this a binary star system in the trade. These two stars, when seen with the naked eye, appear as one. 

By “rising,” aforementioned, I mean in conjunction with the rising of the sun. We astronomers call this helical rising. 

Now, it’s on to the burning metrological question: “When exactly does Sirius set?” I thought you’d never ask. The precise scientific answer is, “It all depends.”

 “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” says that the traditional period of the dog days of summer is July 4 through August 11. Of course, this only applies in the Northern Hemisphere. The Southern Hemisphere is the opposite, but who ever heard of “the dog days of winter”? Furthermore, this reckoning would be by the old-style Julian calendar. In the present Gregorian calendar usage, traditional dog days would be July 16 through August 24. Now, as we all know, our modern International Dog Day is August 26. Dog days, then, can be said to definitely occur between June and September — or perhaps not. Isn’t science fun? 

The whole matter may seem ridiculous to cat-people, but it is of utmost importance to dog-people. Need I remind you there is no such thing as the “cat days of summer”? Enough said. In a rectory with three dogs, we follow such things closely. 

Maximilian Rufus, Father Ray Cambra’s dog, is the latest canine to join the pack. He’s a German mastiff, sometimes called a Great Dane. Max was born during the dog days of summer, Aug. 6, 2005 (feast of the Transfiguration). He was whelped in Sparta, Tenn. Not only is he an old dog, he is an old southern dog. He is the arch typical “good old boy.” He barks in a southern accent. 

In his old age, Max is down to a mere 180 pounds. Even so, when he bumbles through the rectory, the floors shake. He has a bark that would scare off any cat-burglar (or cat, for that matter), but he’s the proverbial gentle giant. 

Max is not what anyone would call graceful. The two greyhounds in residence, who are exceptionally elegant, find Max to be a curious creature — perhaps deposited here by ancient alien astronauts from some other planet. 

Greyhound Justin has grown to consider Maximilian his BFF (“best friend forever” in Internet lingo). Greyhound Transit, on the other hand, ignores Max as he does everything else (except dinner). 

Justin seizes every opportunity to follow Max into the yard. Max takes a few steps and just stands there motionless. Justin races around him in circles at 40 miles per hour. Justin hopes to encourage his new friend to play the greyhound game of “race track” with him, but Max quickly becomes perplexed and dizzy. 

Belated dog day greetings to all my faithful readers! 

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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