Friday, August 2, 2013

Collie Dog Days

They're here.

Those dog days of summer.

The hottest part of our year, in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway:  July and August.  And particularly August! 

For us Texans, all things considered, it has been a mild summer so far, with some downright rainy days dragging their way half-way through the month of July, of all things!  Usually, we say goodbye to the rain after Memorial Day.  We even had a couple of days in July when the temperature didn't get out of the 70's.

Of course, with the cooler weather, many right-wingers here in the Lone Star State were gleefully goading environmentalists who insist global warming is a reality.  "Gotta love that global warming when our first 100-degree-day comes near the end of June."  Instead of the more typical May.

Mm-hmm.

It was the ancient Greeks and Romans who coined variations on the term "dog days," in honor of Sirius, the bright "dog star" in the constellation Canis Major.  Oddly enough, as the millennia have plodded along, the dates for the original dog days have lost their astrological significance to our Northern Hemisphere's summertime, with the best time to view Canis Major now occurring in February, when summertime is winding down in the Southern Hemisphere.

But our dog days persist, if for no other reason than that our canine friends help exhibit the strain of July and August's heat on their fur-clad, perspiration-incapable bodies.  They tend to slow down, they pant a lot, and they enjoy walks on pavement a lot less.

My Dad used to have a wonderful, pure-bred collie that he rescued from a pound in suburban Dallas.  Before the collie had been taken in by the pound, it had suffered an injury to his rear-right hip, and he limped slightly from it, and had a hard time climbing stairs.  We figure a touch of arthritis must have set in, because Feliz - Spanish for "happy" - would love to go outside, even during scorching dog day afternoons, with temperatures over 100, and lay flat on the backyard lawn underneath blazing sun.  Always with his rear-right hip facing the sun!

We'd have to call him to come inside for his own good, even as his long torso heaved from all of his panting.  A few minutes inside, in the air conditioning, and with a bowl of water, he'd be fine.  He'd also sprawl beneath any of the ceiling fans in my parents' house, and enjoy the breeze, but almost always with his rear-right hip buried under his fur, and resting on the soft carpeting.

The times we all went to Maine in the summer, I think Feliz thought he was in Heaven.  Maine's summer sun seems even hotter than the one here in Texas, if that's possible, but the ground there stays cool and moist.  Maine's summertime breezes never seem to heat up like an oven's the way dog day breezes in Texas do.  What bliss for Feliz, who could lay in the sun all afternoon, and warm up his hip, but keep his overall body temperature down.  We sometimes had to sharpen our tone to order him inside on those days!

Feliz was a sweet and obedient dog, and we rarely ever had to raise our voice to him.  Usually, those times only came when he was smothering a visitor with furry, drooling affection, since he was one of those dogs who figured everybody who came to my parents' home was there mostly just to play with him!  He'd have made a pretty ineffective guard dog, except when it came to the neighborhood cats.  It got so that we couldn't even spell the word "c-a-t" within his earshot, or he'd be at one of the windows, growling, whining, and scouting for his mortal enemy.

He was great with kids.  He never bit, and only barked when they were making too much of a ruckus, or he thought they were hurting themselves.  He didn't like us humans to touch each other, which led us to believe that in some former home of his, he may have witnessed physical abuse.  Whenever we'd hug somebody, he'd always bounce over, growling, and try to nuzzle us apart.  We'd have to comfort him and thank him for protecting us, but that nobody was getting hurt.

Sweet, huh?

My best Feliz story, however, took place not during the dog days of summer, but one Christmas morning, when we were all getting ready to open presents in front of the Christmas tree in my parents' front living room.  My brother and sister-in-law and their family - which at the time, consisted of four kids (there are five now!) - were down from Michigan, and I was sitting on the piano bench when my sister-in-law swooped into the living room with my niece, who was only a few months old at the time.

"Here, Uncle Tim, you can watch your new niece while I go get ready," my sister-in-law pronounced, and she softly put my little niece, in her infant outfit and wrapped in a soft blanket, on the carpeted floor at my feet.  I can't remember if I already had something in my hands, which would have explained why I just didn't reach out and take the baby in my arms.  Anyway, my sister-in-law got back up, twirled around, and swirled towards the kitchen.

Feliz was curled up over by a bookcase at the far corner of the living room, and saw what had happened.  He looked at the tiny human, all bundled up on the carpet, and its adult caretaker bounding off to another part of the house.  Feliz pulled himself up from his corner resting place, and intentionally strode over to where my niece lay on the floor.

And he promptly settled down, length-wise, right alongside my niece!  He glanced around, with a look on his fuzzy face that said, "well, SOMEBODY'S gotta protect this helpless little creature!"

Collies are herding dogs, and exceptionally protective.  And that Christmas day, Feliz proved he was no exception.

As it happens, today, my niece enjoys a particular affinity with all sorts of animals, with an uncanny ability to immediately befriend anything from zoo animals to noisy seagulls at the beach.  I like to think it all comes from the morning when a huge, hairy, and somewhat smelly collie plopped himself down next to her to guard her when she was very, very young.

Happy dog days, y'all!

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