The dog days are upon us. This is the season when the brightest star in Canis Major, Sirius or the “dog star,” once rose with the sun. Ancient astronomers believed Sirius added to the sun’s heat during these summer months.
Credit: Library of Congress
Grace Coolidge, wife of President Calvin
Coolidge, with two of the family’s dogs.
But never mind the swelter or the stars. From the terrace of my apartment in Washington, D.C., I look upon a street and see a steady parade of dogs, real-life dogs, outnumbering the cars at that hour as the first bands of light signal a new day. When I get home late in the evening, there they are again, dogs and their people, taking a break from their routines and, as far as the dogs are concerned, doing their business before calling it a day.
There are an estimated 75 million dogs in our country. That’s 20 million more than the total number of registered Republicans in the nation. And it’s three million more than the number of registered Democrats—including the familiar “Yellow Dog” Democrats of the South. By the way, that appellation came from an actual dog—the once-wild Carolina Dog of the southern seaboard.
Likewise, “Blue Dog” Democrats also take their nickname after a dog—the blue dog in the paintings of Louisiana artist George Rodrigue. This famous dog is a stylized rendition of a black-and-white spaniel of Rodrigue’s childhood, a dog named Tiffany.
As with many things in Washington, dogs come to be associated with politics and with presidents. Calvin Coolidge had nothing to do with the Internet age, but he nonetheless named one of his dogs Blackberry, according to the Presidential Pet Museum here. Lyndon Johnson, who got himself in a twist over his public mishandling of his dogs, had beagles named Him and Her. James Garfield’s wife, Molly, had a dog called Veto.
But of course, it’s not just in Washington, and not just during the dog days of August. Americans everywhere are connected to their dogs all year long. Indeed, our affection for dogs is one way that we express our humanity. It’s a bond worth celebrating.