Written by Carolyn Smith
Photography by Donna Huffman
he dog days of summer have arrived in Bluffton. While they may make many us feel like we're wearing a dog's fur coat, the period is actually named after Sirius, the Dog Star. In Greek mythology, Sirius was seen as the dog of Orion the hunter.
The Greeks also associated Sirius with the heat of summer - calling it Seirios, often translated 'the scorcher'. Sirius rises with the sun when summer is at its hottest. The dog days traditionally run from July third on into August.
Because Sirius is the brightest star at night, the ancients believed extra heat generated by Sirius in conjunction with the sun caused this sizzling spell of weather. But, as smart as the Greeks were, Sirius, which is found in the Canis Major (big dog) constellation, is some 50 trillion miles (80 trillion kilometers) from Earth—too far away to influence temperatures here.
However, another explanation exists for the naming of the Dog Star: the Egyptians named it after Sihor, the Nile, for this reason; The ancient Egyptians, who experienced much hotter, drier summers, celebrated the return of the dog days, because they heralded a lifesustaining "miracle." The start of the Egyptian sacred year was marked by the reappearance of Sirius. Soon afterward, the River Nile would flood, reviving parched farmland—despite a seasonal lack of rain. (Once again as smart as the Egyptians were, they weren't aware the water flowed from rain-drenched mountains in Ethiopia, more than a thousand miles [1,600 kilometers] to the south.)
In Roman times the dog days—or dies caniculares in Latin—were associated with intolerable heat, lethargy, disease, and, appropriately enough, mad dogs. According to the Pet Professor, even today, some people believe dogs are prone, if not to madness, at least to strange behavior during hot summer days.
Lots of legends and some facts are associated with this time of the year. Some say the birds stop singing and if it rains on the first day of the season, it will rain within eyesight of where it rained the day before. If you get poison ivy it will be worse during Dog Days than during the rest of the year.
Ancient authors said that the day this star first rises in the morning, the sea boils, wine turns sour, dogs begin to grow mad, people get bilious, febrile, hysterical and crazy, and animals grow languid.
When Homer was writing The Odyssey, Sirius was believed to bring disease, drought, famine and death.
The Husbandman's Practice, a book, published in 1729, warns, "In these Dog Days it is forbidden by Astronomy to all manner of people to let Blood or take Physic. Yea, it is good to abstain all this time from women. For why, all that time reigneth a Star that is called Canicula Canis, a Hound in English, and the kind of the Star is broiling and burning as fire. All this time the heat of the sun is so fervent and violent that men's bodies at midnight sweat as at midday: and if they be hurt, they be more sick than at any other time, yea very near dead. In these days all venomous serpents creep, fly and gender, so that many are annoyed thereby; in these times a fire is good night and day, and wholesome, seeth well your meals and take heed of feeding violently."
Flash back into the present, U.S. government studies have shown that civil disturbances and incidents of domestic violence and abuse are more likely to occur during heat waves.
Before the intense heat of summer puts the devil into your dog, consider the following canine facts and take precautions to ensure both you and your pet can keep your cool!
Dogs have difficulty in hot weather mainly because they do not perspire the same as people do. A dog's tongue is an integral part of its cooling system. They inhale cool air and expel hot. They perspire primarily through their tongue and a minimal amount through their paw pads and skin pores. The result is slobbering and panting hot dogs!
You must also pay close attention to your dog's coat. Just as a well-groomed coat provides insulation from the cold, it also insulates an animal from heat.
Never walk a dog, or worse - ride a bike with your dog alongside you - in extremely hot weather. Hyperthermia kills!
Short-nosed dogs, such as Boxers and Pugs, ALL puppies, and very old dogs are more sensitive to extreme heat than other breeds and adult dogs. If your pet fits into any of these categories, be extra sensitive to his needs during hot spells, especially between the hours of 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Be sure your dog has an abundant supply of clean, fresh water accessible at all times. And keep in mind that just like you, he may not want to eat as much as usual when the temperature rises. Unless he/she is exhibiting other forms of illness, don't worry about temporary changes in eating habits.
Made in the Shade
Keep your dog confined inside your home during the hottest part of the day. If the dog is kept outside a shade source is critical! The added shade offered by mature trees or the side of your house will make his doghouse and dog run more comfortable.
Tips on Staying Cool
Stay in the coolest place available.
If you have an air conditioner turn it on—it doesn't cost that much. If you don't have an air conditioner and the temperature is above 95 degrees, spend time in airconditioned public places, such as ,libraries and shopping centers.
Drink 8 glasses of cool water and juices a day, even if you're not thirsty. Stay away from caffeinated and alcoholic drinks such as soda, coffee, tea, liquor and beer.
Dress in loose fitting, lightweight and light-colored, natural fiber clothing. Wear a hat to protect your head from the sun.
Rest during the middle of the day when temperatures are hottest.
Bathe or shower often in cool water.
Check regularly on elderly, ill or disabled relatives, neighbors and friends who live alone. A visit is better than a phone call.
The astronomical connection no longer exists, and of course Sirius is now a satellite radio provider. It just proves you can't muzzle change. Everyone knows the Dog Days are 40 or 50 days when it is likely to be the hottest. So kick back, grab a sweet iced tea drink and enjoy that cool Bluffton breeze.