DOG DAYS -- IT'S NOT ABOUT THE LEASH

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        As I write this, Jackson lies on the floor, snoring.  But while celebrating DOG DAYS IN THE ATTIC, I plan to consult my giant lab/pitbull/moose (117 lbs.)  For now I’ll let sleeping dogs lie.

        Time was when dogs were merely “man’s best friend.”  Dogs have changed little, but “man” has changed much, at least in this dog-crazed country.  In Asia, dogs are eaten by the millions.  In Europe, dogs are pets on par with cats and parakeets.  In Africa, dogs run wild.

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        But in America, dogs have gone off leash.  No longer staying home, they are everywhere. Schnauzers sniff through downtowns. Labs lie in parks, soaking up the sun. And “goldens” — well, you wouldn’t be surprised to see one elected to Congress.  Agreed, Jackson?  (Still sleeping.)

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        America has become, as one of so many dog books has it, One Nation, Under Dog.  Nearly half of all American homes now have dogs, and a third have more than one.  80 million dogs in all.  Along with moving in, dogs are taking over.  Seventy percent of dog households display a photo of their beloved Max or Maggie. (That's ours on the  right). Two-thirds of American dogs have their own chair or bed. (Yep, bed). Fifty-five percent get birthday presents.  (No way, pal).  And more than half of all dog owners call themselves the “Mommy” or “Daddy” of said pooch.  (Kinda sick, eh big guy?)

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       American dogs once knew their place, and their place was “in the doghouse.”  No one uses that phrase anymore because the dog house is now our house.  Still, dogs have a long pedigree in American history. They came here before most of us, accompanying the first natives across the Bering Strait.  Hunting, hauling, hunkering down, dogs were the only animal domesticated by Native Americans.  You might think Jackson would be impressed, but. . .

        Dogs have always humanized our presidents.   George Washington bred foxhounds: Drunkard, Tipsy, and Sweet Lips.  John Adams had mutts named Juno and Satan.  Abigail Adams might have been the first to say, “If you love me, you must love my dog.” 

        Taft had a dog named Caruso, a gift from the singer. Wilson had a bull terrier named Bruce, so there.  But FDR took dog celebrity to a new level by going everywhere with his terrier, Fala. In 1944, a false rumor said the president had sent a navy ship to fetch Fala, left behind on a junket.  "You can criticize me, my wife and my family,” FDR said, “but you can't criticize my little dog. He's Scotch and all these allegations about spending all this money have just made his little soul furious."

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        We would not have had Nixon to kick around but for Checkers. In 1952, Nixon saved his political career with his “Checkers speech,” denying allegations of taking bribes but saying he’d keep the dog given to his daughters.  LBJ took flack for lifting his beagles, Him and Her, by the ears. Then came Buddy (Bill Clinton) and Barney (George W. Bush) and Bo (Obama).  The current occupant of the White House is the first since the Civil War to have no dog.   Jackson, what say you?  Zzzzzz.

        Yet all this is pet play compared to current dogmania.  America’s slobbery love for dogs shows in the naming. When dogs were just dogs, their names were canine.  Who ever met a person named Rover or Fido?  But according to dogtime.com, top dog names are now (for males) Bailey, Max, Charlie, Buddy, and Rocky, and (for females) Bella, Lucy, Molly, Daisy, and Maggie.  

       Rover was a pet, and Fido was a pain at times.  But Molly is a friend.  Max is a buddy.  And Buddy is, as more than half of all dog owners say, “a member of the family.”  These days Rover and Fido don’t even make Dogtime’s top 100 names.  (Jackson was #30 — snore).  

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       So what is it about Americans, their dogs, and people who shamelessly use puppies to catch your attention?  Some blame loneliness, others aging.  Increasingly isolated, we turn to Bailey and Lucy for companionship.  Aging Boomers, their children grown, pamper their “fur babies” (gag!)  News of dog worship abounds.  The rich widow who left millions to her Afghan.  The Manhattan dog walker who earns six figures.  Doggie daycares.  Dog mineral water, treadmills, facials, spas, anti-depressants.  And then, like bloodhounds, follow the money. Spending on dogs has risen from $17 billion in 1998 to $70 billion today.

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        But Jackson, who lifted his head at that number, suggests that dog devotion isn’t about  money or mania.  Dogs aren’t people, no matter how pampered, yet people don’t always listen.  Dogs do.  People don’t always forgive.  Dogs do. People rarely wag a tail, lick your hand, come running when you call.  Dogs?

        So forget the silly luxuries, the billions spent, best-sellers with titles such as Phil: The Dog Who Cared. Forget dog worship writ large. When it comes to loving dogs, there’s only one that matters.  Yours. Jackson?  Jackson?  Who’s a good dog?  Who’s a good dog?  


"DOG DAYS IN THE ATTIC" CONTINUES NEXT WEEK WITH A STORY ON THE WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS DOG -- SNOOPY.

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