As far back as my memory can go, there was a cat called Billy in my home. He had been there long before I came on the scene and when I was about eight he was almost blind and physically weakened in other ways and had to be put down.
It was a bit of a trauma for everyone, especially for me, the youngest. Since then I have never wanted another pet of any kind, but I adore other people’s cats and dogs.
Although I take an immediate interest in friends’ aquariums filled with a motley of spangly fish, I wouldn’t want one of my own. As Patti Page sang when asking how much is that doggie in the window, “…you can’t take a goldfish for a walk…”
If I were to be reincarnated as a cat, I’d want to be like Tibby, my sister’s pet for donkey’s years. He was well fed and cared for and was indoors during the day, usually lying on a rug near a source of heat.
But at 10pm sharp his basic instincts went into gear and he patiently meowed at the kitchen door until someone opened it and let him out into the garden that led to an extended stretch of Scottish countryside. And he stayed out all night long even when the winter temperature was near freezing point or below.
Next morning he was crouched down on the sill of the kitchen window patiently waiting for someone to come down for breakfast and open the door for him. He then darted to his feeding bowl and noisily crunched through his breakfast before lolling down on the rug to recover from his night out in the country.
He was always so hungry when he came in that I’m sure he never found anything to eat on his nighttime gallivants. But I think he must have come across, at least some of the time, female cats looking for company. And even if he scored only occasionally, that was reason enough to quit the heat and comfort of the living room rug at 10pm and go off into the night.
It’s only in the past 10 years that I’ve become aware of the expense of having a dog in the family. Those who have a westy or similar dog with a coat that needs occasional trimming, have bills at canine hairdressers, plus trips to the vet for annual vaccinations. Toby, my daughter’s 10-year-old westy, last week incurred an expense I had never heard of: €90 to have his teeth cleaned. I thought that was rather steep but my daughter had expected the price to be higher, because a friend in Manacor paid €160 for her dog’s dental cleaning.
She explained it took just over an hour and involved an injection to put the dog to sleep and another to wake him up, plus the scraping and the brushing. I’m glad it’s an expense I don’t have.
Dog is one of those easy English words: everyone can spell it (like cat) and no one has any difficulty in pronouncing it. However, dog does present a problem for lexicographers — none of them knows where it came from.
Most of the main words in English can be traced back to roots in the Indo-European languages. But dog isn’t one of them. Until the 5th century dog didn’t exist. In those days people had hounds, which is related to words in the Teutonic languages like ‘hund’ (Old English), ‘hond’ (Dutch), and ‘hunt’ (Old High German).
At that time dogs were mainly used for hunting. Even today, it’s hounds that take part in a foxhunt, not dogs. And names like bloodhound, greyhound and Welsh hound survive to this day.
But at some stage in the 5th century, the English stopped calling hounds hounds, and also dropped the canine word as a noun. That was when they started to use dog, a word with no pedigree in the Germanic or Romantic languages. Perhaps it was just nonsensical slang, but it caught on — and has dogged us ever since.
The Spanish, like the English, don’t know the origin of ‘perro’, their word for dog. Even the dictionary of the Real Academia Española, supreme guardian of the Spanish language, lists the origin of ‘perro’ as ‘uncertain’ — which means the august academicians have no idea where it came from.
The French get their word ‘chien’ from the Latin ‘canis’, which also gives ‘canine’ in English and ‘canino’ in Spanish. But the English ‘canine’ is a noun and an adjective and the Spanish ‘canino’ is only a descriptive word. However, the Catalán word for dog (‘ca’) also comes from the Latin ‘canis’.
Dog has taken on many other meanings and uses over the centuries, many of them in colloquial or slang terms. A person in a state of great delight is said to be ‘like a dog with two tails’.
But dog isn’t a good word to come across in terms relating to food and eating. A ‘dog’s breakfast’ or ‘dog’s dinner’ means a plate of food that is a complete mess and not at all appetising.
In old Army slang, however, ‘dog and maggot’ wasn’t as bad as it sounds: it was biscuits and cheese. And for the troops, ‘dog fat’ was butter. One assumes it wasn’t very fresh.
In the Merchant Navy, a ‘dog basket’ was the container in which the remains of cabin meals were taken to the lower deck crew.
These leftovers were usually mixed with ship’s biscuits and reheated, a dish that was known as ‘dogsbody’. That word was eventually used for an employee who was given a variety of menial jobs.
You also find dog in rhyming slang. The ‘dog’s meat’ means feet and a ‘dog and bone’ is the telephone. And here are a few quotes on dogs you may have missed.
To his dog, every man is Napoleon, hence the constant popularity of dogs. (Aldous Huxley).
Anyone who hates children and dogs can’t be all that bad. (W.C.Fields).
The greatest pleasure of a dog is that you can make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, he will make a fool of himself, too. (Samuel Butler).
A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn round three times before lying down. (Robert Benchley).
It is a terrible thing for an old lady to outlive her dogs. (Tennessee Williams).
I loathe people who keep dogs. They are cowards who haven’t got the guts to bite people for themselves. (August Strindberg).
That indefatigable and unsavoury engine of pollution, the dog. (John Sparrow)
The woman who is really kind to dogs is always one who has failed to inspire sympathy in men. (Max Beerbohm)
The censure of a dog is something no man can stand. (Christopher Morley)
A dog is the only thing on Earth that loves you more than you love yourself. (Josh Billings)
Money will buy a pretty good dog but it won’t buy the wag of its tail. (Josh Billings)
I have always thought of a dog lover as a dog that was in love with another dog. (James Thurber)
Heaven goes by favour. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in. (Mark Twain)
On second thought, the noblest of all dogs is the hot dog; it feeds the hand that bites it. (Robert W. Chambers)