The affection for dogs is fairly recent.
In the past, dogs were referred to differently and judged just by how they were portrayed over the years.
First, where did the word "dog" come from?
It came some time around the 13th century for reasons no one is really sure about.
Prior to the 18th century, dogs were kept on ranches and farms for hunting. Dogs were not pets.
The only deviation from that rule was the mocked "lap dog," which was recorded in John Evelyn's diary in 1684, making reference to a dog fit only for ladies.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, apart from the lap dog, dogs were referred to by phrases indicating an image as vicious and disease-ridden. Most of you have heard some of these popular phrases such as "hair of the dog that bit you," which was first used in 1546 as a reference to rabies.
"If you lie down with the dogs, you will get up with fleas" was written in 1573 and is self-explanatory.
How about, "dog eat dog," which refers to a competition in which people are willing to do just about anything they can to succeed in business or even personal goals.
"In a dog's age" refers to a very long time.
The "dogs of war" is the havoc accompanying a military conflict.
Then there is the old adage, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks," meaning you cannot make people change their patterns or habits of behavior.
Things changed for the better for dogs later in the 18th century, when the term "dog basket" came about. They needed a name for this piece of furniture providing comfort specifically for dogs, or "dog bed" in today's terms. This shift in the outlook for dogs continued into the 19th century with the making of "dog biscuits," a dry treat for dogs when they did something special.
In the mid-20th century, we were finally finding ways for a dog to be considered almost in line with humanity evidenced by the term "dog sitter." People were actually staying with dogs while their owners were away, so they did not have to be alone. They were no longer left in the barns and fields to fend for themselves.
Where does the phrase "a dog is a man's best friend" originate?
In 1870 in Warrensburg, Mo., a farmer shot a neighbor's dog. The owner took the case to court and sued for damages. The lawyer, George Graham Vest gave an emotional, tearful speech that became known as the Eulogy to a Dog: "Gentlemen of the jury, a man's dog stands by him in prosperity and poverty, in health and sickness. He will sleep on
the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow, and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens."
"Old Drum," as he was called, was man's best friend. His statue stands outside the town's courtroom. But George Vest was not the originator of the phrase. It is believed he read it some 50 years earlier in the New York Literary Journal in 1821.
So, here we are today. While some dogs may be man's best friend, we know some dogs are woman's best friends and even dogs that are the family's best friend. Dogs have changed over the years and dogs have changed us as well. You may have had the worst day at work and when you come home you are greeted by your very own best friend. Who can't smile with that kind of reception? No one.
Watch for more coming events and adoption specials. Check out our Facebook page every day. Don't forget the ongoing BOGO special where you can adopt a dog or cat at the regular adoption fee and get a dog or cat for no adoption fee. Also, any dog or cat that has been in the shelter over 60 days is available for no adoption fee. Our web site is mymanatee.org/pets or call 941-742-5933 for information.
If you never have to look into the eyes of a dog or cat and make a choice, you are lucky. One day, we all would like to be lucky, too.
Kris Weiskopf, chief of Manatee County Animal Services, provides this weekly column to the Herald.