Sunday, March 31, 2013


Tip and Major were two dogs who belonged to a regiment called the 79th New York Cameron Highlanders.  This group was organized in 1858, and it had mostly Scottish and Irish immigrants in it.  At first, it was more of a social club than a military unit.  The St. Andrews and Caledonian Societies of New York, plus wealthy people such as Samuel M. Elliot and James Cameron provided the money for the group.  They named themselves after the 79th Cameron Highlanders of Scotland, and they also used the Erracht tartan used by that group, but they didn't have any connection beyond that to the 79th of the British Army.

When the Civil War started, the Highlanders were mustered into active duty, but first they had to recruit some more members, since they didn't have enough.  They soon started fighting in a bunch of battles, and by the end of the war, they had fought at First Bull Run, Secessionville, Manasas, South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.

Tip and some of the Highlanders in camp.
Photo from Civil War Dogs and the Men Who Loved Them

Everybody in the regiment knew Tip, who was a medium-sized, scruffy-looking dog.  Or at least that's how he looks in the picture.  Tip was born in Beaufort, South Carolina.  I don't know how he ended up with some Union soldiers from New York, but he stayed with the Highlanders for the whole three years of their service.  He probably got his name because the tip of his tail was missing, but there was one report that he was missing part of a hind leg.

Tip was friendly to all the men in the 79th, but his special human was William Samo, of the drum corps.  Tip was very helpful to the soldiers because he liked to go out foraging, and he often came back with pigs, sheep, and chickens.  Whenever the Highlanders did a dress parade, Tip marched right along with the band and drum corps.

Some men from the 79th in dress uniform

Another dog that was with the 79th was Major.  Sometimes when a soldier was calling to Major, one of the human majors thought he was the one being called.  The Highlanders were afraid that Major might get lost, so they identified him as a member of the drum corps by painting a drum on one side of him, and "D C 79" on the other.

Cameron of Erracht Tartan

On September 2, 1863, Union troops captured the city of Knoxville.  In order to defend the city, the Highlanders regiment took over an earthworks fort that they called Fort Sanders.  The Confederates had called it Fort Loudon.  This fort was at the top of a hill, and there was a ditch in front to help protect it.  The ditch was about 12 feet wide and 8 feet deep.

General Longstreet, who was in charge of the rebel army, decided to make a surprise attack on the Union position.  So during the night of November 28th, he moved his troops up to about 150 yards from the Fort Sanders.  The rebels tried to be very sneaky about this, but the Highlanders found out what was going on anyway.  One of the men went out to walk a dog -- maybe William Samo and Tip -- where they knew Longstreet's men could see them.  The man and dog crossed the ditch on a plank, so that made the Confederates think there wasn't any ditch around the fort.

The Highlanders' General Stevens and his command staff

When they attacked in the morning, the rebels found out all about the ditch when they tried to cross it.  First they had to get through a whole bunch of telegraph wire that the men of the 79th had strung up there.  After that, the Union troops had to cross the ditch, which they had lots of trouble doing because there was ice and sleet in it, so it was really slippery.  While the men were in the ditch, the Highlanders started lighting fuses on shells and throwing them down there.

A few of the rebels managed to climb up to the fort, but in the end, they had to retreat.  Of course, this made the Highlanders very happy.  They only had 20 people killed and 80 wounded.  The rebels lost 813 troops who were killed, wounded, and missing.

Monument in Knoxville dedicated to the 79th NY Infantry
Photo by Brian Stansberry

On May 13, 1864, the original group of Highlanders mustered out because their enlistment was up.  There was a Grand Review in Washington on May 23, 1865, and the regiment took part in that.  Then they went back to being a state militia again.  During the war, the 79th had a total of 298 killed and 304 wounded or missing, out of an original enrollment of 2,200.

Some members of the 79th Highlanders 

I didn't see any information about what happened to Tip and Major, but they seem to have survived the war.  I like to think they lived out the rest of their lives sleeping in the sun on some nice farm someplace, because that's what all retired war dogs should do!

Thursday, March 28, 2013


When you feel lousy, puppy therapy is indicated.
    --Sara Paretsky

Money will buy a pretty good dog, but it won't buy the wag of his tail.
    --Josh Billings

When a man's best friend is his dog, that dog has a problem.
    --Edward Abbey

When a man wantonly destroys one of the works of man we call him a vandal.  When he destroys one of the works of god we call him a sportsman.
    --Joseph Wood Krutch

I ask people why they have deer heads on their walls.  They always say because it's such a beautiful animal.  There you go.  I think my mother is attractive, but I have photographs of her.
    --Ellen DeGeneres

There are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog
that you can get from no other source.
    --Doris Day
Photo:  Hemera/Thinkstock

In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely try to train him to be semi-human.  The point of it is  to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.
    --Edward Hoagland

A dog will teach you unconditional love.  If you can have that in your life, things won't be too bad.
    --Robert Wagner

A dog is a dog except when he is facing you.  Then he is Mr. Dog.
    --A Haitian Farmer

Photo:  David Gannon/AFP/Getty

The dog represents all that is best in man.
    --Etienne Charlet

Monday, March 25, 2013


There's a dog in Greek mythology that is very famous, and his name is Cerberus.  This dog was owned by Hades, the God of the Underworld, and he was pretty much like any other pet dog except for three things:

1.  He had a very special job to do as the Guard Dog of the Underworld.  
2.  He was extremely fierce and aggressive.
3.  He had at least three heads.

Hades and his faithful dog, Cerberus.
The Romans called Hades "Pluto."

The name Cerberus, or Kerberos, comes from the Greek word Κέρβερος and it can be translated "hellhound" or "demon of the pit."  The most usual description of Cerberus was that he had three heads, a serpent's tail, a mane of snakes, and a lion's claws.  A few writers said that Cerberus had 50 or even 100 heads, but these writers might have been counting the heads of all the snakes.

Cerberus had a very important job that he did for Hades, which was that he guarded the gate to the Underworld.  The ancient Greeks believed that when you died, that's where you went, and to get there, you crossed the River Styx.  But only dead people were allowed to go in, and once they got in there, they were not allowed to leave.  It was Cerberus' job to make sure that none of the wrong kind of people got in or out.

Everybody went to the kingdom of Hades when they died, and then it was decided if they would be punished forever or not.  The way this decision was made was by whether people had been good or bad during their lives.

Hades and his wife, Persephone, hanging out at home with their dog

In most stories, one of the heads of Cerberus looks to the past, another one to the present, and the third one to the future.  But a few writers have said that the three heads represent birth, youth, and old age.  

The mother of Cerberus was Echidna, who was half-woman and half-serpent.  And his father was a fire-breathing giant named Typhon.  Even the Greek Gods were afraid of Typhon.  Cerberus had two siblings, and one of them was Hydra, a creature with lots of serpent heads.  The other one was Chimera, a beast with the head of a lion.

Cerberus as a puppy

Now I am going to tell you about the Twelfth Labor of Heracles.  The Romans called him Hercules, so you might have heard that name more often.  But Heracles and Hercules are one and the same guy, and he was what is called a demigod.  Which means one of his parents was a god, and the other was a regular mortal.  In the case of Heracles, his father was Zeus, the King of the Gods.

Anyway, Zeus's wife, Hera, didn't like Heracles much, so there was this little incident where she drove him insane and caused him to kill his own children and maybe his wife, too.  Later on, he tried to make up for doing this horrible thing, and so King Eurystheus assigned Heracles twelve "labors" which were tasks that would have killed any ordinary person.  But Heracles was extra-strong on account of being a demigod.

The last of the labors was to capture Cerberus without using any weapons.  This was supposedly the hardest of all the labors, and the king did not think Heracles would come back alive.  But Heracles was very clever, and he found someone to show him a way to sneak into the Underworld.  Once he got there, he ran into all kinds of monsters, ghosts, and heroes.  And he had to wrestle somebody, but I don't know all the details.

Anyway, finally he found Hades, and he asked the god's permission to take Cerberus out of the Underworld.  Hades said it was okay for Heracles to do that if he could subdue the beast by using only his own strength.  Heracles roamed around the Underworld some more until he found Cerberus.  Then he grabbed him and held on really tight, even though the three-headed dog fought Heracles and bit him.  But in the end, Heracles was stronger, so Cerberus had to give in.  This might have been the case of someone using the "alpha roll" technique on a dog, but I'm not sure.  

Then Heracles led Cerberus to King Eurystheus, and the king was so scared when he saw Cerberus that he had to hide in a pithos, which is like a huge clay pot for storing stuff in.  The king told Heracles that if he would take Cerberus back to the Underworld, he would be released from his labors.  So Heracles took Cerberus back, and he didn't even kill him, which was a better deal than most of the monsters got that Heracles fought with.

An Etruscan vase from the 6th century B.C., Musée du Louvre
At the left side, you can see King Eurystheus in the pithos.

Besides Heracles, only two other living people managed to sneak past Cerberus into the Underworld.  One was Orpheus, who charmed him with music.  And the other was Aeneas, who got in after Sibyl of Cumae gave Cerberus some cake soaked in drugged wine.

Artwork by Ilias Sounas

So that is the story of the three-headed dog, Cerberus, who was mostly a very faithful Guard Dog of the Underworld, except when he got tricked a few times.  I think that Hades must have been proud to have a dog who was so loyal and did his job so well.

Now I will end this blog entry by sharing a funny definition of Cerberus written by Ambrose Bierce in The Devil's Dictionary:

CERBERUS, n. The watch-dog of Hades, whose duty it was to guard the entrance -- against whom or what does not clearly appear; everybody, sooner or later, had to go there, and nobody wanted to carry off the entrance. Cerberus is known to have had three heads, and some of the poets have credited him with as many as a hundred. Professor Graybill, whose clerky erudition and profound knowledge of Greek give his opinion great weight, has averaged all the estimates, and makes the number twenty-seven -- a judgment that would be entirely conclusive if Professor Graybill had known (a) something about dogs, and (b) something about arithmetic. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013


There are a lot of snakes called "boas," and what they all have in common is they wrap themselves around their prey and squish it until it is dead.  After that, they swallow it whole, like all snakes do with their food.  The boa constrictor is in the family Boidae, which lives in North, South, and Central America, plus also in some islands of the Caribbean.  The scientific name of the most common boa constrictor is Boa constrictor constrictor, which is easy to remember because it's the same as its common name, with an extra "constrictor" on the end.

The yellow parts show
the range of the boa constrictor.
Anyway, this type of boa constrictor does well in many different habitats, including deserts, rain forests, open savannas, and cultivated fields.  What they don't like very much is water, even though there are other kinds of boas that do like water.  Mostly, boa constrictors live in places like hollow logs and abandoned animal burrows.

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Boa constrictors can be several different colors such as tan, green, red, or yellow.  The color they are usually depends on where they live and what sort of background they need to blend into.  Boas all have markings that might be jagged lines, ovals, diamonds, or circles.  There are more markings towards the tail, which is why this species of boa constrictor is also called a "red-tailed boa."

You can tell a female boa from a male one because the females are bigger around and longer.  This is probably so they have room inside them for a whole bunch of baby snakes.  An adult female is usually between 7 and 10 feet long, and a male is 6 to 8 feet.  Really large boa constrictors can weigh as much as 60 pounds, but the more usual weight for the bigger females is between 22 and 33 pounds.

Killing a rat
The favorite foods eaten by boa constrictors are rats, squirrels, lizards, birds, opossums, mongooses, and bats.  The way boas catch bats is by hanging in trees or at the mouths of caves, and then when a bat flies by, the boa grabs it and squeezes it to death.  Some boas eat even bigger prey, such as monkeys and wild pigs.  In my opinion, boa constrictors are nicer to their prey than cobras are, because boas at least wait until their food is dead before they start swallowing it.

Starting to swallow
A boa constrictor's bite is not poisonous, but the boa has a bunch of small, hooked teeth that grab and hold its prey while the boa is killing it.  There are some cells in a boa's lips that help it sense heat.  This is useful if you are looking for prey in the dark, which is when boas like to hunt.  Mostly, a boa constrictor will stay by itself unless it wants to mate.  The only times boas come out in the daytime is when it's too cold at night, and they want to bask a little in the sun.

Almost got it all down!
Usually, boa constrictors hunt by waiting in ambush until something tasty comes by that they can grab. But if there is not much prey around, they might go out looking for something.  Like all snakes, they can open their jaws really wide and swallow really big things.  It takes between 4 and 6 days to digest a meal, depending on its size and also how warm the weather is.  After that, the boa might not eat again for several weeks or months, because of its slow metabolism.

Photo by Joel Sartore
Many kinds of snakes only have one lung, but boa constrictors have two.  The left one is very small, and it doesn't do anything, but at least it's there.  The right lung is what boas use when they breathe.  Another thing boa constrictors have is pelvic spurs.  Pythons also have these.  Pelvic spurs are all that's left to show that once upon a time, snakes had real pelvises and hind legs.

Female boas usually like to breed during the dry season, which is from April to August.   When they are in the right mood, they give out a scent that attracts males, and then they mate with several of them.  This is called being polygynous.  The sperm might stay inside the female for a while before she actually ovulates and becomes pregnant, but after she does, the baby boas will be born in 100-120 days.

Newborn boa constrictors.
A group of snakes is called a bed or knot.
Boa constrictors are what's called ovoviviparous, which means the babies are born live instead of inside eggs.  Well, actually, what happens is that the eggs hatch inside the mom, and then the babies are born. A female boa can have a litter of anywhere between 10 and 65, but the average number is 25.  Luckily, she doesn't have to take care of them because they can already take care of themselves.  When baby boas are born, they are about 15-20 inches long.  They grow really fast at first, and have to shed their skins every month or two.  By the time they are 3 or 4 years old, they will be 6-10 feet long, and they can start having babies of their own.  They will keep growing more slowly for the rest of their lives, and they will only have to shed about every 2-4 months.

In many areas of the tropics, people like to keep boa constrictors around their homes, sort of like pets, because they kill off the rats and mice that might eat the grain.  They are also kept in captivity in lots of zoos and private collections, where they seem to be happy and are bred pretty often.  In captivity, boas are fed mice, rats, rabbits, chicks, and chickens.

Some people like to eat snake for dinner.
I wonder if it tastes like chicken.
If you want a boa constrictor of your very own, just remember that they can live 20 to 30 years, so it is a long-term commitment to have one.  Also, you have to give it enough space and yummy food, plus the right temperature and humidity.

Personally, I don't want us to have any snakes living here in our house, because I think that would be creepy, and Mom feels the same way.  So for once, we are in total agreement about something, and I'm very glad of that!

Thursday, March 21, 2013



This word means stubborn and rebellious and disobedient.  Other good words that mean the same as contumacious are willful, balky, contrary, wayward, and unruly.  Mom says I start acting contumacious any time she takes me out for a walk.  I tell her that I am just a creative and independent thinker.  Which is not the same thing, at least in my opinion.


In the old days, before everybody had electricity, people used candles to light their houses.  Sometimes they made their own candles at home, or sometimes they bought candles from the chandler, who was a person in the candle-making business.  And besides candles, a chandler might also make other things out of tallow or wax, such as soap.

The word chandler started being used in Middle English sometime between 1275 and 1325.  It came from the Old French chandelier, which meant somebody or something connected with candles.

After a while, a chandler became anybody who sold supplies or provisions.  Sometimes these supplies were of a special kind.  For example, a ship's chandler sold sails and ropes and other things that sailing ships needed.


Woman Crying II
by Fernando Botero
If you feel really sad and mournful, and you keep crying all the time, then you are what's called lachrymose.  People who are lachrymose might be depressed and emotional, and it seems like every little thing makes them start crying.

This word came from the Latin lacrimosus, and it's been used in English since at least 1655.  Nowadays, lachrymose people can take antidepressants to help them feel better, but in the old days, they couldn't do that, so the next best thing was to have a dog who could understand and sympathize when a person felt sad.


Sometimes people decide that we need a word for something, so they make one up.  That's what happened with petrichor, which was invented in 1964 by two Australian researchers named Bear and Thomas.  What petrichor describes is how rain smells when it falls on the earth after the weather has been warm and dry for a long time.  Two Greek words were used to make petrichor.  The first word is petra, which means "stone," and the second word is ichor, which is the fluid that the Greek gods of mythology had in their veins.

Researchers Bear and Thomas wrote an article for the journal Nature, and they explained why there is a special smell when the first rain happens.  They said that certain plants put out an oil during dry weather, and the oil soaks into clay soil and rocks.  Then the oil is released when it rains, along with a compound called geosmin, and so the wet soil has that special smell that the researchers named petrichor.

Later on, in 1965, these same two scientists wrote another paper that explained the reason why the plants made the oil when the weather was dry.  And the reason is that the oil keeps seeds from sprouting until there is more water to help them grow.

Frankly, I don't care about all this science stuff.  I just like the way everything smells when it rains.  Except that it's also a warning to me not to go outside because I might get my feet wet.  Luckily, since I have such a fine doggy nose, I can enjoy the scent of petrichor from inside the house, where I can stay nice and dry.


This is a Japanese word.  We don't have a word in English that means the same thing, so I guess we can just borrow this one, if we think we need it, but I hope we don't.  What karoshi means is death that happens when somebody works way too hard at their job and then dies because of the overwork.  Karoshi is made out of three Japanese words:  ka "excess" and  ro "labor" and shi "death."

In Japan, there is a tradition of obedience that is mostly the opposite of being contumacious.  So when all of these young white-collar workers are asked by their companies to put in tons of extra hours of hard work, they do it.  Until one day they suddenly drop dead from a heart attack or a stroke.  Another term for this is Salaryman's Sudden Death Syndrome.

I think it is a very bad thing that karoshi is happening to all those nice Japanese workers.  If I were over there in Japan, I would bite all the bosses on the ankle and tell them to let their employees have more vacations and make them work less overtime.  That way the workers can spend more time at home, playing with their dogs and their kids, and they won't feel so stressed.


Yuputka is another foreign word that would be very useful to have, if we borrowed it and made it part of English.  What it means is that creepy feeling you get when you imagine that something is crawling on your skin.  Whenever dogs get this feeling, we raise our hackles, and when humans get the feeling, the hair on the back of their necks stands up.

The word yuputka comes from the Ulwa language.  I had never heard of this language, so I did some research, and I found out that it is part of a family of languages spoken by native people on the east coast of Nicaragua.  Maybe they have a lot of spooky rain forests there, and that is why they are always feeling like something is crawling on them.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


You'll never guess what!  MOM GOT A JOB!  I don't think she should have done this because she already has a perfectly good job taking care of all us dogs and cats, but now she is going to abandon us here alone three days a week while she goes out to do this so-called "real" job.

Mom didn't want to get a job, because she likes being retired and not working, but Mom's financial planner guy says that she is spending her investment money too fast, and that someday when she is a little old lady, her money will be gone, and she won't have enough to buy groceries with.  This is sad, but I probably won't be around by then, so I don't care too much what happens when Mom gets old.  My opinion is that Mom should just keep spending money on lots of dog food and dog treats and vet bills now, and worry about the future when it gets here.

But anyway, the place where Mom is going to work is called Soil Service Center, and it's a garden center where people go to buy flowers and fertilizer and grass seeds and trees and bushes and all sorts of stuff like that.  The main part of it is on one side of the street and the nursery part is on the other side of the street.  Mom is going to work in the nursery part, and her biggest job will be to run the cash register and take people's money.  Also there are some plants inside that have to be watered.  Mom does not have to water the plants outside because other people have that job.

Mom will work on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, starting March 28.  Then at the end of July, she won't have that job anymore because it will be the end of the busy season for gardening.  Maybe Mom will get to come home at lunchtime and let us dogs go outside.  She's not sure how long she will have for lunch, but it only takes about five minutes to drive from our house to the garden center.

Here's a picture of me with an antler
that has a rope thingy going through it.
Okay, well, here's some more exciting news, which is that Mom has started buying interesting things sometimes for me and Mel to chew on.  Like for instance, we get a Greenie now and then, which we didn't used to do while Barry was around because Barry would try to steal everybody else's Greenie.  Also, it turned out that Barry and Gabe were allergic to wheat, and Greenies have wheat in them, so that's another reason we didn't get them anymore.  Something else that Mom bought us was an antler to chew on.  I like to chew on antlers because it reminds me of my wild, distant ancestors, the wolves, who hunt elk and deer and eat them and probably also chew on their antlers.

The kittens, r.: Erica, Edward, Etienne,
Elton, and Esmé
Now I will tell you about our kittens.  On Sunday, they were two weeks old, and they keep growing and eating and pooping and peeing.  They all have their eyes open now, and their ears are open, too.  We don't know how much they can really see or hear, but when Mom goes in there and talks to them, they look up at her.  Then when she picks them up and holds them and pets them, they squeak and mew a lot.  They still don't know how to run around or jump on the furniture or anything.  I guess it will be a few more weeks before they start doing that.

Here are some pictures of the kittens: