Lili – July 30, 2018

When my girls are home for the summer, our dog Finn gets spoiled rotten. Whether it’s special doggie ice pops or a day at the beach, it’s no surprise who our Cavalier King Charles’ best friends are. I must admit, even when Olivia and Anna aren’t around, he gets his fair share of attention. That’s the thing about dogs: they wheedle their way into our hearts and make our world a better place (as long as they’re not chewing our new slippers or engraving the table legs with their claws).

Dogs are pretty important to the folks at The Danish Home, too. That’s where you’ll often find me volunteering in honor of my two-times great-grandmother Margarethe Olsen, one of the home’s 12 female founders. When I was there a couple of weeks back, residents couldn’t wait to tell me about a visit from an adorable Yorkshire Terrier with the insanely cute name of “Hairy Pawter.”

The four-pound bundle of fun was brought in by guests Adrian and Denise Brigham, who came to tell the story of Smoky the War Dog. Smoky was also a Yorkie, who was decorated for her heroism in WWII and also became the first official therapy dog.

Jean Weichbrodt (nee Nielsen), who has lived at The Danish Home for the past nine years, was particularly excited. “I just loved the Smoky story,” said Jean, an American-born Dane. She’s one of many residents who enjoys the enriching experiences offered at The Danish Home.

Pet therapy has many plusses for all ages. Our furry, four-legged friends benefit the elderly in particular by improving their communication and ability to reminisce. Pets can motivate seniors to stay healthy and get more exercise, in addition to helping them feel needed.

A wet Golden Retriever runs on a sandy beach along the water.

For some dogs, life really is a beach!

Physical benefits of having a pet include increased mobility from petting, brushing and walking as well as lowered blood pressure from stress reduction. Dr Jay P. Granat, a New Jersey psychotherapist, says “Dogs and other pets live very much in the here and now. They don’t worry about tomorrow….by having an animal with that sense of now, it tends to rub off on people.”

The Danes are well-known for their love of dogs; in fact, over 600,000 of them live in Denmark, with more than 160,000 in Copenhagen. Labrador Retrievers are the most popular. (Fun fact: Great Danes are not from Denmark; they’re from Germany.)

But, despite being a dog-friendly country, Denmark imposes some restrictions on dogs. They are not allowed on public beaches between April 1st and October 1st, but for the rest of the year they are allowed to run on some sandy beaches as long as they are well behaved. I imagine that for those lucky dogs who live in a fantastic summer home in Denmark, a romp in the North or Baltic Sea is a daily joy.

A drawing of a gray dog and a brown hare with stars on them.

The “Dog Days of Summer” has its origins in the ancient Greeks, who thought of the constellation Canis Major as a dog chasing Lepus, the hare.

Fortunately for our Finn, there are a few Chicago beaches where he can run all year. Our favorite is Benton Harbor Beach because it has a special area for small dogs. Sometimes we’ll take our pooch to Foster Avenue Dog Beach on North Lake Shore Drive. That’s good, because there’s even a do-it-yourself dog wash nearby so we can get the sand, or most of it, out of his coat before he jumps back into the car.

Our favorite time to go is towards the end of the summer, when we’ve had our fill of hot, humid days and are looking forward to fall.

“You know, this time of year (late July through late August) isn’t called the Dog Days of Summer because of our canine friends,” my husband Brad was quick to interrupt when I was saying just the opposite to Anna the other day. “It’s because the ancient Greeks associated them with the star Sirius, known as the dog star because it was the largest in the Canis Major constellation.”

Anna was not impressed by this sudden piece of knowledge Brad must have been storing for just such an occasion.

“Every day is dog day in our house, isn’t it, Finn?” she said, rubbing our pup’s soft tummy. “Who’s up for a trip to the beach?”