The phrase "man's best friend" is a well worn but accurate description of the depth of our relationship with dogs. It is that relationship which is celebrated during National Dog Week. This year, the 74th National Dog Week runs Sept. 22 through Sept. 28.
"Man's Best Friend" is this year's theme. The idea that the dog is "man's best friend" is believed to have originated during a closing argument given by Sen. George Graham Vest, of Missouri. Vest, a lawyer, was representing a man whose dog was deliberately shot and killed by a neighbor. The grief stricken dog owner was suing the neighbor for damages.
In his closing argument, Vest gave what has become the famous "Tribute to the American Dog." The speech to the jury was so powerful that it not only won the case, it has been inscribed in a monument in Warrensburg, Missouri. William Safire included it in his compendium of the world's great speeches. Here is a portion of the speech, which reportedly left not a dry eye in the courtroom:
"The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name may become traitors to their faith …
"The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog. … He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer. … If fortune drives the master forth, an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him. …"
National Dog Week was founded in 1928 by Captain Will Judy, a noted dog judge and former publisher of Dog World Magazine. The purpose of National Dog Week is to educate all dog owners in their responsibilities to their pets and to their communities, particularly those organizations dedicated to caring for unwanted or lost dogs.
The event is being sponsored by the Dogs on Stamps Study Unit, of the American Topical Association. The Dogs on Stamps Study Unit is a non-profit philatelic organization specializing in the collecting, study, and enjoyment of stamps and other postal items that pertains to dogs. For more information, visit www.dossu.org.
What National Dog Week means depends on the individual. The sponsors suggest having your mayor proclaim Sept. 22-28 as National Dog Week and inviting the press to cover the proclamation. (Last year, New Jersey's acting Governor Donald T. Difrancesco proclaimed National Dog Week for the state).
Donations of money and food can be organized for local shelters, and local veterinarians and groomers can be invited to give lectures on the proper care of dogs. The topics can cover:
Informal dog shows can be organized at the local puppy park to demonstrate obedience and agility. The range of activities is only limited by the imaginations of the participants and the organizers!