I talk to dogs. I’m not ashamed; it doesn’t embarrass me. I find them to be pretty good listeners. I often ramble on about a project I’m working on. The chatter helps me sort through the process. The dogs may not understand, and they probably don’t care, but they listen intently. Sometimes they offer a slight nod in response.
The other day, on one of our walks, I redirected the dogs off the Fox Lake Road and onto Cotter’s Trail, which is a mostly unused private drive:
“We’re going this way today, guys. I know, I know, it’s muddy. But I’m nervous about cars on the road at this time of day. Blackie Chan goes too fast and Rosa Parks goes too slow. I can’t catch all the little dogs if a car comes! Besides, just look at the way I’m dressed; you would all be so embarrassed if somebody came along!”
Actually, that wasn’t completely true. I not only talk to dogs, I lie to them! My dogs do not embarrass easily, and my appearance never bothers them. The way I was dressed (pajama bottoms and a Tshirt, bulky socks, slippers and a straw hat, all covered with a massive hooded shirt made of mosquito netting complete with face-mask) would have definitely been an embarrassment to me, though. Still, the part about catching dogs was factual. Darla is the only one of the three dogs that walks at about my speed, and she stubbornly refuses to yield the road to other traffic!
Mostly, when talking to my dogs, I offer simple observations and lavish compliments. “You’re so fast,” I note, when one breaks into a run. “So smart,” I offer, at any sign of intelligence. “Good girl, number two outside,” I say to Rosa Parks as encouragement, as she occasionally forgets the “outside” component. I give the same praise to Darla and Blackie Chan, though neither needs the reminder. Their look says, “Could I just have some privacy, please?”
Once, I woke in the night with the feeling that I was being watched. I opened my eyes to find Darla staring at me. Telepathically, she told me, “Get up! Rosa Parks is in trouble!” In the same instant, I realized that what, in my dream, was waves crashing against a rocky shore, was actually my little dog’s labored breathing. Rosa Parks gets severe headaches, and she was definitely in distress. Though we haven’t yet figured out cause or cure, there are things I can do to help. Luckily, Darla knew that.
It is mostly through their expressions, combined with my imagination, that my dogs talk to me. Darla was adopted, then returned to the shelter several times in her first six years. Though I reassure her that this is her home forever, she always begins a car ride with a look that wonders, “Is this it? What did I do wrong?” And when we reach our destination (which at worst is the veterinarian’s office; at best, Fox Lake for a swim), her wide smile shouts, “Hooray!”
After three times asking to go outside, then just sniffing the air and accepting a treat, Rosa’s small smile clearly says, “Sucker!” When I first presented Blackie Chan with his new “slow-feeder” dish, the look on his face asked, “What manner of fresh hell is this??” When Rosa Parks joins Blackie Chan in the seat beside me, his long, low growl clearly says, “I hate that she loves that other dog as much as me!”
When I take a handful of kibble for a round of “Sit, Stay, Gimme Paw,” I tell the dogs what they’re already thinking. “You guys should be on the stage,” I say to three dogs sitting at attention as I dole out treats. “You ought to be in the circus,” I tell them as I shake one paw after another. When Rosa Parks actually manages to stay when told to stay, I look proudly at my fat little chihuahua with one cloudy eye and a crooked grin on her face. “Oh, Rosa Parks,” I tell her, “You could be in the Westminster Dog Show!” Rosa Parks beams in response.