This is a time of the year when believing in the mystical and magical seems to come easily to humans. There is a widespread European superstition that at midnight on Christmas Eve animals can talk and humans can understand them.
(Joe might ask why a girl dog was named Joe?)
What Would You Ask?
With moments to go before the witching hour, what question would you ask your dog or cat to answer? Would your query be pragmatic, "Where did you hide my gray socks?" Emotional, "Do you know how much I love you?" Philosophical, "Are you happy with your life and what can I do to make you happier?" Behavioral, "Why do you bark at the television, don’t you know those dogs are not real?"
Ed and I agree, we'd ask our Westie Poppy why she is so afraid when we are out in the world and what we could do to make our daily walks less stessful for her. She is afraid of delivery trucks, construction sites, and loud noises of any sort. The past six months, with non-stop road construction in the Back Bay, have been a dreadful time for her.
Maybe she could suggest some remedy that Ed, our veterinarian, and all the research I’ve done has failed to uncover. And, “No, Poppy, staying inside all the time is not the answer.”
You can just tell that this dog would be a good listener – a Zen presence in any conversation.
What Would You Say?
Given the corollary that a dog or cat who can talk can also understand you, what would you try to explain to your companion if given the opportunity?
When there is something you have to do that your dog or cat hates, from giving a bath to a trip to the vet, would you say it’s for their own good? If your household has rules, such as no dogs on the sofa or in the kitchen, would you try to explain why those rules only apply to them?
Ed and I talk to Poppy all the time but aside from a bunch of regular words designed and constantly repeated to communicate with her, we’re sure all she hears is, “Blah, blah, blah, CHEESE, yadda, yadda…”
We'd try to explain that we will always protect her and do our best to keep her safe from the things she fears. And, I think I would set up a signal, like tapping her right front paw three times, for her to use when she’s in pain. Knowing when your dog or cat is hurting would be a blessing because it would allow you to find the problem and relief for them quickly.
These two had a magic word that they understood to mean, "Tip your head for the photo."
Understanding Us Humans
Of course dogs, cats, and humans do a lot of successful communicating. We use recognizable words, hand signals, body language, and tone of voice to let our critters know what we want them to do.
They use silent stares, purrs, wagging tails, barks, growls, and delivery of or leading us to toys, balls, and leashes to let us know what they want from us.
Our first Westie Sassy was the company mascot for a business we owned. She was so intelligent that our staff once created a lengthy list of the words she understood.
It was fun and I highly recommend trying to make a vocabulary list for your own companion animals. We learned that we didn’t all use the same words with her and that she adapted to having a bunch of humans telling her things, each in his or her own way.
Words: Penny Cherubino (Previously published as one of her City Paws newspaper columns)
Photography: © 2014 Ed Cherubino