By Rick Reynolds
Way back in the early days of RLL, I did a number of pet-related stories and finally decided enough was enough. There were too many stories in the media where people anthropomorphized their dogs, cats, and parrots–all too often giving them human characteristics which I frankly thought was unfair to the pets. Our pets are not us, no matter how much we spend on their health care.
For example, people speak to their pets on subjects the sorry animals couldn’t possibly relate to. Take my wife: Every time she leaves the house for the day, she tells our two dogs she’ll be right back–or that she’ll be back in an hour. One of our dogs doesn’t even have a watch and couldn’t tell time if he did. And neither have a sense of time. I would never want to confuse the poor mutts in that way. She’s being dishonest with them, knowing full well they’ll be asleep the whole time and not know any better.
Personally, I tell the dogs that I’ll be back in “three shakes of a lamb’s tail.” See; this plays to their sensibilities. My Cockapoo, Milo, who looks like a carnivorous sheep, has surprisingly large teeth and definitely picks up on the “lamb” references. Petey, a Yorkiepoo, while not as bright, gets the “lamb” vibe through Milo. But it doesn’t take an Australian Shepherd to know what “three shakes of a lamb’s tail” means.
Myself, I’m not entirely sure how long that time interval is, but I imagine a lamb wouldn’t take long twitching its tail a few times. However, this way, if I’m not back for 8 hours, I haven’t technically lied to the dogs. Credibility is everything in a pet relationship.
My daughter tells me that dogs don’t “speak” English, which is, of course, nonsense. Every time Milo, the cocker/poodle mix, chews my wife’s new boots, I admonish him NOT to tell her who left the gate to the mudroom shoe cubbies open, and he’s never betrayed me–even under my wife’s brutal interrogation. Except for a little drool and teeth chattering, his lips remain sealed.
And when I ask the dogs directly who chewed the fireplace wood and spread the splinters all over the rug, the guilty party always slinks away trembling. Of course they know English–as a second language, of course.
My dogs’ first language could be characterized as “yappy” and it can be ear piercing, so I often have to ask them to use indoor voices, or if that fails, to use words. Small dogs tend to whine more than large dogs, having trouble articulating their true feelings in non-pathetic, albeit wolf-like ways.
But contrary to public opinion, not all small, cute dogs are females. I can’t tell you how many passers-by assume my dogs are girls. Even if the names, “Petey,” and “Milo” didn’t hint at their gender, their lifting their legs on these folks’ shoes should speak volumes–if not fluid ounces. And big dog people have no problem letting you know that they only like big dogs–even when the combined weight of your two bruisers is just under 20 lbs. These big dog people don’t know it, but small dog people think big dog people are insecure and need big dogs as proxies for their latent inadequacies. I don’t go that far, but I do get amused when they fail to pick up on my dogs’ leg lifting and walk away with wet socks.
So, while many dog owners give their pets human characteristics, it is likely our dogs think of us as the more irrational and juvenile of mammals. We talk gibberish around them, and buy squeak toys that are no match for the real squeals of live prey.
Chappaqua alumnus and 35-year resident of Chappaqua, humorist Rick Reynolds resides in southern New Hampshire with his wife, daughter, and two dogs.