Dr. Dolittle lives

By Ken Bradbury

Three of us in the room and I wasn’t in the conversation. My friend said, “Bella, why did you do that?” Bella just stared at her so my friend asked again. “Bella? Can you hear me? Why did you do that?” Bella had just peed on the carpet. I should explain that Bella is a dog. There’s nothing strange about canines tinkling on things, but the really weird thing about this event is that my friend was demanding that the dog answer her. I’ve never owned a dog, but I’m pretty sure they don’t talk. So why do people ask them questions?

There’s a lady in my Sandusky neighborhood who walks out onto her back porch and shouts, “Bailey, where are you?” Now let’s think about this for just a minute. To begin with, the dog would have to be able to talk in order to answer her, and if indeed Bailey was hiding, then why would he give away his whereabouts? Or hers. I don’t know Bailey that well.

I’ve also heard some people give dogs a choice. “Charlie, do you want to ride to the store with me or stay home?” Does Charlie have a messaging system in the way that Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger would stamp his hooves to do complicated mathematical sums? “Okay, Rocky, do you want the Puppy Chow or the Purina Pro Plan this morning?” Does Rocky really understand her and thus can happily bark out, “Puppy Chow!” in his doggerel language?

Of course there are two obvious answers to this strange behavior: either the animals are very smart or the owners aren’t. I mean no offense if you’re the type of pet owner who spends his or her entire day debating politics and nuclear fission theory with your cat, but perhaps you would like to consider being less public about your conversations. I had an uncle who would talk to his shoes but this didn’t exactly label him as a philosopher. I mean, think of the emotional strain this puts on the rest of us. Years ago we were having a meeting of the Arenzville democrats and it happened that all the democrats in Arenzville can fit into a single living room. (There were seven us. Four of these are now dead and I moved out of town leaving, I suppose, a group of democrats who could now meet in the front seat of a Honda.) As we were sipping our coffee and debating how we could possibly get more membership, our host’s cat walked into the room. This wasn’t just a cat, but rather a mega cat. A feline on steroids. I’ve seen kids enter kindergarten who weighed less than this cat. Some in our group guessed the cat to be a Siamese and others thought she favored the Persians. I personally suspected that she was a Palomino. Our host stopped mid-sip and said, “Daisy, where have you been?” We all smiled politely but our smiles began to degrade a bit when our host was not satisfied with Daisy’s refusal to give an answer and pursued the question. “Daisy! Where in the world have you been, girl?” In the first place, this cat was way too massive to be called by the name of a delicate flower. I would have chosen something more appropriate like Attila or General Patton. Secondly, she was a cat, and unless she’d been endowed with certain super powers she had no way of answering her mistress. So just to break the awkward silence some of my assembled democrats tried to become a spokesman for the cat. “I’ll bet she’s been out running around.” “You were just sleeping, weren’t you Daisy?” I wanted to say, “Check her mouth. I’ll bet she ate the little girl next door,” but since we had so few democrats I didn’t want to lose one.

I mentioned this human-animal-conversation phenomenon to one of my dog owner friends and he got a bit condescending on me as he sighed and said, “Ken, if you’ve never owned a pet then you just don’t understand.” I didn’t mention the alternate theory that in owning a pet he’d lost his senses. But I wanted to know so I said, “Do you mean you can really talk with your dog?” He said, “Well, in a certain kind of way, yes. We communicate with each other.” I communicate with my left big toe when I stub it en route to the bathroom at three in the morning, but I’d hardly call that a two-way conversation. He continued, “Dogs can feel things. They know what you’re thinking.” Were it not for the fact that I wanted to retain the guy’s friendship, I would asked for a test of that theory, and I’m glad his dog wasn’t around at that moment to detect what I was thinking.

Bottom line: I suppose there’s little harm in talking to your pets and if some folks think that their hamster talks back to them, then who am I to argue? I guess if I want an answer to things, I should go ask a dog.

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About the author

Ken Bradbury is an adjunct instructor of theatre at LLLC after retiring from Triopia. He entertains on the Spirit of Peoria riverboat and is the author of over 300 published plays. Website: creativeideas.com

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