By Jenny Kalahar
I’d recently been stuck with laryngitis for a full two weeks, barely able to whisper. Having the inability to speak when I felt like speaking changed my perspective. My whole world seemed to grow more hushed by the day. My husband, Patrick, spoke less because I couldn’t easily answer questions. I wasn’t able to gently remind him of tasks that needed doing. We both relaxed into companionable, quiet living, except when stating something was necessary.
An unexpected side effect of this hushed existence was Weegee’s reaction to my near-lack of language. My Terrier stopped talking, too. I occurred to me one afternoon that I hadn’t heard her bark all day—not even when the mail lady came onto our porch. I mentally replayed the days before, wondering just when it had been that I’d last heard a woof out of her. I couldn’t remember. From that point on I paid attention, and it was true. She’d stopped talking, just like I had and like Patrick mostly had.
Instead of asking for dinner, she came into the office, sat a few feet from my desk, raised up into beg position and licked her lips. Instead of barking to be taken for a necessary trip outside, she sat at my feet, caught my eyes, and then looked behind her toward the office door. A long stretch and a giant yawn meant that she thought I’d been working long enough and it was time to head upstairs for the night. For playtime, she nose-rolled her favorite ball (her favorite changes day by day) toward me and wagged her tail. Her cuddle urges were handled in the same way as always, however. She just got on my lap when the mood struck.
It was obvious that was playing by the new house rules, even though there had been no order for her to do so. Was this—pure and simple—a case of empathy? Or was it imitation, the purest form of flattery? Or even just a fun new game to play at home with your people? I couldn’t tell. Dogs are very smart, but they also have sensitive, loving souls.
One afternoon, after several days of silence from Weegee, I lifted her to my lap and sat with her. “Speak, Weeg. It’s okay,” I whispered. “Speak.” Her eyes rolled up to mine. Her white tail with its black spot wagged happily. “Woof!” I croaked. “Go on. Woof!”
She panted once and then gave a whispery huff. That was not going to work. She must have felt that to out-and-out bark would be a violation of the rules of this game. She wasn’t going to be caught cheating.
I grabbed my keys and took her for a car ride. I knew she couldn’t resist arfing at other dogs, or men with hoods on, or baby strollers, or dangerous-looking tree stumps.
The first couple of tree stumps we passed were obviously trying to her soul, but she stayed silent. A couple walking with a toddler in a plastic wagon was almost more than she could tolerate, but she kept quiet, her eyes wide. I swung the car down 8th Street. There, I knew, was Spike. Spike is a loveable, tired old English Mastiff sort of dog with not a bit of trouble running through his veins, but he must give off vibes that Weegee doesn’t like. I knew my dog couldn’t resist barking at Spike as we went by.
But she didn’t. I turned a corner, and three more, and we went passed Spike again. This time, though, I barked at him myself. I managed this by coughing, something I could do with some measure of volume, and then I whispered, “Spike! It’s Spike! Bark at Spike, baby!”
And she did. The dam had burst. I drove around a few more minutes just to be sure that the spell had broken. She joyfully woofed at everything that could possibly warrant woofing at, and then we went home, happy and satisfied. She promptly and enthusiastically asked for dinner, then a walk, and then a game of fetch. It was as if she’d been saving it all up for when it was okay to bark again.
Weegee didn’t return to her silent phase, and now I’m able to speak again, too. This was a remarkable time, and I still don’t know what to make of it, honestly. I’ve always understood that animals are tuned into each other and to us humans, but this experience was very special. Please comment here if you have a story about the empathy a pet has shown. Because love certainly is—among other things—a four-legged animal.
Jenny Kalahar, her husband Patrick, and their pets live in Indiana where she sells used and rare books and writes novels and poetry. She is the author of seven books, including three novels in a series set in a bookshop that fosters cats. Her latest is Bindings. For more, visit her blog: https://jennykalahar.blogspot.com/
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