Talking for our animals…

It is time for a post that is less weighty and serious. Pastor Jack Freed used this quote in a recent post to his blog – Jack’s Winning Words.

“I wanted to talk to the animals like Dr, Dolittle.”  (Jane Goodall) 

Jane spent her life living amongst animals, but never was able to talk to them. There have been notable experiments in teaching animals to recognize certain words and to associate those words with some activity or choice, but no one has yet to achieve the ability to have two-way communications or to understand what animals are “saying” using whatever combination of sounds and gestures that they use to communicate with each other.

Sometimes people seem to adopt whatever “voice” we may have heard in a cartoon or movie for a specific animal. Thus, a large animal that was voices by a deep voiced actor forever is lodged in our minds with that voice; whereas small (and cuter) animals will have a high-pitched voice or that of a female actor.

We also put intonations into the voice that seem to characterize the animal as smart and witty or dull and slow. Think of how you hear Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh movies and now think of how you would voice a donkey if you saw one. Those things stick with us. We recently had a children’s Christmas play at church in which the children played the animals in the manger the night of Jesus’ birth. The cows not only sounded different; they also used different words and language structure than the pigs or the goats. The dialogue given to each animal reflected how the writers imagined the “character” of each animal.

It is never more painful for us not to be able to talk to, or understand, our pets than when they are sick or suffering somehow. That is even frustrating for the vets involved. The fact that they cannot help by telling us where it hurts or how they feel makes treating them all the more difficult. We tend to nurse them with cuddles and soft talk; much as we might do for a human baby or hugs that we save for a good friends.

Many people (and I’m certainly among this group) try to talk for the animals by “voicing” what we think (or would like to think) they are trying to say or would say, if they could. I’ve noticed (and admit again to being guilty of this) that much of what we “voice” for our pets is couched in the language of baby talk, as if our adult dogs are not capable of conversing with us above a 2- or 3-year old level. Perhaps that’s what we also call them our fur babies. I’ve noticed lately that my dogs both have silver muzzles.  Maybe it’s time that they started talking like little old ladies and men.  I’ll have to go re-watch the movie Grumpy Old Men to get some pointers.

Some dogs are now classified as “therapy dogs”, because having them around is good therapy for someone who may be experiencing depression, PTSD or other mental health issues. Some of those dogs use their heightened senses of smell to sense the onset of a medical emergency and alert their owners in time to take corrective actions. Some may act as the hands and feet of their owners, retrieving items for them or doing simple tasks such as opening a door. I suspect that the simple act of voicing for our pets is a form of therapy. We can actually avoid a feeling of loneliness by carrying on a “conversation” with our pet. The best thing is that they never argue with us.

There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with giving a “voice” to your pet. It’s sort of like a form of ventriloquism. It’s not scary until the doll (or dog) starts talking for itself. That would be the time to seek help for yourself. So, go ahead and act as the voice for your pet. It’s good therapy for you and he/she may get a kick out of it too. After all they’ve never heard what you think that they may be thinking. It would get boring for them, too; if all they thought was, “throw the ball” or “give me a treat”. You can do better than that. Give them a voice.

Now, excuse me, I have to go talk to Skippy and Sadie. They want to tell me in which direction we should go on our next walk. They can be quite vocal about that.

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