2/15/10

The Dogs of Babel

I love bookstores. I even love those huge bookstores with tables and shelves of bargain books. I have picked up some fantastic finds in the bargain section. The Devil in the Junior League was hilarious and was a perfect unabridged audiobook that helped me pass the time on a trip. Recently I found The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst.

I love dogs and other furry companions. I just don’t go out of my way to purchase a book simply because it has a dog theme to it. Yes, I’ve cried and laughed through Marley and Me long before it was a bestseller. This book seemed interesting because it tells the story of a linguist professor who comes home to find his wife has accidentally fallen from a tree in their backyard, breaking her neck. The only witness to her death is their dog. The husband has no idea why his wife was climbing a tree and begins to see strange clues in the house that lead him to believe that her last afternoon was anything but ordinary. In his grief, he decides to train the dog to communicate so that one day, he might be able to put all the pieces together.

While I haven’t finished the book, there is an early chapter where the main character is attempting to figure out just how many words the dog already knew. I began to think about how many words and commands Chase knows. He has the obvious words from training like “Come, Sit, Stay, Heel, Down” and an assortment of parlor tricks like “Paw, Roll Over and Bow to Sarah”. But he has picked up many words along the way. He loves the word “Cheese” and knows exactly what it means. He goes into a frenzy with “Walk or Car Ride”. He will tap dance with delight if he hears the words “wanna go out?” If a door bell rings on television he will begin to bark, but if I utter “It’s on TV, Chase” he usually stops. Each of his toys have names and he recognizes them as well. “Where’s Your Bear?” or “Where’s Your Puppy?” and even “Where’s Your Alien?” Chase will grab his teddy bear, puppy or even the lime green alien from Roswell, New Mexico and shake it in my face.

The book also reveals that a dog is very sensitive to other non-verbal language and can use those things to help interpret future events. Chase becomes depressed if he sees me packing a suitcase and doesn’t see his dog bag packed, too. He knows that I will be going on a trip without him. He knows that I am going out if I spend extra time in the bathroom with makeup and a curling iron. My grandmother used to swear that my childhood dog, Drummer, could tell time. At precisely five-thirty every evening he would plant himself at the door to the garage, waiting for my father’s arrival.

No, I am not about to embark on a journey to teach my dog how to talk. He already is persistent enough just the way he is. He knows how to communicate. He stands in front of me whining and wailing and slapping my leg with his paw until I utter the words he has been waiting for: “Show Me”. Off he runs, sure that I am following, to show me the back door, the water bowl, the food bowl or something he feels he deserves on the counter. He also uses his communication skills on the other dogs in the house. If one has a bone that he covets, Chase will whine and wail and moan, then race to a door or window barking crazily. The other dogs will follow and join in the brouhaha. Chase will then double back to the forgotten treasure and snatch it up.

As I continue to read my newest bargain treasure, I think that many of us, at one time or another, may have wondered what our furry companions would say if given the opportunity. They are witnesses to many things. My dog, Drummer was the sole occupant when my home was burglarized when I was in elementary school. Chase was remarkably calm with a neighbor’s autistic son who held him close and stroked his fur for nearly an hour. My three McClellanville dogs were a great comfort to me during some times of emotional distress and would gather around me, forgoing their usual romping and hunting activities in the marsh. Maybe the reason that we enjoy our animals so much is that they don’t communicate verbally. They don’t say things that would hurt us, there are no misunderstandings, and they truly love us, unconditionally.

5 comments:

LavenderStarfish said...

Hi Sarah,

I´m Beatrice, aka Lavenderstarfish on bloggers and swap-bot.com. I will follow now your blog redarding to the "Be my blog follower" Swap. I really liked your post about books. I also love to read books a lot. Everything except SiFi. That´s not really my thing. Take care! :-D

Monica Garvin Wells said...

I totally love my dog because he can't talk! We got a puppy for Christmas and I told my husband, "This is great. Its like having a new baby but he can't say Mama! Mama! a thousand times a day."

Coleen Franks said...

Great story Sarah and I loved seeing a picture of Chase, though I must admit wondering what the other dogs looked like and Drummer. Chase looks like he just finished reading himself. His picture added interest to your story.
Its Coleen again, from Swap-bot

TR!LO said...

You write really well, Sarah! You make me want to read again!

XEva (TR!LO)

Burcu said...

Hi Sarah!
I'm Burcu, aka thegreatdawn from swap-bot!
I'm from the Be My Blog Follower :)

I have a small dog and I'm thankful that she can't actually speak (although barking...). Lord knows what she would say!