Have you ever called on one of your pets to rat out the other?
“Bernie, who knocked over that plant in the sunroom? Was it you?”
Bernie looked up from the sofa, irritated by this petty accusation. He yawned, and then slowly stretch-walked toward the kitchen, where I stood holding paper towels and a broom.
“Fess up. Who was it?”
Bernie narrowed his eyes into slits, then haughtily tossed his head in the direction of Mojo’s crate.
Perhaps you’ve called upon one pet to summon another?
“Mojo, go get Bernie and tell him it’s dinnertime.”
I wish I could report Moe dutifully trots off in search of the cat and together they arrive in the kitchen for their evening meal. But no, Mojo couldn’t be bothered. If he had his way Bernie wouldn’t show up at all, leaving the entire bounty for him. But when I ask, “Bernie, where’s Moe?” he knows exactly what I’m asking, but he’ll rarely do more than offer a casual glance in his general direction.
Some people have pets who are remarkably responsive. I recently saw a video of a woman who asked her German shepherd to fetch their kitty so she could take some photos. Without a pause the dog scampered from the room and moments later returned, carrying by her scruff, a young uncomplaining cat who obviously had participated in this drill before.
The dog deposited the feline in the center of the room, dropping her in front of his paws. He fussily rearranged her body into a photogenic pose. Finally satisfied, he then lifted his head, cocked it to one side and leaned forward to smile into the camera.
Some people believe animals know their own names but not the names of other pets in the family. Rubbish! Both of our guys are well aware of the other’s name, and usually their whereabouts. If one is called, the other is on alert. This is especially true with Mojo. If we call out for Bernie, Moe will pull himself out of a deep sleep and respond as if we’d called his name. If we murmur Bernie’s name in conversation, we’ll hear the rattle of Mojo’s collar or the scratching of his nails on the hardwood floor as he rearranges his position, ready to rise if need be.
Sometimes pets become mediums through which people send messages to each other. My grandparents had numerous pets who lived on their small Kentucky farm. Most wandered in as itinerant strays and remained until picked off by coyotes, died of disease or old age, or otherwise disappeared. Rural communities in the 50s didn’t have veterinary offices, and the lifespan of most domestic animals was short and sometimes brutal.
Boomer was a hearty old hound who somehow managed to survive on table scraps and avoid predators. Occasionally they’d let him in the house when we came to visit from Memphis. Grandpa, reeking of spitting tobacco, would pull his pocket watch from his overalls and proclaim, “Boomer, it’s 5 o’clock! Isn’t there supposed to be something on the dinner table? What’s holding you up, boy?”
Grandma, whose long silver hair was rolled into a bun at the nape of her neck would clap back, “Boomer, if certain folks around here gathered up eggs from the hen house, we’d be eating right now!”
On Sundays the dialogue might go something like this, “Boomer, did you pay attention in church this morning? Pastor Roberts might be dropping by. I hope we have enough coconut cake!”
To which Grandma, without missing a lick, would retort, “Boomer, I think I’ve had enough of your kitchen advice today. Why don’t you go outside and do something useful?”
This friendly banter—or coded messages with a disguised undertone of seriousness—left us kids rolling in laughter. Mom said she and her siblings grew up listening to lectures and admonishments directed to a rotating cast of dogs, cats, rabbits and baby hogs.
Once, Mom recalled, Grandpa told a piglet named Tiny she was growing too fat too quickly and that she’d have to lay off second helpings of corn slop. Grandma assumed he was poking fun at her girth and refused to cook desserts for several days.
Long after Boomer passed away from eating a poisoned rat, my grandparents continued to communicate through their animals. The last anecdote I was told about occurred when Grandpa, at age 94, told his beagle Mimsey to quit pestering him about climbing on ladders. “Mimsey, I’ve never fallen off a ladder once, and I’m not about to start now. You need to quit your worrying.”
Months later, after a winter rainfall turned sleet into icy shards that pieced apart some raggedy roof shingles, Grandpa clambered up the ladder with untied boots and an ancient tool belt dangling at his hips. When he was found by Grandma and Uncle George some while later they surmised he lost his footing before reaching the roof. I was overseas when Grandpa died and unable to attend his funeral. But I was told by my mother that Grandma said, with a trace of humor in her voice, “Mimsey predicted the whole thing.”
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