Anyone who knows me will tell you that I think of my pets as people. I have a dog, Abbie, and a cat, Halloween. (The cat’s name is an amusing story, which I’ll get to in a moment.)
I’m not ashamed to admit I love Abbie the most. I often tell her this as I’m leaving for work in the mornings. My husband, Noell, occasionally will admit that he’s convinced I might love the dog more than I love him. Some days, depending on his behavior, he’s right.
Abbie is a 3-year-old golden retriever that I’m absolutely crazy about. She, more or less, gets anything she wants. Yes, actually, she does ask for things – she’s an excellent communicator. Really! Abbie understands a handful of words. When she starts whining or pacing, I run through her short vocabulary list, which includes words such as walk, treat, food, outside, play, kitty, sit, lay down, roll over, bad, good and no. When I come to the word she’s thinking about, she lets me know by jumping up, wagging her tail and running to the door, the food bowl, the pantry where I keep the treats, etc.
I bet you’re wondering about her recognition of the word “kitty.” When referring to the cat in Abbie’s presence, we call Halloween “kitty,” which we believe is easier for Abbie to understand than the cat’s actual name. By the way, the cat’s name is Halloween because my husband found her at a gas station on Halloween morning 2009. Because she is black and orange, he took it as a “sign” and brought her home. I was not happy, but I’ve learned to live with her. Halloween and Abbie get along OK, but they mostly keep to themselves. However, when the cat is misbehaving – climbing up on tables or stealing Abbie’s toys – the dog will come to me or Noell and whine until one of us goes and puts an end to Halloween’s shenanigans. Essentially, the dog tattles on the cat.
I often try to assign Abbie human characteristics and traits, which kind of annoys my husband. I’ll ask him, “If Abbie were a person, what kind of job do you think she’d have?” Or “Do you think Abbie is pretty? Like, in the eyes of all the boy dogs, would she be considered attractive?” Or “Do you think Abbie is ever sad that she doesn’t have any puppies?” (She’s spayed.) Noell usually gets exasperated and refuses to answer my questions because, he reminds me, they’re pointless. The dog is not human and she never will be.
That doesn’t stop me from treating her like she’s human, though. I let her sleep in the bed, between Noell and I. And if Noell doesn’t feel like going to bed yet, Abbie gets his pillow, which he thinks is “just great.” I also ask her questions. Our conversations, which usually occur when I get home from work, go like this:
Me: “Hi, sweetie! How was your day? What did you do while mama was gone?”
Abbie: Wags tail, licks my hands and arms.
Me: “Do you want to eat dinner now or go for a walk first?”
Abbie: Runs to the door and sits in front of it, wagging her tail expectantly.
Me: “OK, we’ll go for a walk first. But you have to let me change out of my work clothes.”
Abbie: Grabs a dirty sock out of the laundry basket and drops it at my feet (I think she is trying to help me by providing clothes to change into, albeit dirty ones).
After our walk, I ask her whether she is hungry for food. She either lays down, which signals she is not, or runs to her food bowl, which means she does want her dinner. Either way, I dump a scoop of food into her bowl, figuring she can eat it whenever she likes. Yes, she does just eat regular, old dog food. I do not prepare special-order meals for her – yet! But, as my husband often predicts, that’s probably just right around the corner.