One of the especially bright spots in my life right now is my little dog, Georgiana. If you have recently spent time in my zip code then you are probably acquainted with her, but if not, Georgiana is a white teacup poodle just shy of five pounds but Texas-sized in personality. She likes belly rubs, warm laps, and new friends, and dislikes wet, cold, or loud things. Her favorite pastime is chasing leaves and scraps of paper, and her biggest pet peeve is inconsiderate people who move her toys (she put it there for a reason, dammit!). Georgie also demonstrates innate empathetic tendencies and a love of good fashion.
I like to think I can communicate with Georgie. I’m not just talking about simple commands here—after all, neither of us have much use for fetch, finding it paternalistic and oppressive. No, I mean that we have conversations.
Let me give you an example, taken from earlier this morning.
Me: Your breath smells like salami.
Georgie: Your breath doesn’t exactly smell like roses, sunshine.
Me: But I don’t feed you salami. How did you get salami?
Georgie: I have my ways.
Me: We forgot to brush your teeth last night.
Georgie: Correction: You forgot and I rejoiced silently lest you remember.
Me: We’re going to brush your teeth tonight. And maybe give you a bath.
Georgie: Fat chance. What’s in it for me?
Me: You’ll smell pretty.
Georgie: I always smell pretty. I am pretty, therefore I smell pretty. Thus, I do not need a bath.
Me: I sense something lacking in your logic but I can’t quite put my finger on it...
Georgie: My logic, like my hygiene, is flawless.
Me: I think I’m going to take a shower now.
Georgie: It’s about time.
Me: But seriously, why does your breath smell like salami?
Before you start worrying that I’m hearing voices (not an issue I have dealt with in the past) I have to admit that our conversations are not actually this detailed. However, there was a time recently when I wished they were. Until about a week ago Georgie had not been feeling well. This particular bout of illness lasted a couple of weeks and consisted mostly of digestive tract distress, much to the chagrin of her roommate. As a small dog with a delicate stomach, Georgie is prone to episodes of incontinence, and so at first I thought it would pass (no pun intended) but by the second week of multiple late night potty breaks and unpleasant kennel incidents, I realized that something was not right.
But try as I might to decipher her furry expressions and whimpers, I just could not quite figure out exactly what was wrong. We went around and around this way as we waited for our veterinarian appointment for a week. I would have done just about anything to make Georgie feel better if she could have told me what it might be. In the meantime, I focused on lots of head scratches and tummy rubs, and tried to be patient when she needed to go out four times in the night. Finally we went to our vet appointment and started on a course of antibiotics. Within a few days the problem cleared up and everyone was much happier.
Communication is hard, even when you’re part of the same species. While I still believe that Georgie and I have some kind of affinity for subliminal communication, (and I talk to her regularly and think she understands just a little of what I’m saying) our communication style can lead to a lot of misunderstandings. (Me: I would like to take a nap now. Georgie: It’s time to play!) But even when I’m talking with my human friends who are capable of understanding more than two hundred words, many things go unsaid. Instead of asking how someone is doing, I assume they’re fine. Rather than call someone up when I wonder how a big event went, I wait for the next time I’ll see them. I think about other people I know and love all the time, but the extra step of sending a quick text message, note on Facebook, or email usually doesn’t happen. Social withdrawal is often a symptom of depression for me, and it has damaged more than one relationship through neglect. Every time this happens I beat myself up for being a bad friend and then usually find a negative way to take it out on myself…and in the future, try to keep just a little more distance between myself and other people rather than run the risk of hurting someone I care about.
Maybe this is why I get along so well with Georgie. While there are certainly times I seem to intuit a kind of disappointment in me (Where have you been and why are you so tired?? It’s time to play!) she always ends the day by snuggling up and giving me a kiss. Even when I’m afraid I’ve been a bad mommy by forgetting a meal or neglecting her walk time, she reminds me that what is important is contact, interaction, and communication…in whatever form it takes.