By now you know how much I love my little menagerie. They are the most ridiculous creatures — wonderfully vocal and physically demonstrative. And every time I am certain I am just projecting my human emotions upon them, they do something that conversely makes me think that perhaps it is they that project their animal emotions upon me.
Take Geronimo, our 4 year-old Sun Conure. Frighteningly intelligent, he not only mimics phrases such as “Hi Sweetie,” and “I’m a good boy,” and human laughter (all my conversations while working from home rubbed off on him), but also inserts the mimicry appropriately into conversation. If he’s screaming noisily (is there any other way to scream?), we tell him he’s getting a time out, and we move to cover the cage with his sleeping cover. Quickly, he responds with “I’m a good boy, I’m a good boy,” to which we reply “no, you’re not,” to which he replies, “I’m a good boy, I’m a good boy.” Then, when he’s been quiet in his “time out phase” for about 15 minutes or so, he’ll starting inserting himself into whatever conversations with subtle laughter in the form of “heh, heh, heh,” just to let us know he’s in there and ready to behave.
Geronimo also mimics our attempts to mimic him, creating a Parenglish (Parrot/English) vocabulary that he uses on us to get what he wants. Little calls, little grunts, little clucks, all in the name of flock communication. We respond happily, and in the end, he’s accomplished exactly what he set out to do: get out of the cage, get on one of us, and get his head and neck scratched.
The dogs? Chloe and Samson are just as adept in their own way, though for them the barking version communication is saved for the most exciting moments of their life — the games, the balls, the visitors, the play-fights. The gutteral, in-throat communication is a completely different ball game, but equally effective. Chloe picks up her toys and growls and barks “around them” to show her excitement at your arrival home, without ever opening her mouth. It’s hysterically funny and like someone trying to talk through a gag. Samson? His in-throat communications are all about different levels of whining: the long, drawn out, rolling whine is his version of a human stretch; the wheezing whistle is all about his desire to get your attention so you’ll throw his ball; his “silent bark” — where he simply claps his jaws together without sound a few times — is the preamble to joyful exhuberance.
More visual and possibly more easily interpreted is the physical involvement of their entire bodies — the Dachshund Wiggle — in communicating complete happiness of the moment. The lie on the floor, head on paws, eyes raised and following your movements “pout” is ridiculously apparent, and occurs with regularity, whenever a suitcase comes out of the closet. Chloe is notorious for “unpacking” a packed suitcase by stealing your socks and underwear while you are not looking.
All in all, they’ve taught us well. Sure, Geronimo politely “steps up” when I ask him to step onto my finger, and Chloe and Samson obediently “sit” when they see my hand gesture, run to me when they hear “Puppies, come!” But when I reflect on our “humanimal” pack, I realize that it is they who have done most of the teaching, most of the communicating, and a helluva lot of the loving.