Years ago I was shopping at our local home improvement store; I had my Australian Shepherd, Zoe, with me. I was completely engaged in finding a plug for the bathtub drain. All of a sudden my attention was drawn to a little girl with shiny brown hair being pushed in a shopping cart by her mother. As they passed our aisle I noticed the girl was bouncing up and down in the cart, reaching over in our direction and calling, “Hi Zoeeeeee!” I looked more closely at the mother and daughter to see if I recognized them, but they were strangers. As they moved out of sight I heard the mother say to the little girl, “Who were you talking to?” The girl said, “Zoe, the dog. She said hi to me.” The mother dismissed the comment, telling the girl that dogs don’t talk.
Looking down at Zoe, I asked her if she had been talking with that girl and she said that she had. It was all I could do not to run after the woman and girl and say, “Yes, that’s right! My dog was talking to you!” but I knew I would look like a nut, so we continued on with our shopping.
I think that’s how it works, this animal communication thing. At least this is how it's been for me. We are open to animals’ thoughts and feelings until we get told enough times by family or society to ignore what we hear. Then we start to question if we really heard anything at all, and eventually we stop hearing what's there.
The most common misconception people have about animal communication is that the ability to talk with animals is a mysterious gift only certain people have. I don’t believe this is true. I think anyone can communicate with animals. I believe this natural ability is one we can relearn to connect with. I say relearn because it is clear to me that as children, being less guarded and worried about what other people think, we often freely communicate with animals just as the above story demonstrates. It is only as we grow up and are told things such as, “Stop putting human emotions on the dog’s behavior” or “No, the cat is not telling you he hates the way Uncle Bob picks him up” that we stop trusting our senses. As a result, communication with our animals starts to diminish and sometimes goes away altogether.
However, I never underestimate the ability of animals to be great teachers for helping us to understand them. My best friend is a fairly mainstream, concrete type of person. I am sure if she didn’t know me, there is no way she would consider my talking to animals sane. She once told me she didn’t have a problem with the idea I talk with animals, but she did have a problem telling people she was friends with someone who talks with animals. Essentially, my wacky behavior was OK with her, but what would other people think of her if they knew a close friend of hers had a deep conversation with an owl last Tuesday?
My home has a small pond, which truthfully is more of a mud puddle. I decided to fill the pond up with water to see if it had a leak or if it had simply not been filled up in a long time. As I filled the pond I noticed a bright orange goldfish emerging from the muck. Several days later, as I was approaching the pond I heard a voice say, “I’m George.” Looking around, I saw no one. Then I looked at the pond and wondered if it was the fish talking with me. I was in a bit of a rush so I didn’t investigate it any further.
Then a few days later, my best friend came to visit. She had been outside looking around the property and had come across the goldfish in the pond. When she came back inside the house she said, “I think we need to get some food for George.” I asked who George was and she said the fish. I said, “Oh, did I tell you about the fish before?” and she said no, she just thought he looked like a George. I then proceeded to tell her the story concluding with, “I guess that must be his name.” I watched my friend as she was alternately excited and completely flipped out by the situation. She said she didn’t talk to animals. I told her that apparently she did.
I use an analogy when I think about people’s ability to communicate with animals. I say it is like horseback riding. Some people come into this world and they are naturally comfortable with horses. They've never taken a lesson and they have perfect balance and ride beautifully. Other people don’t start off knowing much about riding, but they really like horses and they take a lot of lessons and get just as good as that natural rider. Still others are either afraid of horses or have absolutely no interest in them at all. We will never know if this last group were natural riders or could have at least learned to ride well enough, because they don’t want to try.
This is how I feel about animal communication. It comes naturally to some, can be learned by anyone open to the process, and will rarely happen for those who don’t want to try. I say rarely, because George gave us a great example of how animals will still try to communicate even with those not particularity open to them and sometimes they even get through.
So the next time you hear a child talking about their bunny having a tummy ache from eating the a new type of food, even if you don’t believe the facts, be receptive to the idea of listening to animals. Invite them to tell you what they hear and learn from the animals around them. Animals can be amazing teachers. It’s our job to listen to them and to take good notes.