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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: May 20, 2020

Pet Talk!

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

Mike and I are continuing to live our lives under "safer at home" standards. That means we've now been at home, mostly alone, for a bit more than two months. There are lots of things helping make this bearable - Facetime, e-mail, texts, phone calls and regular mail; plenty of outdoor exercise, projects and hobbies. But we've also benefited from additional safe company - our three house cats, our two dogs and our horse. The communication between the humans and animal companions continues, and provides entertainment, information and love.

We have one cat who often hears a vehicle in the driveway before the dogs. I know he's heard a car (or a distant roll of thunder,) if he lowers his ears and his belly to the floor and pours himself quickly down the steps to his safe place in the basement. This ability in cats is something you don't hear about often but it's not uncommon. A few years ago, in the middle of night, one of my sister's horses became gravely ill. He was in her little barn, more than 100 yards from her house. Bramble the cat became very agitated in the house, pacing around and staring at the barn until my sister got out of bed, went and discovered poor Tarby's plight. Without Bramble's help she would never have gotten the vet in time to shorten his suffering and give him a kind death. Hard to be sure what the cat heard, perhaps Tarby's companion Pippa was vocalizing her distress.

The cats also have a vocabulary for things they can see out the window. They show interest but not agitation if there is a squirrel or chipmunk on the patio. Cats can tackle such animals, but a squirrel can put up a good fight. My cats have never been outdoors, and don't know squirrels are scrappy biters from experience, but I think they sense it. Birds provoke a different response " a flattening to the floor, a lashing tail and a "chatter" noise that is fascinating. You would think this noise would alert a bird to a predator, but perhaps the feathered ones interpret the sound as a strange kind of bird. It does sound more like a bird than a sound you would think of as a cat vocalization. No matter, when the cats are watching something on the patio, I know what it is without looking out the window. All I have to do is look and listen to Beeker, Spanky and Pissy Pants to know what is outside.

Betty the horse usually only vocalizes when she wants food or sees another horse. But her body language is rich in content. A posture with head and ears alert and eyes locked in a prolonged stare usually means she has spotted the "forest horses," (deer) which fascinate her. I can look out the window and tell if she's relaxed, tense, afraid, annoyed or even bored (that means hanging over the top of the fence looking around for some entertainment.)

But oh, the dogs. Dogs are pack animals by nature, and good communication skills are critical to pack animals. The range of sounds they make " barks, yips, howls, growls " and the body language " tail wagging, hackles up, stiff legged postures, cowering, ears up, ears flattened in aggression, hard, piercing stares and soft, relaxed faces. They love to smile, big enthused smiles. Wolfgang is part husky, and he has the widest range of vocalizations I've ever heard. "Singing the songs of his people," I say. There are numerous funny video clips of husky and husky-mix dogs "talking" to their people on the internet, and I get treated to this kind of an amusing vocalization every single day.

Since we've moved home to Wisconsin, I spend a lot of time walking through the woods with the dogs and have begun to understand even more of their messaging. I can follow along with the story they are telling me as we cross the creek. Something was there last night, hopping from stone to stone above the water level. Here is the spot it paused on the bank, perhaps to look for frogs. A raccoon, almost certainly, although I see no tracks.

There are numerous holes in the ground along the trail. The dogs check each one. Nothing in this one. No activity at the next. Suddenly at the third hole, Ivy freezes, then lifts her upper body up and pounces on the hole, beginning a frantic digging. The occupant is at home and is a prey species. It's not a snake or reptile " they don't trigger the dogs like mammals do. Too small of a hole for a rabbit or raccoon, but a small mammal of some kind " you can't fool the dog's nose. I make her leave the poor hole occupant alone, although she wants to dig all the way to Asia if necessary to root out the quarry.

The next morning, we were walking on the trail when both dogs snapped into a U-turn and started sniffing the bark of a big tree. Recent squirrel escape route? No, their reaction was much more intent and serious. Up and down the bark, then across the ground a couple of feet where there was a pile of black fur I never would have noticed. Too long and way too much hair for the black squirrel that resides in this area " it was probably the bear that dismantled our bird feeder a few weeks ago. Scratching his winter coat off on this nice backscratcher.

This message from the dogs helped me learn something I would not have known without them. The left-behind bear hair would soon have been carted off for bird or rodent nesting material - and I walked right by it the first time without seeing it. But the dogs let me know it is likely the big bear is still in our neighborhood, something we have been wondering about, and he or a friend had passed this way relatively recently. The dogs told me the story, and I thank them for pointing it out to me.

Do I talk to animals? Of course I do, because they talk to me.

Take care friends. Enjoy the great outdoors; while remembering that the "hidden enemy" virus continues to lurk, and it travels well too.

Songs stuck in my head: "Peace Train" by Cat Stevens AND "Imagine" by John Lennon. Both a beautiful vision of a better world filled with people peacefully cooperating and actively caring about one another. Hopes for a kinder, gentler world, starting with me.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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