Chapter 38 — Taste of Fur and Baby Talk

Taste of Fur

          The squirrel was occupied with an acorn cache.  He forgot the First Rule of Squirreldom: always, always, always, stop, look around, listen.  Greta crept toward him, tail down, full attention focused.  He stopped digging.  She stopped moving.  He resumed digging.  She moved forward.  Closer.  Closer.

The dog exploded into a pounce.  The squirrel turned and raced for the fence.  Greta, inches behind him,  got a mouthful of tail fur as he scrambled up to safety.  The squirrel reached a tall tree and, presumably, turned around to check how much of his tail was still intact.

Greta stood gazing up at him, but she didn’t spit out the fur.  I suppose if you are the descendant of animals who ate what they could catch, and had to eat it fast before a packmate gobbled their share, you can’t take time to spit out the less desirable parts of your meal.

Still, from my perspective, a mouthful of fur would probably go down better with a bit of meat.  Or maybe some salsa.

Baby Talk

          The woman meeting Greta for the first time bent down to pet her and intoned, singsong, “Ooooh, oo’re so pretty.  Ooo are pretty girl, yes ooo are.”

Greta stared at her.  It was not the first time one of the naked apes had talked baby talk to her, and she  usually listens with grave dignity.  It’s hard to tell whether she likes baby talk, because her affection or dislike for any individual seems to be based on other factors.

Some men admit they talk baby talk to infants, their wives or their pets, but women seem more likely to be baby-talkers, at least in public.  My friend Mike never baby talks to Greta or any of the other dogs he meets along the pathways of Columbia.  But when he booms out, “Hi, Greta!” in his deep voice, she opens her mouth in a grin and dances with her tail fanning the air.  Her tongue comes out to lick his hand.  Memo to self:  the no-licking training needs work.

Why do people use that singsong, shortened or repetitive-word talk with pets?  It is formally known as infant-directed speech.   When they speak that way to human babies, there is some evidence that the baby talk helps a child learn language.  But I’m guessing you could talk to Greta in nothing but baby talk for a week, and at the end of that time, she still wouldn’t be able to say, “pretty girl.”

If Greta doesn’t object to the baby talk–and she  doesn’t seem to—I don’t object.  It doesn’t matter that she is six years old now, a mature, middle-aged dog.  Babies and dogs look so sweet and innocent, baby talk seems a natural thing to do.  Never mind that the sweet, innocent little critter may have just pooped in a diaper or gnawed a deep gouge in a table leg.

(c) 2011 by Donna Engle






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