I don’t think it would improve the situation much. People frequently ask me that and my reply is that "I wish they could roll up their sleeves." [Drawing blood from a vein hidden under an inch of hair is quite a trick.] I can make friends with animals. The problem is that I then immediately betray their trust. Everything I do ranges from merely annoying to frightening to downright painful. If they could talk to me, I think I’d be hearing mostly a lot of cussing.
Oh, sure, there are a lot of times I would really like to know how some bizarre injury occurred. That’s what brought on this discussion. I looked at a dog who has a history of intermittent lameness for about a year, and now he has a swollen, draining wound below his elbow. Actually, it’s below where his elbow used to be. On his X-ray, the lower end of his humerus and the upper ends of his radius and ulna (the parts of the bones that make up the elbow joint) just aren’t there. Of course, after a year, who the heck knows what has been going on? It’s a mess now, though.
I think that most of the time talking to a sick pet would be like talking to a sick two-year old (human). "What’s wrong?" "I don’t feel good." "Where does it hurt?" "Everywhere." Yeah, okay, that helps…NOT. I don’t envy pediatricians.
And what about the unconditional love and affection that those pets bestow on us, talking only with their eyes and their expressions? If they could talk, I’m afraid we’d hear a lot of stuff like "You smell like popcorn. I love popcorn. You smell good. I’m gonna lick you now… Yeah, popcorn." That would really deflate my ego. I prefer to think that my dog worships me.
Generally speaking, I think that pets understand us better than we understand them. Two of my favorite people-pet communication cartoons are from Gary Larson’s "Far Side". The first is a neighborhood of dogs, some on leashes, some in fences, some loose. The caption is "If we could understand dogs" and every dog is yelling "Hey!". They’re just yelling for the heck of it. The second is the old "what we say and what they hear". The owner is bawling out Ginger, who hears "blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah". I have that one in my exam room. Sometimes it makes people really mad. "My dog understands every word I say!". They understand a heck of a lot, but that’s not the point. The point is that they don’t learn anything from being bawled out. For them to understand what you want, you have to show them. Sometimes you show them without meaning to. Think how many pets can spell B – A – T- H. They can learn an amazing number of words, but they don’t get it from a lecture.
Oh, yeah? What about Lassie? She’s really smart. Stay tuned for my thoughts on Lassie.