суббота, 22 сентября 2012 г.

Signs of Endearment

By Janet Ann Collins

A dog can express more with his tail in seconds than his owner can express with his tongue in hours.
~Author Unknown

Entering the mailroom at work, I saw a new card on the bulletin board. "Deaf Dalmatian puppy needs a good home."
Just that week my new husband and I had decided to get a dog, and this one had to be a perfect match. I worked at a school for deaf children, and Charlie was an American Sign Language interpreter.

The people at the shelter told us Brenda's life had begun in a Kansas puppy mill and she'd been shipped across the country in a cage. Because the first owner had hit her when she failed to obey his spoken commands, his girlfriend took Brenda with her when she fled from the abusive man.

We brought the cute dog home to our San Francisco apartment and, being inexperienced with dogs, treated her just like a child. Because dogs naturally use body language to communicate, Brenda easily learned to understand more than 300 signs.

A year later we became foster parents to a young, deaf boy, and Brenda loved having her own human kid.

During the week Julian lived in the dormitory at the School for the Deaf, and one weekend a month he visited his birth family. The rest of the weekends, school vacations, and holidays he spent with us. Whenever he carried his suitcase out the door we'd tell Brenda how long he'd be gone by signing "bed, finish, one; bed, finish, two" etc. up to the number of nights he'd be away. If we didn't stop at "bed, finish, five" she'd turn her head away and refuse to look at us.

Brenda was not the only animal in our family for long. We gave Julian a mouse, the first pet of his very own he'd ever had. He named the mouse "Skunk" because it was black with a white stripe down its back. The boy would often hold and pet the little creature, feed it, and clean the cage responsibly.

Whenever Julian or other people Skunk liked held him, the mouse would show affection by wrapping his tail around one of their fingers. But he never did that with a stranger. When Brenda sniffed the mouse gently, he would touch his tiny nose to her large, damp one.

The friendly little creature hated to be alone. Sometimes at night he would squeeze between the bars of his cage and climb into Julian's bed. We'd find him the next morning sleeping on the pillow, snuggled next to his favorite human. But once in a while Skunk would get out of the cage and simply disappear.

Whenever that happened, we would sign, "Mouse. Where?" to Brenda, and she would lead us to the tiny animal, who was cowering behind a bookcase or cabinet, apparently lost and frightened. He always seemed grateful when we returned him to the safe familiarity of his own cage.

One summer afternoon I found Julian sobbing. He had discovered Skunk's cold body lying in the cage. I hugged the boy and tried to calm him.

"I'm sorry," I signed. "I know you loved Skunk. We all did. But mice only live a few years and it was time for him to go."

None of my efforts to calm Julian stemmed the flow of tears. His beloved pet was dead and he was overwhelmed with grief. Brenda also tried to comfort him, rubbing her face against his leg and licking his hand. She kept looking at me inquisitively as if to ask, "Why is he crying?"

"Julian wants mouse," I signed to her.

Immediately the dog ran out the open back door. She returned less than a minute later carrying a young field mouse. Brenda gently laid the mouse on Julian's shoe. Julian's tears turned to laughter as we watched the frightened little creature run, jump, and somersault down the back steps to escape into the yard. The dog had cheered him up when I couldn't.

Some people think dogs can't really understand humans and insist owners only imagine they can communicate with their pets. Too bad those people never met Brenda.

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