Letter from the Editor: April 2010

April 2010

Do pets dream? I think so. My only evidence of this would be the yelps and muffled barks our dog Gillian makes in her sleep every night. One moment she’s lying in the corner of our room, still as a bone. The next she appears to be in hot pursuit of some varmint or other, her paws flinching and guttural noises emanating from her voice box. It makes me wonder what’s going on inside that head of hers—though there are many things she has done that make me wonder that.

I haven’t looked into it, so I don’t know if any vets or pet shrinks have hooked up a cat or dog to sleep monitors to plumb the depths of their brains when at rest. But I would posit that dogs do indeed dream and that in their dreams they can do (and possibly say) all the things they wished they could have done (or said) when they were awake. Things like flying. Or catching that damn squirrel that keeps upsetting the bird feeder. Or finally getting my attention by announcing in a calm, clear voice: “If you fed me more, I would stop inhaling the cloth napkins.” I’m also fairly sure that dogs are menaced and flummoxed in their dreams by all the things that menace and flummox them when they are conscious. In Gillian’s case, that list includes cats, little white dogs, opossums, soap bubbles, snowballs, drums and cymbals, and thunder. I’d add nail guns but that makes me sound like a cruel owner. I’m not. It’s just that when we go for our morning walks, if any construction work is being done in the neighborhood and nail guns are in use, Gillian’s ears go flat and she immediately starts pulling me in the opposite direction. Regular hammers don’t seem to bother her. Go figure.

Gillian ruled the roost in our house until my daughter came along. At first the dog seemed nonplussed about being thrown over for the new little human. But as soon as she realized that the new little human threw a lot of food around, she became less standoffish. In the old days, it was not uncommon for Gillian to reveal her displeasure at the purported lack of attention being paid her way by acting out. Eating a one-pound box of chocolates, for instance, or savaging most of a spit-roasted chicken we’d brought home from the grocery store. (Neither of which had any discernible effect, by the way; we dutifully took the dog to the vet, fearing for her life, only to find out she has an iron stomach.) These days, she tends to hover close to our daughter whenever food is being consumed, the better to snap up whatever hits the floor. Somehow, using reverse dog telepathy, Gillian has also taught our daughter to give her treats for no reason. Often there is no reason.

This month, we put together a guide to happier pets, and by extension, owners. Whether you’re a cat person or a fish person or a dog person or a turtle person, we try to point you in the right direction. In our house, happiness is clearly a food-based commodity. Which is why it wouldn’t surprise me if Gillian is chasing giant roasted chickens and lamb chops in her dreams. Until she learns how to talk, I can’t know for sure. But it’s only a matter of time.

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