Animals Do Talk. We Have To Listen

Animals Do Talk. We Have To Listen

Posted on October 31 by Shelley Peterson in Kids, Teens
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The human-to-animal connection is a topic that never ceases to fascinate me, and one that I explore in all my novels. In connecting with animals, my characters find strength and courage, and feel less alone as they face their problems. Just because animals don’t speak our language doesn’t make them stupid, and it’s our job to translate.

          In the Saddle Creek series, I go one step further. Alberta Simms, nicknamed Bird, hears what animals say very clearly, and transmits thoughts telepathically.

Charles Darwin said, “The difference in mind between man and animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.”

I’ve always believed that to be true, having been fortunate enough to be surrounded by animals my entire life. I learned as a child to observe them until I understood their behaviour, and believe that everyone has that ability to greater and lesser extent, even if we can’t communicate as well as Bird.

Physical issues are usually simple to understand. Scratching might indicate a skin condition or the presence of fleas in a dog. A horse will lift his foot to show you that it’s sore, or point his nose at his stomach if it hurts. We all know to avoid a snarling dog, a horse with its ears pinned back, or a cat with a swishing tail. And skunks altogether!

Emotional issues are more difficult, like when a cat claws ceaselessly at the furniture or a dog barks to go out then barks to get in, or begins to soil in the house. But there’s always a reason. It’s up to us to figure it out and not give up until we do, because the annoying behaviour is usually unwittingly caused by us in the first place, by misunderstanding the animal’s needs.

We can start by watching them, and being aware of their normal patterns of behavior, thereby quickly picking up when something changes. The sooner we understand the cause, the sooner we can do something about it. And the more entrenched the behaviour, the harder it is to change.

Watching my horses interact with each other out in the field gives me clues to the equine mind, as well as endless pleasure. For example, I saw with my own eyes that the herd never left my pregnant mare alone as she prepared to give birth. One at a time, the horses stood on guard at the fence, changing sentries systematically all through the night. Just when I’d think the mare was alone, another horse would casually appear from the dark. How they decided whose turn it was I’ll never know, but they demonstrated an innate instinct to look after each other when vulnerable. Had I been able to hear, they would be saying, “Don’t be nervous, Allegra. You’re not alone.”

One day, I witnessed how the instinct to help each other turned dangerous. An Appaloosa gelding named Aramis got his right hind leg caught in a wire fence. As he stood helplessly entangled, his three field mates stormed past at full gallop, back and forth and back again. The more Aramis struggled, the deeper the wire cut into his leg, but the horses continued to race close by, prodding him to try to run. It puzzled me as I ran out with wire cutters, and frustrated me as I tried to cut him loose because he wouldn’t stand still. It was extremely difficult to get him back to the barn with his bleeding and severely damaged leg, made yet more harrowing by the stampeding geldings. Only later did their motive occur to me. By running past him, they were inspiring him to keep up his will to survive. If I had listened, I would’ve heard them calling, “Come with us, Aramis! Don’t give up!”

Sir Galahad would knock his foot on the outdoor water tub if it needed re-filling. If I ignored him, he grabbed the hose and shook it in the air, as if to say, “Get it? We need water out here!”

Olivia avoided being caught one day when I wanted to ride. I had to chase her, and finally catch her with treats. I was irritated with her until I noticed a nasty odour coming from her right nostril. The poor thing had a sinus infection, which caused her a terrible headache. Had I listened to her out in the field, I would have heard her say, “Please don’t ride me today. I don’t feel well,” and avoided the whole event.

So, you see it’s not much of a stretch to give them a voice. They do talk, in their own way. Even when we get it wrong, they respect us for trying.

The universe opens when you take the time and trouble to interpret what your animals are trying to tell you. It’s a win-win, since they relax and become much happier when they feel understood. As Darwin said, they’re not that different from us.

Shelley Peterson

Posted by Dundurn Guest on July 7, 2015
Shelley Peterson photo

Shelley Peterson

Shelley Peterson is the bestselling author of several novels for young readers, including Sundancer, Christmas at Saddle Creek, and Jockey Girl. She raises horses at Fox Ridge, her family’s stable in Caledon.