Fran Edstrom

To foster better understanding


(12/21/2003)

"Oh, puh-leez!" said the dog-who-must-not-be-written-about when I told him about a new device I could buy that would translate his barking into words. It consists of a microphone and transmitter that attaches to the dog's collar, and a hand-held translator that has a digital readout of what the dog's bark means.

"It can translate your barking into one of 200 pre-programmed phrases," I told him.

"Hmm, as though a dog were like some stupid talking doll?" he said rather sarcastically.

"And, it has a Home Alone Mode, so I can find out what you're thinking when I'm not here!"

"Where's the phone?" he demanded.

"Oh, do you want to order one?" I asked.

"Are you daft, woman? I'm calling the ACLU!" he barked (well, not literally barked). "This is patently against the civil liberties of all American dogs! This is Big Brother at its worst! With the help of the ACLU, we will bring a class action suit that will be the [here he used a word that doesn't translate directly into English, and is best replaced by the word mother] of all lawsuits! There are over 60 million of us American dogs, you know."

"Please, please," I begged, "stop! You're practically foaming at the mouth. This is simply a device to help humans understand their dogs better."

"Oh, really, and I suppose that if the CIA put a wiretap on your phone, you'd just say they were trying to get a better understanding of the way your mind works? I don't think so, lady."

"I get it," I said. "You object to the Home Alone mode. You think that's spying."

"You can bet your bottom biscuit!" he said, "And I object to the rest of the thing, too. What if I'm out for a walk with you, and I meet another dog. We wouldn't be able to speak freely to each other. This is cruel and unusual punishment, permanent solitary confinement. It's a travesty."

"What could you possibly have to say to another dog that you wouldn't want me to hear?" I asked.

He gave me a long look.

"Do you remember when your kids were little, and you and John used to spell things out when you didn't want the kids to know what you were saying?" he asked.

I blushed a little, remembering.

"Well, yes," I said. "But humans are much more complicated than dogs. Take this device, for instance. They've broken down canine emotins into happy, sad, frustrated, on-guard, assertive and needy."

"Well, isn't that sweet! What about ANGER? I'm pretty angry right now! Where does that fit in?" he asked as he paced in front of the door.

"Do you have to go outside?" I asked.

"What about pride? What about pain? What about envy and love? You humans think you can reduce our emotions to six pathetic basics"wait, not even six, because sad is just the other end of the spectrum from happy! I pity you poor humans (what about pity?). You are such dupes. You'll believe anything you're told!"

"Well, it's not like you can tell much from a dog otherwise. You have such poker faces," I pointed out.

"And don't you think we've perfected that just so you humans aren't always talking to us the way you talk to each other." he said. "At least the way it is now, all you have to say is ‘oh, look at his tail' as if you would know what our tail signals are."

"Well," I said, "they've sold millions of these in Japan."

"Japan! Is that where this nonsense is coming from?" he demanded.

"Yes, a toy company makes them."

He laughed until tears started to roll down his muzzle.

"And Americans are going to buy this thing and think that the translations will be any better than your average assembly instruction sheet that comes with toys from Japan? That's choice." he said.

"Translations have gotten a lot better," I said lamely, remembering trying to put together toys on Christmas Eves of the past. "And I should think that you would be thrilled that humans want to understand what their dogs are saying to them. I mean, won't it create better canine-human relations? Won't it bring more peace to the world?"

"Listen," he said, lying down and crossing his paws in front of him on the carpet. "You and I talk all the time. In English. Do we have a more peaceful relationship because of it? No. All it serves to do is to leave room for more deeply felt misinterpretations and misunderstandings."

Maybe he's right. Life was a lot simpler before he learned to talk. And back then I thought he loved me unconditionally.

"Put that hundred dollars into some decent food," he said. "I bet that isn't one of the 200 pre-programmed phrases on that thing."

Scratch the Bowlingual bark translator off my gift list.

 

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