Our Shetland sheepdog, Mollie, is a talker. She has something to say when the mailman stops by (hi-hi-hi), when squirrels cross our yard (run for your lives!), and when we eat our meals (oh, pretty-please?). I know what every yip and howl and whine means. She doesn't seem to understand me, however, when I utter these three simple words: "Please stop barking."
Though she is usually vocal, Mollie also employs expressive gestures. She sits at the window and looks outside, then at me, then outside, and then at her leash, and then outside. I know what she's thinking, and she probably knows what I'm thinking, too.
Mollie: I'd like to go for a walk. Just a short walk.
Me: You mean you'd like to go on a walk so short it's hardly worth the effort.
Mollie: Yes, please.
Mollie does not have wanderlust. Like many shelties, she prefers to stay close to home. She would be happy to walk up and down our sidewalk all day, but if we meander more than a block away, she grows fretful. She turns around and tugs on her leash, and if that doesn't work, she begins to limp. That always concerns me, and I bring her straight home, where the limp mysteriously disappears.
I take Mollie on short walks, but when I leave for longer hikes, I tell her, "Sorry, I'm going on a long walk, and you can't come." Unfortunately, Mollie only hears - or chooses to hear - the words "walk" and "come." She is annoyed as I head out the door without her.
So she gets even.
When I return home from my walk, she is sprawled on the couch, looking satisfied. Sometimes I find shredded paper on the dining room floor. Other times she has amused herself with the kitty litter in the bathroom (I won't go into specifics). Or, if I've forgotten to close my bedroom door, she has removed a ballpoint pen from my nightstand, gnawed on it, and left it on my bed, as if to say: "This could have been worse."
We both know this is true. Mollie once destroyed my favorite pen, leaving a large ink stain splattered across my bedspread, as well as her mouth. I was so upset about the mess that she never resorted to such drastic action again. She does, however, often leave a slightly nibbled pen on my bed.
Her message is clear: "I have spared you only through the goodness of my heart."
Actually, Mollie does have a good heart, and most of the time we understand each other. No words are needed when I come home sick or overwhelmed by the world. She curls up beside me on the couch and offers unconditional friendship and affection.
I hug her close and spill out my worries, and she listens to every word. She doesn't understand the words, but she listens.
She knows what I mean.
And when she looks at me with her soulful brown eyes, tongue lolling out of the side of her mouth, I know what she means, too: "As soon as you're feeling better, will you fix supper? What is for supper, anyway? Can I have some of your food tonight? Yours tastes better than mine. And, after supper, can we go for a walk, just a short walk? Just once around the block?"