'He Talks To The Animals!'

While walkin’ the dog on Saturday morning, I had two contrasting encounters with local animals. One was uplifting, the other dispiriting.

On reaching the road at the top of our track and deciding which route to take, an indefinable shape down to my right dictated my choice. I wondered at first whether a branch had been blown down onto the road. Then, as I got a little nearer and Alf picked up the scent, I realised it was a group of three small chevreuils – the white-bottomed roe deer that hide in the woods from hunters – idling on the road. There aren’t many cars along here at the best of times and they only bounded back into the woods when Alf took off after them. We see quite a lot of them here. We curse them for their ticks and cherish them for their grace and beauty.

On the home leg, coming down from the top meadow into our nearest hamlet, I spotted one of the white goats that live in the two crowded hangars, dumped unceremoniously by the big sliding door. The poor creature was as lifeless as a taxidermist’s creation. Past its sell-by date. No doubt the farmer would pick it up later and take it to wherever he normally takes the cadavers. In the UK now, some no doubt well-intended but misguided piece of legislation requires farmers to leave their dead animals by the side of the road until they are picked up by some animal-disposal agency. Sometimes they can lie there for several days at a time. I suspect that French farmers are more pragmatic.

I didn’t stop to study the goat. I prefer to pause for a chat to the living – on mornings when the door has been slid back to admit some air – rather than to linger on an ex-goat. I am not sufficiently philosophical about the great cycle of existence to face squarely up to death. Besides, the poor stiff creature was too obvious a symbol of the way we treat animals as commodities, to breed, trade and otherwise exploit until they have outlived their commercial usefulness.

That evening, I was talking to an old friend at a dinner party. I hadn’t seen her for a few months and learned that their beloved 15-year old dog had barked his last. We talked about the joy and pain of having family pets. Neither of us could understand individuals capable of announcing, I don’t like animals. It’s an attitude that seems to deny a whole magical dimension to life on earth. She told me about the time, as a young girl, when she got back home from boarding school to discover that the family dog was no more. Her stepmother told her, ‘I took it to the vet to put down; we didn’t think you’d mind’. Clearly a woman who neither likes animals nor understands young girls.

Debs and I have tried to refrain from giving our daughter advice about the type of boy to look for in life. Neither of us believes that stuff about never trusting a man whose eyes are too close together or whose eyebrows meet in the middle. Neither of us would ever forbid her over our dead bodies from bringing a gentleman of colour back here for dinner. One thing we always urge her, however, is to be suspicious of someone who doesn’t like animals. Personally, I think this is a surer criterion than my mother-in-law’s advice to her daughter that she should go for a man with a healthy appetite. (I believe she was referring to food.)

Not that we really think there’s much chance of The Daughter hooking up with a chap who cares not for animals. The other day, she sent me a text to say: I’ve just seen a dog with its head on its master’s lap. It was the sweetest sight. It reminded me how much I miss Alfie. Please tell him that I miss him and I love him and I haven’t forgotten him. I replied to the effect that he was very unlikely to forget her. Our dog has an elephant’s memory for everyone who even visits this house. She then explained: I never question it! It’s just that I needed to voice it, he’s one of the most special beings in my life and I hope he knows it and doesn’t think that I’ve abandoned him or that I don’t love him. Even allowing for the customary ‘drama-queenliness’ inherited from her mother, I was touched by her depth of feeling. It made me think back to my first close encounter with death, soon after I’d gone away to university, when our family cat, Sylvester, had been ‘put to sleep’. At that age, in fact at most ages, it’s devastating.

I asked my friend what their dog had died of – with half a mind, I suppose, to what we might one day have to face up to with our dog. It was a tumour; the Big C. The vet had told her that she would know when it was time to act. Their dog apparently became very dependent, but wasn’t in any evident pain. And then, one day suddenly, he went off his food and lay down on the floor and looked at her with an expression that told her clearly that the time had come. The vet came over and did the necessary.

It’s true. When you share your life with another creature, you do know. If you’re in tune with the birds and the bees, if you talk to your animals even though they can’t talk back to you, there’s no mystery to it. It’s like that splendid old Tango advert: You know when you’ve been Tango-ed! It’s simply that you understand them well enough to appreciate when something is really wrong. Just a matter of common-or-garden empathy. ![](upload://vk0HqfIRrvIu0MD30RP4i8T3U4k.jpg)

Twice in his life, Alf has been infected by pirose, a potentially fatal malady carried by ticks, those vile little blood-suckers that seem to serve no purpose whatsoever. Both times, within about half an hour, it was quite apparent that something was up. My friend told me that their gums go bloodless and they lose all strength in their back legs. Even though I didn’t know this at the time, it was obvious from his comportment and expression that he needed urgent help. So both times we were able to get him to the vet in time for an antidote.

Of course, he’s now terrified of Valérie, our vet, whose one of the nicest, softest women ever to have donned a surgical green housecoat. It doesn’t seem right and we remind him that she saved his life not once, but twice. But that’s the way it goes. Like Dr. Doolittle, Valérie, talks to the animals and it’s very reassuring that she does. We know that our household animals will be in the best possible hands when that awful time arrives.

Yes, Brian. You're right. First I want to get a safe home for hedgehogs up and running. Then maybe a donkey and a sheep for companion. Then chickens. But if they're all as sweet as Charlotte, maybe they should move up in the pecking order (arf, arf). I've got big fat Myrtle on my lap and I can't move. There's dinner to make, though, so I'm going to have to dislodge her. One hates to disturb these adoring creatures. Happy Christmas, Brian!

Go for it Mark. Years back when I had bantams, there was one known as Charlotte (corny, OK, OK) who was very tame and would come and sit up against my chest like cats sometimes do. I most certainly used to chatter with her for hours and she would make a gentle boock-boock clucking back. The downside was, be warned, needing to change after because they are constantly pooing and chicken's feet are usually filthy.

That's lovely, Nola. I'll remember that when eventually we get round to having chickens. Though, fortunately, I very rarely feel the need to express such sentiments about my delightful wife. Perhaps I'll end up telling her that the chickens are chiante. Have a lovely Christmas!

Ooh, missed the rest of my comment - love your blog Mark.

We used to have a neighbour who used to come down to his chicken run and moan about the wife to the hens. We'd by lying by the pool and this gauloise-laden voice would suddenly rumble out from amongst the birds on the other side of the fence "Elle m'enerve, elle est vraiment chiante....."

Thanks Jon, a voice that can charm the knickers off a nun thats me, some train with a big stick others do it with trust and respect i was taught that a long time ago be it with animals or a squad of men

..liked your post John Alcock (love the name...even better than mine !...only joking! ).Your sentiments of healing/calming animals with a recogniseable kind voice is spot on and so evidently natural.Wise and simple words understood by all animal lovers.I also liked the 'repetition' !!!!....(makes me think of the old beeb radio programme " I havn't a clue ".....of 'looked a little sheepish"...nice! I'm sure it wasn't intentional..again, natural. Thanks for the comment John.

...Nice post,as ever,: I've always had animals and loved them.Cruelty and abandon of animals should be punishable at least by a large fine and beheading! I've had my mongrel ratier,Coco (Cosmik Debris...thanks Zappa) for four years.( see photo ).He hates other male dogs! ...supports females..chases cats and has a ' masculin French ' character : a ' mélange' of arrogance and superiority...most distasteful. Never easy for me(I do a demi-tour if I see another dog coming in our direction), but he's a great hund all the same and I love him. I talk to him all the time(don't we all)...same with the terrapins(had them for 15 years)....joyeux Noel Cosmik et à tous tes amis...

After over 30 years of working with the Old English Sheepdog Rescue nothing surprises me anymore as to how cruel a human can be to an animal, life without a dog is not worth thinking of i talk to all my dogs even the deaf one she knows i'm talking to her though she cant hear me , i did feel a bit of a fool the other morning when a neighbour heard me talking to the goats but i always say good morning and ask how they are i suppose i must have looked a little sheepish she went away laughing, an animal under stress for whatever reason hearing a voice he trusts will always respond, if something spooks the goats at night i go out and talk to them, knowing i'm there seems to calm them

Mark, thank you for the beautiful sentiments. All my life I have been "daffy" about animals, and wanted to save them all. My first kitten was a rescue, and when she had kittens we (my parents and I) kept them all. As an adult I started rescuing dogs -- my first one being a bichon frise. Well, almost 30 years later I am still rescuing bichons. My husband likes animals, and I think my love of bichons has grown on him. We presently have a 15 year old female who has all sorts of medical issues, none of which are currently live threatening. Add to that her age, and I know we will have to make a decision someday in the not to distant future. And, as I have learned from previous times, it is the hardest thing to do. In the meantime, we are enjoying our time with her. (She's always been "funny", and age has not taken that from her.)

Katie & Jerry Berard

An interesting post. Animals are even more rewarding when they are spoken to. From October to the end of January we have to do a seven hour van journey at least twice a week with five dogs in the back. Our new van has no solid partition between the cab and the caged dogs in the rear. This means I can now talk to Fen, Lizzy, Fergus, Anna and Isla, rather than my wife.

On the question of the dead goat, yes dead animals over 40 kg have to be put on the roadside for collection. Under 40 kg you can bury or burn the dead animal.

Thanks, all, for your comments and contributions. Brian, your tale of Minnie and Jo was heartbreaking. It happens so often. Careless, thoughtless human beans in their big macho killing machines. Roderic, your two will definitely pass muster. Kutski is just like our dear toothless Dizzy, who came out here from Sheffield with us to spend the last few years of his honourable retirement mainly on a director's chair beside the wood-burning stove. He was sitting with me at the table one day when he started gasping for breath and he went out the cat flap. I followed him out to find him dead in our neighbour's drive. We decided to lay him in state in our cave, so our daughter could say goodbye to him when she got home from primary school. We buried him at the foot of our garden. One day, Tilley had a friend to stay and we caught them both digging in the garden. Tilley had told her friend about our cat and the friend wanted to see him. We persuaded them that it probably wasn't a good idea. I have a framed photo of Diz by my record deck.

The cat is Kutski, Spaniel is Jess and Dalmatian is Oscar. All rescue, in fact 3rd Dalmatian &4th Springer. Would we pass muster.

Beautiful piece Mark Thank you

Your vet sounds lovely Mark, just ask her to take off her green coat now and again, it can work wonders as animals relate this coat to uneasy times!

Brian, Personally, I can only echo your sentiments -

"I have always talked to animals, often in preference to my own species.", they are so true!

Oh no! My husband definitely wouldn't pass your criteria. He's has a mono brow and a hard time with animals. The mono brow doesn't bother me but life without animals does. I can't figure out how I overlooked that fact before joining him here in France.

I know how you feel about the daughter's boyfriends. We had one nice enough young man that looked down his nose on Cassie as she is not pure bred. I was thankful that he did not last long! France is a good measure of their suitability. One ( now ex-) boyfriend found it 'boring' so he has long gone. He did not appreciate a lesson in cutting logs with the chain saw or long walks in the forest. Hopefully, one day her prince will come and I am sure he will love all our dogs, cats, rabbits and also my daughter!

We had cat, Minnie, she had a dog.

Minnie came to us as a rescue kitten a few weeks old. She was both a companionable cat and a great outdoor huntress. Jo was a rescue GSD from a shelter. Jo got his name from Jo the crossing sweep in Dickens' Bleak House. He didn't know 'nuffink', not even who he was. Minnie 'adopted' him. She could do what she wanted, he would never hurt her in retaliation but mostly it was basket sharing, nosey-nosey sniffing and so on.

One late evening I walked my dogs and Minnie followed, Coming back we had crossed the road, Minnie followed some distance behind. A speeding car went over her and somehow dragged her some distance. She came away dashed around in panic, eventually I got her and took her indoor where she succumbed to her injuries. I left her on a sofa. Jo stood there with his nose near her. I went to bed. In the morning her was still standing there with his nose against her. Until his last day we would go to where I buried her with him sitting beside me. I buried him next to her in his turn.

I have always talked to animals, often in preference to my own species. I know many people similar.

Writing this, thinking of Minnie and Jo still brings tears to my eyes. I wish I could talk to them both right now.