That dog in the insurance commercial's got nothin' on Ella

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I'm not usually home when our dogwalker comes to take Ella out at midday, but yesterday I was. Once a day, Ella gets a treat called an Oinkie, which is basically tube of a smoked pig skin wrapped around a sweet potato center. Because of how they look, Laura and I call them Ella's "cigars."

Fat cat robber baron Anyway, I was working in the study yesterday afternoon when I heard Paul opening the back door. Ella heard him too, of course, and came trotting into my office with her cigar in her mouth. She stopped by my chair, looked up at me, and set the cigar carefully down on the floor. Then she looked up at me again and scooted out the door to greet Paul. The implication was clear: Will you please watch my treat while I'm gone?

Or, as Laura put it in a text message when I told her what had happened: You are the keeper of her most precious items!!!

It's eerie how clearly Ella sometimes manages to communicate her intentions. It's obvious what she wants when she brings a tennis ball to one of us and wags her tail, but some more complex messages are just as easy to parse. Early one morning a couple of weeks ago, Ella came to find me in the study once again. She stood looking up at me and wagging her tail until I took notice of her, then turned and trotted to the door. She looked back. Okay, she wanted me to follow her, so I did.

Geometric bear She led me through the kitchen and out the back door, which was open. (We had left it open for her. She didn't do that herself!) She very deliberately bent her nose to the surface of the back deck, sniffed around for a second or two, pointed her face here and there, then looked up at me, wagging her tail.

Now, I happened to know that Ella had been chewing one of her cigars there on the back deck the evening before, so I knew what it was she was looking for. But even if I hadn't, I would have understood perfectly that something she had left in that spot was missing, and she wanted my help finding it. So, thus recruited into service, Laura and I spent the next five minutes scouring the apartment for Ella's missing cigar. When we found it, Ella grabbed it from me and ran out the door. She hasn't figured out yet how to put across the concept of "thank you."

For all that her intentions are sometimes so clear, there are many other times when she's trying to tell me something and I have absolutely no idea what. I often think of Ella as a furry little person instead of a dog, but on those occasions I'm reminded that it's an alien creature living in the house with us. I wonder if she's as confused and curious about all the odd things her alien housemates do and say.

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William Shunn

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on November 17, 2011 9:29 AM.

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