“Dere’s my widdle dahling. Wot you bin doing? Such a sweeetie!”
Don’t laugh or screw up your face in contempt. Most of us do it at one time or other (some of us, all the time). The habit of talking funny and adopting cute (or weird) voices to converse with our animals is remarkably universal.
From the cry of a legendary English dog training guru, when announcing walk time for her dogs in that high-pitched screech (“Walkies!”), to your own humble version of a funny voice, it just seems natural to adopt the most unusual intonations, pronunciations, vocalizations — call them what you will — when addressing our best friends.
The habit seems particularly prevalent when we converse with dogs, perhaps especially with smaller dogs, though I can think of at least one example with a Great Dane. “What duz my big boy want now? A luvvley bellee ruub … Oooh, izn’t dat nice!” You get the idea.
But cat people are by no means immune to the condition. I count myself a cat person and confess to using numerous alternatives to one of my cat’s names when trying to attract his attention. “Pusspusspuss,” “Tchk, tchk” and an impossible-to-spell squeaking sound made by sucking short bursts of air through my lips are some of my favorites.
And you should hear my wife when she’s away and asks me to hold the phone up to the ear of one of our dogs or cats so she can connect with them from afar!
Searching around for a reason for this strange but very common behavior, I can only conclude that it is meaningful, even endowed with significance. We do it sparingly with our own species, relegating it to very small babies and occasionally spouses or other loved ones.
But that doesn’t really seem the same. There is something about the relationship we have with our pets that brings out this completely different mode of communication in us. I believe it has something to do with their innocence and the dependent relationship between us. Innocence is a quality we humans lose very early in life. By the time we reach the “terrible twos,” it has substantially gone, appearing only fleetingly.
Yet, contact with innocence is of immense value to us. It dissolves our worries and stress. It can feel like the only quality that has true value in our troubled and care-laden lives. The experience of innocence raises us up and takes us to a different, much better place.
What an extraordinary gift from our animals! Is there any value that is greater?