Our dog recently celebrated his 10th birthday.
It wasn't really his birthday, of course. We don't know when he was born, or where or to whom.
We celebrate the day we brought him home from the humane society with a GPS chip, a reputation for destroying toys and a play drive that's stuck in high gear.
Observing Pip's birthday -- my husband bought him a cheeseburger -- reminded me how frequently we speculate about our dog.
"Suppose Pip could talk?" we often wonder. If you have a dog, you may have wondered this yourself: Your dog, just as he or she is, but with the power of speech. Desirable? Or a nightmare?
If you think I'd choose talking dogs, forget it.
For one thing, that play drive I mentioned?
Let Pip spot a toy across the dog park and he'll star in a dramatic scene worthy of an Oscar nomination.
First he barks at the enemy object for 10 minutes while bouncing around the circumference.
Then he ramps up the suspense by approaching and jumping back! Approaching and jumping back! Finally, he creeps up slowly, growling low, and ... snatches that sucker, because that's the kind of hero dog he is.
There follows a happy interval of toy dominance, which ends when he suddenly lets the toy drop from his mouth to the grass and looks at it as if it had just insulted his mother. He leaps up and away.
He circles it, barking. He approaches and falls back. The whole thing repeats itself, in other words.
Now, imagine all that with commentary.
"Watch me! See that thing? It's a scary thing! But I'm fierce! See how fierce? I growl! I crouch! See me growling and crouching? Hey! I said, 'See me growling and crouching?' Watch me now. Are you watching? Are you? Well, watch. Here I go, creeping, creeping ... Hey! Are you watching me creeping?"
Twenty seconds of this and I want to clutch my ears.
"I see you already!" I want to say. This would be completely unlike the sweet nothings I usually murmur to this dog.
But choosing when I talk to him, what I say and how long I say it is entirely different from listening to him yap his head off all day.
The very fact that I just referred to my beloved Pip as "this dog" will tell you what a deleterious effect talking would have on my relationship with him. Give me even one day with that chatterbox and I'd be begging him to shut up.
And this is assuming his voice is pleasant.
I have no idea what a pleasant dog voice sounds like, though it's easy to imagine several unpleasant types.
Squeaky, for one.
Whiny. "I can't find my baaaaaaaaaaaaall. Why did you steal my baaaaaaaaaaaaall?"
Now think about walks. Pip already expects to devote a half-hour to sniffing each square inch of ground we cover.
Were we also to chat with every person we encountered, we'd have to pack overnight bags for any walk undertaken after 3 p.m.
Furthermore, I strongly suspect a talking Pip would not be inherently tactful: "I love your breath; it's so putrid. Also, the house you live in has mice; I can smell them all over you. Do you ever change your socks?"
Finally, Pip would forever be falling into conversations with other dogs, leaving my husband and me to stand first on one foot, then the other, waiting for them to wrap it up so we can move on.
I won't attempt to imagine the humiliating dog-to-dog discussions we'd overhear, but you and I both know smells are their favorite topic, and the lingering aroma of Brussels sprouts would be the least of it.
I'm just as happy, then, to see scientists cloning entirely new animals instead of working on the vocal cords of animals already here. If they ever decide to give a dog-loving world talking best friends, we must creep up on them very, very slowly, growling deep in our throats.
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.