Animal talk not just for Dr. Doolittle

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

I was having a conversation with my dog Flint the other night in which we were both excitedly discussing the events of the day. We have lots of special moments like that, just a boy and his dog. But animals and the people who love them are often misunderstood.

“Get off the floor and quit barking like a dog. What will the neighbors think if they see you chasing your tail?” begged my wife.

What she overlooks (actually she laughs at it) is my innate ability to talk with the animals. Unlike Dr. Doolittle, though, I prefer the animal dialects. I figure only a crazy person would think that a German shepherd could learn English. It was probably hard enough for him to learn German. I prefer to communicate with him in barks, whines and growls — a language he knows well.

My ability to talk with the animals embarrassingly slipped out one day a few years ago when one of my coworkers caught me standing in the parking lot out front carrying on a conversation with the marmot who lived across the highway from the newspaper. This impolite coworker interrupted a conversation with the whistle pig about the horrors of traffic on the highway and the grief and fear he felt after watching a neighborhood skunk turned into a black and white flapjack a few weeks previous.

My prowess at animal calling goes back even farther than my formal schooling, to 4 or 5 years of age down on the farm. Granddad had been a dairy farmer for a good part of his life but by the time I was out of three-cornered britches he only kept a few nurse cows. I remember walking out to the field with him in the evening to call the cows to come nurse.

“Suuuuuuuuuuck, suuuuuuuuck, suuuuuuuuuuuuck,” he’d holler. I eventually perfected it well enough to call them on my own, though I never had the volume granddad possessed. I’ve offered to demonstrate this skill from the patio in our back yard but my wife has declined for some reason.

Hogs were easy to call with a simple pig, pig, pig. It helped if you were also carrying a bucket. Chicken noises were just a novelty call around the farm, only handy when daring my little brother to do something. Sheep are too stupid to call.

One of my first wildlife noises was probably a bob-white quail. I also learned meadowlark and mourning dove sounds, blue quail calls and coyote howls and yaps. That was about the extent of the sound-producing wild creatures roaming the vicinity of my childhood stomps. Well, there were rattlesnakes, but I learned pretty quickly that nobody much appreciated a good prairie rattler imitation offered up while moving irrigation pipe.

As I got older and began to hunt and fish a broader area of eastern New Mexico, I began using various store-bought calls.

One call you want to use carefully around the house, especially if you have cats, is a varmint call. The high-pitched varmint squeal, besides driving wives and mothers over the edge quickly, will immediately transform a lazy Siamese cat into a killing machine. I’ve got the scars to prove it, after our old Siamese attempted to claw the call from my fist one night many years ago.

The call I remember best was the little diaphragm bird call several of us passed around in eighth-grade humanities class one day. Just as the teacher thought she had the culprit pinned down, the call would sound from the other side of the room. Finally she just stomped her foot, screamed and ran from the classroom.

Karl Terry is managing editor for the Portales News-Tribune. He can be contacted at 356-4483, ext. 33. His e-mail address is: