Mouse Guard by David Petersen

I took the back stairs and wandered up to see a sparrow trapped in the stairwell, drawn like a moth to the alluring light of a window. It had possibly struggled for hours, so convinced by the mirage of freedom it couldn’t think to retrace its flight path. My sudden presence panicked it, and it resumed its attempts to escape through the pane of glass. Rapping. TapTeTapTeTapTap. Wearing itself out in a flurry of feathers before seeking rest in the branches of an artificial plant at the corner of the landing. With one wary eye on me, it was clearly more concerned with its human company than the 80’s dust-riddled decor.

Little Sparrow was probably thinking, “I’m trapped! And I have to sit on this awful 80’s plastic abomination. Could this day get any worse?”. Not wishing the sparrow further distress I edged around, forced the window open and redirected the bird back to its new escape hatch. The result was instant and the sparrow practically fell outside. It recovered to a hover, and lingered at the window a moment, fleetingly surprised by the suddenness of its liberty and in a blur of wings it chirped a kind of chirp that merged a “Thank you” and a “Holy crap, I’m free!” before disappearing.

I returned to work feeling entirely satisfied. A good deed done. And that little bird – it totally spoke to me. When my work colleague queried the smug look on my face, my story lost something in the telling and I began to wonder whether I’d imagined much of what I experienced. Did the sparrow actually swear at me instead? Was it merely calling to a friend?

I have a tendency to personify animals, I like to believe I know what they are thinking and I’m under the delusion I can act as some kind of interpreter – Dr Doolittle style. But I’m certain this isn’t all imagined. My old dog used to flop at my feet when she was covered in buzzies (those spiky seeds that get caught in your pet’s fur) in a “please remove them” gesture. I could tell the difference between her stranger-bark and her let’s-play-ball bark. And my cat has a lot to say. He only needs to meow and I understand when he’s hungry (actually, he’s always hungry), or wants me to adjust my legs so he can hop onto my lap. And I hear his objection when I move him off my lap.

We always shut the cat up at night and encourage him to his bed with an enticing treat. One night last summer he resisted. He’d come to enjoy the sweltering hot conditions in the loft room (our cat seems to love it too hot) and even with the temptation of biscuits he was a bit, “Meh. I’d rather be up here”. So one night we let him be, risking his nocturnal-mode and a 3am wakeup call. But the night came and went. The sun rose. My husband and I looked at each other in the morning and wondered if the cat was okay. Hubby went upstairs to check on him and the cat trotted to meet him meowing something that sounded a lot like “Oh my God, where have you been?!” apparently confused by the change in his nightly routine.

c2d4818bf93d16dedca8189c683e410dWell, that’s my interpretation, but I wonder how often I read him wrong. I saw a cartoon a couple of years ago that featured a dog attempting to stare his owner awake because he wanted to go outside. With this method unsuccessful, in the next frame the dog tries telepathy with the thought bubble “Wake up, wake UP!” until, of course, the dog is eventually forced to bark.  In the final frame the owner takes his dog outside. The owner’s thinking “idiot dog” and the dog’s thinking “idiot human”.

Maybe I do get it wrong sometimes but I don’t think it matters, I don’t think it hurts to believe the world is a little like Beatrix Potter.


2 thoughts on “Anthropomorphism

  1. Worth waiting for! This was such a sweet post. I am just the same – I blame it on Enid Blyton. Well, I don’t have any pets to interpret, but I do like to anthropomorphosise animals, probably a little too much. As you say, though, I don’t think it really matters. A little bit more Beatrix Potter in the world is no bad thing. 🙂

    • Enid Blyton. Yes! Actually there are quite a few literary examples when you start thinking about it. They are mostly targeted towards children, but I like to think that also includes the young at heart. 🙂

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