Otis the Talking Dog

Mom had always planned for five kids. At least. More if she was lucky. It did not work out this way for her.

When finally, after many years of planning, she became pregnant with my older brother, she was joyful. She wrote to the principal of her school giving him the news. I have that letter; joy screams in each word, each carefully composed cursive letter. Then, less than a year after my brother’s birth, she learned that I was growing in her belly. With this news, she was overjoyed. (I am probably still carrying a bit of that second child chip on my shoulder, but I’m going with overjoyed anyway).

After my birth, the baby-making gods fell into a deep slumber. Mom’s luck had run out.

Five years later: My sister. Born into a family that was already a unit, a boy, a girl, a mom getting ready to re-join the work force, a dad already working too much. Surprisingly, it was not difficult for my sister to define her role, for she was born with a special talent. She could sing and dance and speak — from birth. Barely home from the hospital.

It’s true.

Each night, my brother and I would lie in our twin beds, teeth brushed, faces washed. And we would chant: “Bring her in! Bring her in!” Always, she was brought in.

The doorway was the stage, the entrance was grand. The show would begin with “Ta da!” and end with ovations. Mom propped up her head, in those early months, until my sister could hold it up on her own. Mom moved her feet, her hands. When she got a little older, my sister sensed a performance in the making, and would wiggle and jiggle, kicking out those tiny legs in an irregular beat to the music hummed by the puppeteer.

Her squeaky voice was perfect. Directly out of mom’s mouth, her words, her comments, her songs were “channeled” through the one woman stage crew. But let there be no doubt, we communicated with the baby. Mom was simply the vocal chords. I have no idea if there was a larger plan to these nightly performances. If mom had hoped the silly dances would create a sibling bond, it was not obvious at the time. I do know she had as much fun as we did during this pre-sleep ritual. I remember.

The show closed without much fanfare. My sister started to talk on her own. She was less interesting and we were older. The tradition faded. And was mostly forgotten.

And this is one of the many reasons I love my dog.

Otis was also born into a family that was already a unit. Although I had hoped for a litter of children, a biological clock and a somewhat resistant husband determined the unit would be three. When the youngest was 8, Otis arrived.

Otis is a talking dog. He is my baby who will never grow up. He loves me completely and unconditionally and is happiest when I am somewhere nearby. There are many things to cherish about this sort of relationship. The talking is a bonus.

I cannot remember if he talked on that day we brought him into our lives, or if he learned the skill as he became more comfortable in his home. Otis has no other talents. He cannot roll over or play dead. Fetch a ball or catch a frisbee. He does not dance. He does sing, always off tune. When one of his brothers asks for his paw, he shouts defiantly, yet somewhat playfully, “Give me your paw!”

It’s weird. I know.

Otis’ conversations are far more sophisticated than those of that baby who once danced in my bedroom door. His audience is older and requires more intellectual stimulation. And it is harder to make them laugh.

He talks in a squeaky voice, a little brother voice. When the boys come home from school, from sports, from anywhere, they greet him. On his favorite chair. Deep in a slumber, he opens one eye when he hears the door. The eye looks at me. The channeling begins.  Rarely does he ask them boring questions about school or homework. He doesn’t care how well they do on tests or whether one scored a goal, another a basket. He talks mostly about himself. What he ate that day, what he smelled, whether he has gas. He tells them about his dog friendships and frustrations with his daily food allowance.

When I attempt to use Otis’ special talent to evoke kindness and tenderness between brothers, or to extract information that is not forthcoming, he is immediately called on it. “Otis,” they say. “That is not you. That is mom.”

When he is done talking, Otis asks for a snuggle. Often. He is never denied.

There are many traditions that hold great significance. This is not one of those. This one is for fun.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top