| Every family has its secrets. I’m sure that sentence alone has brought yours to mind. Maybe it’s the black sheep of the family who literally thinks he's a sheep. Or maybe Grandma Helen met your grandfather performing at his bachelor party for a wedding that never came to be. But not all family secrets are hidden out of embarrassment, sometimes, as in our case, it's out of necessity.
Our secret is necessary because it's so unbelievable. I've spent years not only keeping it to myself but making sure my children don’t let it slip. Living life in constant fear became the norm. If anyone heard us speak of it, they'd surely think we're crazy. I’m not one to usually care what the world thinks, but sanity is an important aspect of society. However, after all this time, I find I must speak of it or my mind will undoubtedly scramble. The truth shall set you free? Well, free me, baby, free me!
I have a talking dog. There, it's out in the open. Sure, bark if you will. I mean balk if you will. I’m not implying he yips “hi” if I hold his mouth just right and squeeze. My dog, Joe, speaks in complete, intelligible sentences. He even has a slight Southern accent which is odd since we reside in Minnesota, and he’s a German Shepherd. I’m sure you either don’t believe me, are wondering if I’ve missed my medication, or are curious to how this happened. Let’s start with the latter.
I don’t know why Joe can talk. One day, I woke up and heard, “I’m hungry. I need food.”
I assumed it was my husband who had gone temporarily insane and forgotten I wasn’t his slave. Without raising my head from the pillow, I replied, “Get off your happy hiney and fix me some, too.”
The response made no sense to me. “I would, but I don’t have thumbs.”
This was how my husband and I were introduced to the fact Joe could communicate via human language. Joe couldn’t explain why or how; it was just a fact of life. Now, don’t think we took this nonchalantly; at first we both were convinced we had become so close as husband and wife that we had gone insane at the exact same moment in life. We began to swear off drinking and all other vices in life until Joe calmly pointed out a glass of red wine was good for the heart.
Eventually, we came to terms with the fact that we had a talking dog. Our three children loved it, of course. They assumed we would be rich and famous, appearing on every talk show in the nation and abroad. Joe crushed those dreams. He made it clear he wouldn't be a freak show for some petty stand-up comedian. They could kiss his hairy hindquarters, and if we tried to force him he would play mutt, I mean mute.
Joe wasn’t finished surprising us. One day as my nine-year-old son was reading aloud to me with Joe resting his head on his lap, Joe corrected his pronunciation of the word “villain".
We froze and stared questioningly.
“What? You thought I could only read in German? I’m not stupid you know. In fact I’ve been meaning to ask you if that husband of yours could rig up a way I could turn the pages, I keep getting paper cuts on my tongue.”
“You read?” my son and I asked in unison.
“What do you think I do all day when you aren’t home? Watch soap operas and eat bonbons?”
After much hounding by Joe, my husband fixed a simple device that would turn pages by pushing a button. It was crude and bulky, but it worked. Joe was unstoppable now. He read everything he could get his paws on. Every genre held some interest to him. Our German Shepherd was a walking, talking fur ball of trivia.
This did create its share of problems. For instance, once my middle child, Shannan, came sobbing to me because Joe had shared that psychiatrists believed that middle children were less likely to succeed and more often to wind up in prison than the eldest or youngest child. Following this catastrophe, which is costing me plenty in therapy fees, was Joe’s phase when all he read was medical books. He had us all diagnosed with some obscure disease making even my husband paranoid.
The saddest day came when we arrived home to see Joe laying with his eyes closed on a book. He didn’t even look up as he begged, “Why? Why? Why?”
Not understanding, we knelt, petting him, trying to comfort him. My daughter kissed him gently, gasping in horror as she saw the book. We all then knew the source of Joe’s torture, Old Yeller.
It was time to “de-book” the house. I'm a firm believer in the First Amendment, but I couldn’t stand to see Joe depressed. “Where the Red Fern Grows, Pet Sematary, and The Fox and the Hound were hidden in the garage. Joe would be spared from these “classics.”
Soon the library was my daily stop after work. I’m quite sure the young librarian must have thought I had a crush on him since there was no way I could be finishing all these books so quickly. Philosophy, fantasy, poetry, mythology, economics – it didn’t matter. Joe just loved to read.
The shock has worn off. We have a reading German Shepherd. He’s part of the family, and we love him. We have our secret. You have yours. It seems silly to me now to have kept this hidden for so long. After all, even if you think my family and I are crazy for claiming to have a talking, reading dog, Joe can do the research and find us the best mental hospital in the state.
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