Once upon a time Packard learned to talk. He’d weaseled his way into a family, and spent a great deal of time with the younger children sprawled on him and watching educational programs that to Packard seemed about as interesting as grass growing between his paws. Occasionally a cat would show up and Packard would pick up his head, but for the most part he simply lay and let himself be scratched.
One of the children had a particular knack for finding Packard’s joyous, foot thumping spot, and on one occasion Packard let out a pleased “Wwww.” The screen was showing a W at the time, so the children all leapt about exclaiming what a smart dog he was.
Packard had never considered the value of speaking. He could speak to the family well enough. And he understood what they were saying perfectly. When he wanted to go out, they would either get on their plastic wrappings and his leash, or they would talk to him in soothing tones. Packard usually played it up because if he did his eyes dolefully they usually gave him a piece of hardened chicken that he could gnaw on for 0.3 seconds before swallowing it. Becoming brilliant by eating lab mice had done nothing for his appetite.
But with all the excitement, Packard got a piece of hardened chicken for his “w” grunt. More seemed to be coming, and he knew that if he played the game long enough all of that particular chicken packet would be his. The game Packard liked to play himself was to see if he could get the children so excited they showered him with his chicken and he could snarf it all up before the mother could come in from the kitchen to intervene.
So Packard was focused on the screen for the first time. The woman was saying “tomato” and Packard tried to copy it. What he got was “ouguhau.” It wasn’t that he wasn’t trying. Packard’s mouth didn’t work that way. So he got nothing. But looking at the his little child charges chatter away, Packard realized that he would like to tell them more than “feed me” and “I have to go pee.” So he started moving his mouth around every time he saw them talking, which was constantly.
Eventually this got him brought into the vet, because the mother thought he must have something stuck in his gums or maybe he’d had a stroke. Packard hated the vet and took enormous delight in soiling the man’s white coat from ten yards. He found that simply cocking his leg was enough to make the man duck-and-cover. The mother was thinking about having Packard spayed, and she spent most of the visit talking about that. Packard didn’t know what spayed meant, but he cocked his leg when the vet came too close.
So Packard learned to talk. The first time he talked, he was watching a dog on the program. Packard said “Dog” quite clearly, but none of the children heard him. Then when the dog barked, Packard barked. The children reacted magnificently. They leapt up and raced out to the kitchen to tell their mother that Packard talked. “He barked, mommy. He barked.” So Packard got a chicken treat.
He went for more, because little Brad had gotten a popsicle. Packard liked popsicles. They were cold and crunchy. So when Brad plopped himself down Packard turned to him: “Brad, me lick.” Brad looked like he was going to poop himself, which was a serious risk when you are three. He shoved the whole popsicle in Packard’s mouth, then raced out to tell his mother. Something told Packard that the mother wouldn’t like it if he really talked, so when she came back and asked him to talk, he just barked. But he got the whole chicken packet fed to him by Brad, so Packard was happy. The whole talking experiment had been worth it.
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