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  • Writer's pictureShawna Reppert

On Animal Communication

On Animal Communication

Published May 27, 2013 | By Shawna

Well, Samhain-kitty isn’t speaking to me or anyone else right now. (And, yes, I *do* think one keyboard disaster is reason enough for a permanent lap ban whenever her human is on the computer.)  So I figured it would be a good time to talk a bit about animal communication.  As someone who has owned a variety of animals over the years, one thing that amuses, amazes and sometimes puzzles me is watching the species interact.

My cats had already established rule of the house when I brought home a wolf puppy.  They wasted no time letting him know his place in the world, and even when he grew to outweigh them nearly ten times over, the kitties retained their dominion.  Which meant I had to come to the rescue when Morgan-the-cat entertained himself on rainy days by hanging out in Seamus’s crate (his den, his sacred hidey-hole) and played with his toys. Not that dog toys held any particular interest for Morgan.  He just liked to torment the wolf.

Sometimes Seamus would try to appease this superior being with tribute, offering Morgan his very-best soup bone.  Since he was wary of the wrath of his feline god, he picked up the bone in his jaws and tossed it to Morgan from a distance.  This worked out for him about as well as you might imagine.

My stallion, by contrast, seemed to accept Seamus as more-or-less and equal. Which meant that Celeborn wanted to demonstrate fellowship by grooming Seamus with his teeth.  Seamus accepted his attentions politely, though he was clearly intimidated by this hege creature gently gnawing on the scruff of his neck.

After my divorce, my living situation changed and Seamus went to live full-time at the farm shere I kept my horse. The farm dog taught him the property boundaries and about sheep (need to be protected) and coyotes (need to be chased off).

I was riding in the indoor arena shortly after Seamus came to live at the farm when I heard Seamus and the farm dog barking in the vicinity of the mare pasture.  Celeborn instantly came alert.  He wasn’t afraid of the barking– but he wanted to know what they were barking about.  He had accepted them as partners in keeping ‘his’ mares safe.

Animal communication, and especially animal-human communication, fan be especially challenging in fiction.  My werewolves have wolf senses and, to a degree, wolf instincts, but keep their human mind.  Lacking a human mouth and throat, however, they cannot speak, and so I had to find ways for my werewolf to communicate with Inspector Jones while they are on the trail of a killer.  Of course, the possibility for miscommunication can lead to some fun situations– like when Jones isn’t quite sure of the identity of the wolf he’s talking to,  leading him to say ” . . . God, I hope you are who I think you are, not just some beggar looking for scraps, or this is the most foolish conversation I’ve ever had sober.”

The miscommunications can also prove dangerous, especially early in their association before trust is built when Jones misinterprets an absent-minded growl, intended as ‘leave me alone, can’t you see I’m tracking’ and draws his gun on the werewolf.

Still, werewolf-human communication is nothing compared to communication between an elf and a horse, as in my published novel The Stolen Luck.  Where most writers get in wrong in interspecies telepathic communication is animals differ from us un more ways than lack of speech.  They think differently than us, prioritize differently, and have different attention spans.  I was determined that Loren’s horse, Devil, remain horse-like, which meant Loren would have to communicate with him on his own level, limited though such communication must be.  Nothing makes an equestrian throw a book across the room faster than a horse that miraculously becomes intelligent enough to understand instructions to go to the next town and bring back a doctor.

The world of animal communication is wonderful, diverse, and complicated, a joy to observe for its own sake, and absolutely essential to understand if you are a writer including animals in your fiction.

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