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Animals Are Smart

This morning, as I stepped into the closet to select clothes to wear for the day, I instantly heard the sound of our golden retriever’s paws clicking on the hardwood flooring as she rushed toward the closet to stare at me. She waited for me to make my decision.

Let me explain.

Our dog, Cali, runs into the closet every single morning and smells our pants while we are dressing.

If I pull on a pair of worn sweatpants, she sniffs them, wags her tail and trots away knowing that I plan to work from my home office all day long. She’s fine with that decision.

If I choose a pair of dress slacks, she takes a sniff, gives me a look of deep betrayal, then retreats onto the bed and sulks. Dress pants mean that I am leaving the house for the day — without her.

If my husband puts on a certain pair of jeans, Cali smells them, then like a locomotive, she charges through the house to the laundry room door and repeatedly jumps upward on her hind legs like a horse in a motion we refer to as, “Hi Ho, Silver.” She knows that when Gene dons a particular pair of jeans that he is most certainly going somewhere in the truck, and she almost always gets to tag along — not in the back of the truck like ordinary dogs, but straddling the interior console of the truck like a child riding a carnival ride. Riding in the truck is one of her favorite things in the world, and to say she gets excited is an understatement.

I’ve reported this strange behavior to family members and friends.

“Cali smells our pants in the morning to determine what’s on the agenda for the day,” I’ve said.

They usually look at me like I’m in need of mental health counseling, but it’s true.

Those of us who have pets know that dogs and cats listen to our every word and watch our every move, looking for patterns in our behavior that will predict what we are about to do. They have mastered the art of interpreting our body language to forecast what will happen next in the world.

In other words, animals are much smarter than a lot of folks think they are.

Zot, a large male golden retriever who died a few years back, loved to ride in the truck, too. On any given day, I could sneak into the kitchen, and gently pull out the drawer containing our car keys as quietly as I possibly could, and he would somehow hear me and rush to the outside door. When our nephew, Alex, visited, he’d stand in the kitchen and pull the drawer open over and over again, just to watch Zot dash by like a wide receiver charging down the field with a football.

Our little blind cat, Crash, can somehow predict when he’s going to the vet for booster shots or to be boarded. I’m not sure if he can smell the cat carrier or if he has learned that if I go down to the basement (where I keep his carrier) and return a minute later, that it’s probably bad news for him. He retreats to his fort underneath our bed.

When I was growing up, we had a gray cat named “Puss” who stayed outside most of the time. Mom fed her canned food every now and then, and Puss connected the sound of the automatic can opener to meal time. When she heard the grind of the can opener, the cat ran across the yard and jumped high, perching onto the screen of the door and crying, which drove my mother crazy. Puss eventually ruined the screen with her claws.

Two years ago when my sister-in-law visited, I spelled out, “T-R-U-C-K,” in our conversation, like I was teaching a toddler how to spell.

She gave me a weird look and asked, “Why did you spell out, “truck?”

Like a bolt of lightning, Cali ran to the door and started her whole, crazy “Hi Ho, Silver” routine before I could warn her not to utter the word.

“We have to spell it out or Cali gets herself all worked up,” I said.

And the truth is this — Cali can spell now. I have to refer to the truck as, “that big green vehicle in the driveway.” So far, so good.

Cali will continue smelling our pants in the morning and looking for cues about the day ahead. Just because she cannot speak or read does not mean she cannot think. She’s an intelligent, remarkable being, and she sure makes life interesting.

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