This Side Up

A birthday howl


Singing happy birthday over the telephone has become a family tradition. There’s good reason, of course. With my daughter in Wyoming and my son, Jack, in Hong Kong, it’s not exactly easy to celebrate birthdays in person. But even with Ted, who lives in Rhode Island, a telephone serenade has become a birthday ritual.

There was an occasion when we attempted to align everything so we could do it on Skype. That was fun but predictable. Much better and spontaneous is to pick up the phone first thing on the birthday morning and, as discordant as it may sound, for Carol and me to sing the familiar refrain.

But even that has changed. Ollie has joined the chorus.

I know you’re thinking this is absurd. This isn’t for real. How can a dog learn to sing happy birthday?

It’s the phone, I’m convinced.

Like most dogs, when not playing, sniffing (which seems to be a major source of enjoyment) or eating, Ollie spends a lot of time sleeping or simply resting with his eyes wide open and muzzle positioned between his outstretched legs. This is either the “I’m ready to be amused,” or “don’t bother me now” mode.

Deciphering between the two is as easy as asking, “Where’s your pullie?”

If his ears perk up at the word “pullie,” it’s a sure sign that he’ll jump up and start the search for his most favorite of toys, a well-chewed section of knotted rope. That’s the start to a game of tug-of-war and some hide and sniff. When I finally get the slobbery section of rope, I’ll hide it under the couch, between some cushions of even in a pocket. Ollie’s nose then goes into overdrive until he retrieves his pullie, at which point he prances about, tossing it up in the air, catching it and shaking it with menacing growls.

But if he’s in no mood for playing, the command “go find your pullie” is greeted with a few blinks, and if you attempt to interrupt his day dreaming he’ll complain with a growl.

Heaven forbid that the phone ring at such a time. He knows what to expect next – the computerized voice announcing the caller. That sets him off.

I’ve wondered if he could be picking up on our feeling of telephone interruptions, especially when we’re seated at the dinner table. Maybe he can’t stand that voice. He voices his objection with a sustained howl that often continues after we’ve answered the phone and the caller, in bewildered tones, questions whether they have dialed the correct number.

This could be the origin of his singing, although we’ve noticed with certain music, especially violins and vocals, he’ll throw back his head and let out a prolonged howl.

But get to happy birthday and it’s more than a howl. Last week, Carol celebrated her birthday, and predictably the kids called. Carol put the phone on speaker as choruses of kids and grandchildren kept the tradition alive. Ollie, whether ensconced in “his” couch or at his dinner dish, joined in. This was not merely a howl but a succession of howls, with a few yelps mixed it. At first his accompaniment brought startled questions of “is that Ollie?”

Now, whether we’re singing from our end or birthday wishes are being delivered from halfway around the world, Ollie is expected to chime in.


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