This Side Up

Singing for his dinner?


You must have had this happen: You sit down to dinner, pick up your fork and before you even get a bite, the phone rings.

In our case, it’s a 50-50 chance that it’s our daughter Diana, who has just gotten out of work half a country away in Jackson, Wyoming, and is on her way to the market. The rest of the time, it’s a telemarketer, the Republicans or the Democrats looking for money or somebody doing a survey.

We let those calls ring and ring until they go into the messaging system where the callers don’t even bother with a message, which is just fine.

But how is it that the callers, and Diana for that matter, know that we’ve just sat down? I don’t have an answer but I can tell you one family member has had enough of these interruptions. He doesn’t even wait for the caller ID to blurt out the name in a computer generated voice that might have passed as high tech on Star Trek, but is lacking for today.

With the first ring, Ollie is on his feet, ready to voice his complaint. By the second ring he demonstrates signs of aggravation. After all this is interrupting an important event – dinner – and seemingly he knows the more we talk the longer it’s going to take from him to get the scraps.

Then he lets loose with a piecing howl. Our tree climbing spotted coonhound knows his stuff. This is not a single call, but more of a yodeling, a prolonged modulating yowl that like nails scratching on a blackboard sends shivers down your spine.

Carol and I could barely hear the caller ID. It was Diana. We were going to answer this one, although if it was a telemarketer I would have been tempted to put them on with Ollie. He surely would have put an end to their calls.

I tapped the button to answer and put the call on speaker. Our hound wasn’t done. He went into a second chorus, even louder than the first.

“Hi Ollie,” we heard Dina say. I question whether he heard her. He was fed up with being interrupted at dinner even if it was a family member.

Ollie’s singing, if you want to call howling that, has developed since we adopted him from the East Greenwich Animal Protection League.

Singing happy birthday over the phone has become a family custom. Whether it’s a child, their spouse or a grandchild we ring first thing on their birthday to deliver our duet. As the phone rings, Carol hums to set us off on the right key and be sure to burst into song assuming the celebrant answers.

Ollie took an interest in this ritual from the start, cocking his head and giving us a quizzical look.

Was he imagining this was the call for the hunt? Perhaps. It wasn’t long before he joined in. At first it was a couple of short yaps – okay, I don’t know what this is all about, but if you’re going to sing, I’ll join you. Now we don’t make a birthday call unless Ollie is there, too.

How that went from being part of the chorus to voicing off at the phone I thought had something to do with his hearing. Was the noise hurting him, was the ring painful? But then wouldn’t he be howling every time it rung, not just at dinner?

No question he was articulating what we felt. Couldn’t the call wait until after dessert? He seems to know that, even take delight in letting us know this is annoying.

Finally, he gave us a break and I got to say hello to Diana.

“Are you having dinner?”

“Just sat down,” I replied.

“I should have known. I’ll call back,” she said.

“Bye Ollie,” she said.

He cocked his head, but didn’t utter a howl. Why would he?

I had already lifted my fork and he knew it couldn’t be all that much longer before he got to lick the plates. His plaintiff pleas had worked.


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