Speechless in New Jersey: What laryngitis taught me about my relationship with my dogs and cats

I leaned back from computer, stretched, looked over at Tucker curled up in one of the dog beds in my office and said, “Well, don’t you look comfortable.”

At least that’s what I intended to say. What came out sounded more like, “”Squeak, cough cough, eek!’

My voice was gone. I suppose I lost it somewhere, but I swear I had it just a few minutes ago. Tucker lifted his head. I tried to squeak speak again.

Whatever cold virus had taken up residence and multiplied exponentially within my corpus, had also determined that my larynx was a great place to hang out. I had been silenced by a microbe.

A trip to the doctor and the pharmacy equipped me with cough and asthma medications, some slippery elm lozenges and instructions to shut up. Though my internist put it in much nicer terms.

Throughout the next few days, I spoke as little as possible. At first it was a necessity, as I was unable to make more than a few sounds at a time. Maybe two words if I was lucky. Sometimes I’d squeak out a few more, but then I could feel the thickness expand in my throat, and the rest of my words escaped me.

Resigned to temporary quietude, I figured the fastest way to get my voice back was to stop speaking completely. I didn’t think it would be that hard; my son spent most of his day at Rutgers, my husband was at work. I emailed my clients and customers so they knew I was in silent mode. I didn’t pick up the phone if anyone called.

It was just me, my dogs and my cats. It would be easy to stay silent.

Or so I thought.

Elsa Clair says a lot with her eyes.

Elsa Clair may seem as cool as her green eyes, but she can be very warm and snuggly.

Then I realized…

I couldn’t say, “Good morning, doggies!” when I woke up.

I couldn’t say, “Who’s a sweet kitty?” at my first glimpse of Elsa Clair.

I couldn’t say, “Cut that out!” when Calvin and Athena began their pre-breakfast swatting practice.

I couldn’t say, “Release!” to Lilah, Jasper and Tucker to let them know they could stop sitting and start eating. Thank goodness I had trained them on a hand signal as well.

And that was just the first morning. Throughout that day and the next, I realized just how much I talk to the animals.

Instead of “Want to go outside?” I had to jangle some leashes and open the back door; my dogs figured that one out right quick.

This is Tucker's expression any time he hears any sentence that begins with, "Do you want...?"

This is Tucker’s expression any time he hears any sentence that begins with, “Do you want…?”

“You like chin scratchies, don’t you?” I wanted to say to Elsa Clair, as she lay curled up and purring in my lap. We both had to make do with extra scratchies.

I would have complimented Athena’s soft fur glowing in the sun, but instead I delivered some head rubs and butt ratchets as I walked by.

For Tucker’s daily metronome barking, my only recourse was to determine through which window he saw the Barkable Thing, and distract him by throwing a stuffed rabbit — at least I think that’s what the pelt-like scrap of disemboweled fake fur used to be.

My love bug Calvin climbed up on his favorite perch — my shoulder — and rumbled loudly in my ear. I leaned into his head bonk and said nothing.

Instead of working up the anticipation for an awesome belly rub — “Oh, I have to get that belly!” — Jasper just had to smile and enjoy the sudden attention.

While Lilah and I really wanted to discuss the pros and cons of squirrels versus birdies, we had to content ourselves with simply — and quietly — watching them through the family room window.

Look deep into the soul through Lilah's expressive eyes.

Look deep into the soul through Lilah’s expressive eyes.

And when I did my nightly cat inventory, Dawn did the talking, hopping down from her perch in Aaron’s room, offering commentary as she came to greet me.

During the course of a given day, I tell my dogs and cats I love them. I ask them what they want. I discuss their needs. I offer guidance. I comment on their surroundings. I enquire about their interests. I share my thoughts.

They respond with wags, licks and sighs. They purr, rub and bump heads.

They offer snuggles. They invite intimacy.

They call for me with mews and merows, snorts and woofs.

Their eyes make requests, tell stories, ask questions, offer comfort.

So in my enforced muteness, I had to be more like my dogs and cats. Where few words were spoken, so much was said.

All it took was my own silence to understand.

Athena's even stare is al look of love.

Athena’s even stare is al look of love.

How much do you talk with your pets?

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18 Comments on "Speechless in New Jersey: What laryngitis taught me about my relationship with my dogs and cats"

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  1. jan says:

    I’m afraid I’m guilty of constant babbling to them. I’ve never had a vocal problem. But they seem to understand and appreciate what I say, so I probably will continue unless I get laryngitis or something.

  2. suzanprincess says:

    I talk to my three cats all the time, and they listen and often respond, sometimes orally. “Who wants a snack” guarantees at least two of them instantly appear.

    My granddogter rarely barks, but when I go to visit her she grabs her favorite squeaky toy to tell me audibly how excited she is that I’m there, as she does with her Papa every day when he gets home from work. I guess if I become speechless I’ll have to get a good squeaky toy!

    • A squeaky toy in the mouth certainly helps express a lot! My dog Tucker often greets me at the door carrying whatever he can grab — usually one of the stuffed animals lying around. And he loves to squeak his ball.

  3. I think I talk to them more than I realize. It would be hard to lose my voice for sure!

  4. I am always talking to my gang. I think they understand me a lot of times, and even talk back. But you’re right – so much can be said through expression and unspoken communication. The bond of love – though it can consist of talking, it is not always required <3

    • So true. Sometimes my cats and I talk to each other. They meow and I meow back. I have no idea what I just said in “Cat,” but I think they agree! And you’re right about love; there are so many ways to express it.

  5. Sandy Weinstein says:

    i talk to them all of the time. even if i am on the phone, i talk to them and the other end ask me who am i talking to. they may not talk back in human language, but dog talk, my youngest talks constanly to me. she has been a talker since she was born, not barking, but just little little sounds.

  6. Emma says:

    With my senior sister going deaf, it has really changed things for Mom and how she deals with her. No matter what hand signals she uses, she has to talk too even though Katie doesn’t hear. It’s amazing how well Katie understands things as long as she is looking at mom.

  7. Mum is a real chatterbox, and as she’s a teacher as well, losing her voice would be a real nightmare for her ! We hope your voice is back now ! Purrs

  8. The mom talks with us all the time…and we’ll even answer back. We hope you’re feeling better soon and back to talking with your gang.

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