By Ben Fogler
I don’t have a lot of talents. This isn’t to say I don’t have a lot of skills, because skills are something you have to develop and practice a ton before they're of any real use. I don’t really have a lot of skills either, but that’s beside the point. When I say talent, I mean things that I didn’t have to work on but rather that I was born able to do. My talents include:
Wiggling my ears,
Being pretty good at dancing (at least I think so) despite having terrible balance and an utter lack of coordination, &
Inexplicably winning the love and adoration of every creature that crosses my path.
It’s this last one that I’d like to focus on. You see, I came into this world with a special gift. I believe I traverse this plane of existence with one foot in the animal kingdom, the other in the human one. It’s difficult to explain how this works, but imagine if, like, Harry Styles accidentally walked into a high school (not sure how he could’ve made this mistake, let’s just say he took a wrong turn or something). He would instantly be surrounded by hordes of teen girls. Now, replace Harry Styles in your mind with me, and replace the teen girls with various wildlife. That’s pretty much what it’s like for me on a daily basis.
Okay, okay, it’s not that intense. I’m not immediately mobbed by animals every time I step outside. That’d be crazy! It’s more so that, if an animal and I are in the same vicinity, that animal won’t be scared, and it’ll probably be quite curious and friendly towards me. I’m kind of like Snow White. Except I’m real. And also I don’t force racoons to do my laundry.
Now, you might think being an animal whisperer is pretty darn great. And it is, but not all the time. You see, I didn’t ask to be blessed with this ability, and every so often I’m beside myself with guilt. I love animals, but I just know there’s someone out there who loves them more, and the animals probably aren’t reciprocating. Doesn’t that person deserve their love more than I do? Why am I the object of every creature’s affections? Then I think about it for a little bit, and I realize that animals will like who they like, and if they all just happen to like me, well, who’s to say they shouldn't?
Another downside of my connection with animals is that I have to inform people about my gift in a way that makes it seem like I’m joking, or else people might think I’m annoying. Let’s say I tell you, dead serious, “Yeah, I’m actually super good with animals, to the point that I would probably say we basically speak the same language, except animals and I, we don’t need words. Our friendship is just that strong. But like, I never asked for this ability, it was just sort of bestowed upon me.”
You would immediately think I was suffering from a severe case of main-character syndrome. And, to be fair, a powerful bond with animals is probably the 3rd most common trait for a main character, after “tragic death of one or more parents” and “being totally disgusting until glasses are removed and one lock of hair is tucked behind the ear.” But I don’t think of myself as the main character! Not one bit! Fan favorite? Okay, guilty, but the main character? Never!
I shouldn’t complain though. Being an animal whisperer is honestly pretty amazing. It’s a fun party trick, for one thing. Whenever I go to someone’s house, which I do ALL THE TIME because of how cool I am, I always try to befriend their pets, especially if they have a cat. You see, establishing a connection with a dog is pretty darn easy, so it’s not really that impressive in the short-term. But a feline? Getting a feline to like you the first time it meets you takes something special. I once went to my friend’s house to work on a school project together, and I had the chance to get up close and personal with his two cats, one of whom is very shy.
“I love cats,” I informed my friend. And it’s true, I’m a cat person. I know, I know, burn me at the stake, I’m a witch or whatever. Listen, I love dogs, I even have a dog and he’s my most favorite non-human creature in the world, but I’m still a cat person. If you need a break to process that, I totally understand. If I was in your position, I would feel blindsided as well.
“Well,” said my friend. “She (I’ll use a pseudonym to protect the privacy of the cat, who was not able to provide consent to appear in this article. We’ll call her Scourge.) is very shy. She’ll run away if you approach her. It’ll take many visits to my home before Scourge will even let you near her.”
“Ha!” I barked a laugh, then quickly adjusted it to a more cattish purr to make Scourge, who was watching us from across the room, more at ease. “Purr,” said I. “Trust me, I’ll be petting this cat before I leave.”
“You can try,” my friend scoffed, totally oblivious to my animal-whispering abilities.
I immediately set about befriending Scourge. I knew that, as an invader in her space, my first job was to make myself as unobtrusive as possible, so I whipped out my body paint and began camouflaging myself with the wall.
Just kidding! That would be totally ridiculous. No, actually, I plopped down in the center of the room and kept totally still. I could tell as soon as I laid my eyes on this particular feline that she might be skittish, but she was also curious. Soon enough, Scourge left her perch and began walking around the room, still with her eye on me. She continued traversing the room, sometimes running across it and then back. Each time, she came a little closer to me.
When Scourge was only a yard or two away from me, I put out my hand for her to examine. She stopped dead in her tracks and stared at me. I made eye contact and did a slow blink, which is basically a friendly grin for cats. Then, I dropped my eyes so that she wouldn’t think I was challenging her. I began to edge closer. Scourge stayed totally still. I extended my hand even further. Now, I may be a proficient animal whisperer, but cats are not naturally trusting creatures. The slightest idea that you might be doing something they’re not ready for will tick them off, and unfortunately that’s what happened with Scourge. She trotted back to her perch from before. I was back to square one.
“Told you so,” said my friend. “For a minute there, I thought you had it.”
“Fear not, boyo,” quoth I. “Tis a minor setback. Scourge shall love me yet.” Determined to earn her affections, I resumed my position. Once again, Scourge rose and began her little ventures around the room, closer and closer.
This time, I made a more active effort to be very clear with my intentions. Some cats value blunt directness. So I stood up, said to Scourge, “I am going to introduce myself,” and proceeded towards her, slowly but with an air of confidence and quiet authority. This was a side of myself that I had not shown her, and she was intrigued. But, true to her nature, she ran away. Yet I couldn’t help but feel she wanted me to follow. I was reminded, then, of a lyric from Iggy Azalea’s hit song ‘Black Widow:’ “This twisted cat and mouse game, always starts the same/first we’re both down to play, then somehow you go astray.” Only, in my situation, it was more of a cat-and-cat game.
Scourge leapt up onto a stool by the kitchen island. I took a moment to admire the incredible grace and agility of the Felis catus.
The moment passed. I proceeded in my quest.
Slowly, cautiously, I took another step forward. Scourge leaned out her head, and that’s when I knew. She was ready. With excruciating care so as not to break her trust, I extended my hand to her face. Scourge hesitated, sniffed, and then -- SHABLAM!! -- rubbed her cheek along my knuckles. I had won her over.
Needless to say, my friend was quite impressed. Scourge had never taken so quickly to anybody before. To tell you the truth, I was quite pleased -- it felt like a confirmation, a validation of my abilities. I wasn’t delusional, no, they were real.
To be clear, animal whispering is not a talent I plan on applying in any professional sense. I like animals, but I like other things more. Also, animal training is really, really hard, with or without the advantage of having them predisposed to liking you.
My family got our dog -- he also wasn’t able to provide consent to have his name in the article, so I’ll use the pseudonym “Brood” -- last summer, and he’s just at the end of his puppyhood. The Fogler fam was determined to raise our dog right, and I think we have. Brood is obedient, unaggressive, and always wants to please. It wasn’t easy to get to where we are today, though. I wasn’t the most participatory in training Brood out of everyone in my household, but I did enough to know how careful you have to be when teaching a dog to behave, especially in its formative years.
We received a lot of pamphlets from the puppy training and socialization classes we brought Brood to, and they are just ridiculous. The guides are so specific!!! They’ll be like, “Don’t give your pup a treat immediately after he does a trick. Wait until his eyes meet yours, then give him the treat. Also, don’t signal your praise when he sits until his butt hits the floor. When you do reward his behavior, face him. Then, trace a path on the ground that connects him to you, take a step to the left, and do a little twirl. Now, create a 60-30-90 right triangle between you and your fur-baby. Find the length of the hypotenuse using sine or cosine (whichever one you choose is up to you! We want this experience to be fun and rewarding for the both of you!), and if it is between 6 inches and 16 inches, then extend your hand and give your good boy a treat.” I mean honestly, like at that point not even my animal whispering can help me.
Anyways, I don’t want to beat a dead horse. I’m good with animals, etc. etc. I should add, though, that this is something I’d encourage everyone to look for in themselves. It is a very endearing trait, really shows you have a soft side. If people see you display this talent, they’ll titter to themselves and all their friends, like, “Have you heard about that one guy, oh my gosh, he’s so multifaceted!” Soon enough, everybody will LOVE you. Unconditionally. You’ll be like the Mr. Rogers of your school. And that’s pretty neat, don’t you think?