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Edie at home in her kitchen.

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The View from Mary's Farm

Harriet's Whisperer

May 7, 2016

The View from Mary's Farm

The Whisperer
Edie Clark

My dog Harriet is now the size of a hearty lamb but black, her face and legs the color of ginger snaps. She has matured into a reasonably well mannered dog but she still has this way of badgering visitors. I don’t know what her message is. Sometimes I think our solitary life together has spawned a kind of resistance in her to any intrusions from other humans. She is gentle in her delivery but her message seems to be: go away, we’re busy here. Other times I think she is simply overwhelmed with the excitement of welcoming a new person into the house. Whatever she is trying to say, she jumps up, wiggles, whines and basically makes a big scene. I have tried several methods to discourage this but when a new guest arrives, she just melts down and does it all over again. Beyond that, if the guest is going to eat with us, she insists on joining us for the meal, whining, begging, putting paws on guests’ thighs. In short, obnoxious. But, as other terrier owners know, training a terrier is like making water flow uphill.
Last summer, for various reasons, a man I knew to be a well-known animal behaviorist came here for a brief stay. When he called to make arrangements, I cunningly thought, oh, maybe he could give Harriet a few lessons. From what I’d read, I knew that, aside from being a small animal vet, Vint worked at the Providence Zoo with large animals like elephants and tigers. If he can work with rhinos, surely he could influence a little border terrier. I couldn’t wait for him to meet Harriet. I had told him about her but had stopped short of asking for his help.
Harriet and I were standing in the kitchen when he knocked on the door. I beckoned him inside. He slid the glass door open and stepped in. Rather than rushing to greet him as she does to virtually all visitors, Harriet sat beside me, stock still. It was as if she had been shot by a stun gun. I said, “Harriet, come meet Vint!” and walked over to greet him. I wondered if maybe he had a trace of elephant dung on his shoes. Harriet simply seemed in awe. Vint knelt and rubbed the reluctant Harriet’s ears and neck. She responded with friendly wiggles. I showed him his room and after, we sat and talked. Harriet lingered warily beside me and finally, to my total surprise, she lay down and stretched out on the floor between us. Vint did not seem to notice. He was on book tour for his newly published book, The Soul of All Living Creatures, a powerful exploration of the mystical connection between man and animal, and he had a lot of appointments to meet while he was in town. So he was off and running. Harriet was quiet after he left, settling beside me on the couch while I read.
The next morning, I made breakfast for Vint and once again, Harriet lay quietly on the floor between us. I was astonished but mentioned nothing. Let him think she’s an angel, I thought to myself. Pretty soon it was time to say goodbye. Once again, Harriet stood next to me, watching him leave.
Was it my imagination that she behaved differently in the weeks after he left? Maybe not. Visits from old friends seemed to evoke a similar response: “Harriet is a changed dog!” many said as she sat contentedly while we all chatted in the living room or ate at the table. Was Vint a dog whisperer? I had not noticed him whispering to her, in fact, he had spent little time with her at all. But what is a whisperer? I suppose whatever the magic is, the whisper is just between the two of them and that it probably happens very quietly.
The Whisperer
Edie Clark

My dog Harriet is now the size of a hearty lamb but black, her face and legs the color of ginger snaps. She has matured into a reasonably well mannered dog but she still has this way of badgering visitors. I don’t know what her message is. Sometimes I think our solitary life together has spawned a kind of resistance in her to any intrusions from other humans. She is gentle in her delivery but her message seems to be: go away, we’re busy here. Other times I think she is simply overwhelmed with the excitement of welcoming a new person into the house. Whatever she is trying to say, she jumps up, wiggles, whines and basically makes a big scene. I have tried several methods to discourage this but when a new guest arrives, she just melts down and does it all over again. Beyond that, if the guest is going to eat with us, she insists on joining us for the meal, whining, begging, putting paws on guests’ thighs. In short, obnoxious. But, as other terrier owners know, training a terrier is like making water flow uphill.
Last summer, for various reasons, a man I knew to be a well-known animal behaviorist came here for a brief stay. When he called to make arrangements, I cunningly thought, oh, maybe he could give Harriet a few lessons. From what I’d read, I knew that, aside from being a small animal vet, Vint worked at the Providence Zoo with large animals like elephants and tigers. If he can work with rhinos, surely he could influence a little border terrier. I couldn’t wait for him to meet Harriet. I had told him about her but had stopped short of asking for his help.
Harriet and I were standing in the kitchen when he knocked on the door. I beckoned him inside. He slid the glass door open and stepped in. Rather than rushing to greet him as she does to virtually all visitors, Harriet sat beside me, stock still. It was as if she had been shot by a stun gun. I said, “Harriet, come meet Vint!” and walked over to greet him. I wondered if maybe he had a trace of elephant dung on his shoes. Harriet simply seemed in awe. Vint knelt and rubbed the reluctant Harriet’s ears and neck. She responded with friendly wiggles. I showed him his room and after, we sat and talked. Harriet lingered warily beside me and finally, to my total surprise, she lay down and stretched out on the floor between us. Vint did not seem to notice. He was on book tour for his newly published book, The Soul of All Living Creatures, a powerful exploration of the mystical connection between man and animal, and he had a lot of appointments to meet while he was in town. So he was off and running. Harriet was quiet after he left, settling beside me on the couch while I read.
The next morning, I made breakfast for Vint and once again, Harriet lay quietly on the floor between us. I was astonished but mentioned nothing. Let him think she’s an angel, I thought to myself. Pretty soon it was time to say goodbye. Once again, Harriet stood next to me, watching him leave.
Was it my imagination that she behaved differently in the weeks after he left? Maybe not. Visits from old friends seemed to evoke a similar response: “Harriet is a changed dog!” many said as she sat contentedly while we all chatted in the living room or ate at the table. Was Vint a dog whisperer? I had not noticed him whispering to her, in fact, he had spent little time with her at all. But what is a whisperer? I suppose whatever the magic is, the whisper is just between the two of them and that it probably happens very quietly.

Selected Works

Articles
In 1992, the Bishop of Worcester condemned St. Joseph's Catholic Church and ordered it closed. The parishioners refused to leave, sleeping on cots and on the hard pews. For thirteen months this was their life. In July of 1993, they were removed by the police. In many ways this was the blossoming of their faith. Originally published in Yankee Magazine in November 1993.
Growing up, nothing I could do seemed to please my mother and nothing she said made sense to me. But when my mother, on the threshold of death, came to live with me, I found what seemed to have been lost forever. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1995
(The follow-up article to Miracle at St. Joseph's.) The Bishop turned to them and said, "Your prayers have been answered, the hard hearts have softened." Originally published in Yankee Magazine, December 1996
A reflection on the power of cooking and friendship and the concept of family. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, November/December 2007
Memorial Day, Harrisville, New Hampshire 1995. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1996
My Articles
Libraries occupy a special place in the heart of a town. Evening events at the library give a strong sense of community and make it seem like a great place to live. And in the wake of the online revolution small town libraries have found a way to not only survive but to be indispensable.
In December 2008 an epic ice storm left virtually the entire state of New Hampshire without power. The residual effects of that storm paralyzed the Monadnock Region almost through Christmas. A first person account.
In 1994, sixteen-year-old Billy Best was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. After several treatments, he ran away to avoid chemotherapy. What happened after that may have been a miracle.
Roxanne Quimby once lived primitively in the Maine woods. Today she owns 90,000 acres of those woods, and her goal is to create a national park to preserve the landscape forever. So why do so many people wish she'd just go away?
Multi-million dollar border stations are rising along our line between US and Canada. What was once the "friendliest border" has become deadly serious.
Renowned short story writer, Andre Dubus, reflects on the accident that cost him his legs.
A trip to Poland discovers a beloved family friend
An elegy for the master of the short story.
Fall comes to The County
Thousands seek healing from this innocent, comatose child.
A complete listing of articles published since 1978
Fiction
An encounter with a sick fox brings a young woman to the heart of her grief