Sure, my dog talks.
He puts his nose on the doorknob when he needs to go out. He moans impatiently (but just once) when he thinks his daily trip to the park is being unnecessarily delayed. His head on the bed means "Can I come up?" And his tail in full curlicue says he's happy; when it droops, he's not.
Or so I think.
Beyond those signals - beyond my whistles and clucks, his nuzzles and licks, and all the other unspoken signals that form our silent bond - I didn't suspect that Ace, who rarely barks, would be much of a talker.
But talk he did, and at some length, at least judging from a translator - Terri Diener of Pikesville, who works as an animal communicator. Diener agreed to meet Ace and see what he might be able to tell us about his past.
In my quest to uncover Ace's background, including sending off his DNA for an analysis that might determine his breeds, I tried going down a less scientifically accepted path, as well - one that, while it has its skeptics, has a growing number of practitioners and believers.
Partly because of Animal Planet's popular TV show The Pet Psychic, which featured animal communicator Sonya Fitzpatrick, the field is growing. And a growing number of pet owners - most often out of frustration - are turning to its practitioners.
Diener, who has been communicating with animals for more than 10 years and is the author of The Pets Speak, eschews the term psychic.
"It's not like a psychic - 'Tell me this and that and the other' - that's not what I do. I ask him, and I get his impressions," she said, sitting in my backyard and stroking Ace's head.
Diener, formerly a human resources consultant, became an animal communicator after seeking help from one. Her cat, Victor, had suddenly decided to forgo using his litter box in Diener's bathroom. On the recommendation of her holistic vet, she contacted a Philadelphia animal communicator.
The first thing the communicator asked was whether Diener colored her hair.
"I was a little bit irritated and said, like, 'Yeah, what does that have to do anything?' She said, 'Do you do it at home?'"
AceAce[From Page 1D]
When Diener told her no, the communicator told her to check the other hair products in her bathroom because the cat was allergic to one of them.
When Diener changed her shampoo, the problem went away.
"I called her up, and I said, 'I don't know what you do, but I want to do that, too.'"
Through workshops, Diener said she learned the trade and, more importantly, to trust her instincts.
"We get impressions, thoughts and feelings," she said. "It's about trusting what you get."
Diener usually holds her sessions over the telephone, at $50 each, but agreed to visit us in person. After just a couple of silent minutes with Ace, she began relaying information to me.
"He was with a family, it looks like it was three small children. ... He kept hearing them say how big he is ... how big he is ... how big he is. He knocked over the kids a few times. He was in training for some kind of fighting," she said.
According to Diener - or according to Ace, via Diener - the family he lived with thought he was a pit bull, or at least part pit bull, and planned to fight him.
"My sense of him ... his people thought he was going to be a fighter ... but there was no way that aggression could be trained into him," Diener said.
Diener continued to relay the information, which she says comes to her intuitively, telepathically.
"There were other dogs around. ... There was lots of noise. Lots of frenzy. ... He's not reaching these conclusions, but I can reach these conclusions - that these dogs were in training to fight," she said.
Apparently, she said, when Ace showed little spirit for that, the family let him go.
"He was riding in a car, and the door opened. I don't know whether he jumped out or they kinda tossed him out. ... Whether they looked for him, or whether they just left, he doesn't know. But that's his experience," Diener said.
"It wasn't in his immediate neighborhood. ... He was rummaging in trash cans. He's a survivor, no question. He traveled a good piece, is what I'm getting from him. He was searching, and then he got trapped.
"He knew what was happening. He knew his days were numbered. They talk in the shelter. ... They know whether it's a kill shelter or not a kill shelter, because they hear what everybody is saying."
I asked Diener what Ace's name was before he landed in the shelter. She paused for five seconds, looking at him, and said, "I don't know that this is accurate, but I'm getting something like 'Carper.'"
Upon hearing that name, Ace, whose attentions were elsewhere, perked up, looked at Diener and walked over to her. "Carter or Carper, something like that," she said.
Then it got stranger.
"I don't know where you are on the whole idea of reincarnation, but you two have been together before," she said.
"Do you have any memories of other lifetimes when you were in a war?" she asked. "I think he was a service dog. He was a dog that you cared for as part of an Army thing."
Was I buying all this? Not entirely. I didn't totally discount any of it, either.
Diener is used to skeptics - or worse - but those aren't the ones she's working for.
"When I first started doing this, I was much more concerned about people thinking I'm wacky. But now it's like, this is my work."
Some of what Diener said impressed and surprised me. Some of it brought out the cynic in me. But on one point, she couldn't have been more right.
"What happened earlier really doesn't matter," she said, "because he's here for you now."
firstname.lastname@example.orgTomorrow in Modern Life: A mystery solved