I’ve been thinking a lot about communication recently. It’s an interesting concept.

Did you know that nearly 90 percent of communication is nonverbal? That number has been debated quite intensely over the years, but the point behind the statistic is that so very much of what we “say” to one another doesn’t involve words at all.

I took a class this spring about the concept of body language and researchers have gone so far as to divide the face up into sections and regions, each one providing a clue into the thoughts and emotions of the subject. At a Traditional Chinese Medicine conference last year, I learned about the ancient art of face reading from an Eastern perspective.

It’s incredibly fascinating what can be discerned simply from a person’s facial expressions.

Now, obviously, we use language to get our points across because without it, communication could be a bit dicey.

However, when you enter into the world of animals, language can sometimes become a whole other concept.

Have you ever looked into an animal’s eyes and just felt, on some intrinsic level, that you were speaking to one another? We’ve had animals at the shelter that have a very intense focus and I’ve just known – it’s not something I can really describe – that we were communicating.

I think for every being and creature on the planet, there’s an energy exchange when we come in contact and we can assess a whole lot even subconsciously.

I saw a video on Facebook the other day of a man doing lunges in his home. I imagine he was stretching for a run or something and he was traversing the length of the rooms of his house one long step at a time. Beside him was a large dog – I’m talking Great Dane large – who curiously watched this progression.

Eventually, no kidding, the dog picked up on what the man was doing and actually started mimicking the same action. The dog would kind of bow – almost in a play stance – every time the man would lunge. It was amazing to watch the human and canine sync up because the dog so wanted to be a part of whatever his dad was doing.

It was equally amazing that not a single word had been spoken to make this happen.

A few days ago I had a neat conversation with friends of mine about their 93-year-old neighbor. This lady is apparently quite a pistol. She drives up and down the East Coast from Harrisburg to Florida in her red Buick (she loves and will only drive red Buicks).

She also likes to feed the deer that come around her house. One day they said she saw a beautiful doe, who apparently was in her backyard waiting for her and the corn she was going to produce. She actually spoke to the doe and said, “You can bring your babies with you, you know.”

Astonishingly enough, the next day, the doe arrived with two fawns in tow. Can you even imagine? What kind of connection would it take to have that happen?

I will admit when I’m driving at night and see a deer, if I’m going slow enough, I’ll roll my window down and say, “Be careful, baby,” out loud to the deer. I’m always shocked how often the animal will actually make eye contact with me before hopping away.

It’s a neat feeling.

Apparently deer aren’t the only creatures our 93-year-old lady can converse with, either. My friends said there have been bear sightings around their house. Yes. You read that right. A bear. The creature has to be 600 pounds if he’s an ounce, they said.

My friends caught the bear rustling through the garbage next door one night and they realized they should try to do something to discourage the bear from these neighborhood visits. So they purchased an air horn. Now for something that comes in a relatively small package, those things pack quite a wallop.

In other words, they’re loud.

The next time Mr. Bear came around, my friends honked their air horn, nearly deafening each other in the process. The bear, though? He looked up, maybe once, and continued his rummaging, utterly unfazed.

Our 93-year-old neighbor friend became discouraged because she hadn’t had a visit from Mr. Bear. She just wanted to see him, she’d said. She was tickled on the day she looked out her window to see the much-talked-about mammal in her yard. She watched him for a bit, but probably realized what my friends had – it’s not a good idea to encourage visits from a huge, 600-pound bear.

So she clapped her hands and lightly scolded, “Shoo now. Go on.”

And the bear? He turned around and marched right back from where he’d come. An air horn did nothing, but he must have figured he’d better listen to a 93-year-old Buick-loving matriarch.

I’m incredibly lucky that I work at the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter because I get to hear stories like these all the time. Animals can be our friends in so many ways, and when you realize communication is often about more than just words, our relationships with our four-legged friends can be some of the most remarkable of our lives.


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Jennifer Vanderau is the Director of Communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter, and can be reached at: cvascomm@cvas-pets.org. The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at: (717) 263-5791, or visit the website: www.cvas-pets.org. CVAS also operates a thrift store in Chambersburg. Help support the animals at the shelter by donating to or shopping at the store.

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