Benny doesn’t talk.
He hasn’t barked or howled since he’s been at the Farnival. When he itches his ear, he’ll make this cute little moaning sound or he sighs once he gets settled for sleep, but that’s about the most Mace and I have heard from him.
No one here wants a barker, but Benny’s complete silence intrigues us. His continued reticence is something Mace and I had only witnessed in abandoned dogs temporarily because they were so scared. But I don’t think Benny’s frightened nor do I think it’s an emotional issue. In fact, since he’s been neutered, he’s turned into the coolest, jolliest, most laid-back dog we’ve had since we started fostering for ICHBA.
But Benny’s a hound dog, and a big one, and I imagine his howl would be beautiful, a deep baritone melody, so by the fourteenth day of silence, I couldn’t handle waiting anymore and called in the troops, Mason, our entire pack, plus foster dogs, for a howling session
At least once a month, all the dogs and Mace and me assemble on the deck and bay until our vocal chords are sore. It’s nice if our howling falls on the full moon, but it’s not necessary. It’s not even necessary for it to be dark. In fact, we’ve been known to cut loose in the morning and afternoon.
We started these wailing conventions as an answer to the coyotes that hunt and migrate in the woods behind our house during the warmer months. The coyote’s eerie keening was something it took me a long time to get accustomed to hearing when we first moved to the rural south, but now I can’t get enough of it.
The coyote’s haunting chatter lasts for several minutes, but always starts with the leader’s cry. Before long the pack answers in harmonious yet opposing yelps, all of it reaching several erratic crescendos, which are the very definition of coordinated chaos, before fading away. Sometimes the silence is only a pause before the unearthly music begins all over again, but other times the stillness truly signals the end.
Curious, I had read up on coyotes and learned their surreal chorus is a form of communication that can mean two things: the leader could be calling home his group after individually hunting or the pack could be advertising territorial boundaries. We started howling because we wanted to answer the coyotes, letting them know how far they could roam before they crossed our turf. But the tradition carries on because it’s fun.
The day we decided to persuade Benny to howl was warm, one of the first warm days since March began. It wasn’t hard to gather everyone together because all of the seven dogs living at the Farnival were already sunbathing on the deck. Mason had just gotten home from Gainesville, Florida that morning. He was tired, but just as anxious as I was to hear Benny talk. We knew that if anything could bring out his voice, it would be a howling session.
Mace and I threw back our heads and started wailing, and before long Joe Poop, Dessie, Sara, Floyd, and Meadow all jumped up and joined, throwing back their snouts and howling full throttle. Unlike the coyote’s e eerie song, our baying has a warm, inviting tone, and our notes rise and fall in harmony. Miss Annie Daisy, our six-pound Yorkshire terrier, is the only one that doesn’t howl, but she still makes noise, yipping like a back-up singer that can’t sing but is so cute that no one cares. Every dog appears solemn and devout while we sing, as though our united howling is as sacred as church.
In the midst of it, Mace nudged my knee, pointed to Benny. Benny wore an attentive and curious expression as he witnessed our wolf-like ritual, calmly turning his long snout at Mace, then me and finally on Meadow, but he remained completely silent. We howled for a full five minutes until even Meadow, who acts the most devout of all, tossing back her blond head with gusto, grew tired of wailing.
Every once in a while Benny’s floppy ears seemed to perk, but he never made a sound.