I have always enjoyed watching video clips of Koko, the gorilla, frolicking with the late Robin Williams and Mr. Rogers (Fred Rogers). These videos show such a great chemistry between these two charismatic and iconic men and Koko.
Koko died four years ago at the age of 46. Born in the San Francisco Zoo and raised in the Santa Cruz Mountains with a special trainer for many years, Koko knew and shared 1,000 signs within a gorilla sign language vocabulary and was familiar with over 2,000 English words. Her biography states her IQ was the equivalent of a 3-year-old human child.
I am far from being an animal behaviorist but even though humans and gorillas belong in the primate order of species, I think that — despite Koko’s excellent showing of communication with humans — dogs have an edge on gorillas and any other animal in their communication with humans.
My little rescue dog, Frazier, lacks anatomical assets to communicate like Koko, but he — more than many would expect and consider — makes up for the lack of gorilla features. All of Frazier’s barks are not the same. There are different degrees of loudness and intensity in his barks, depending on what he is hearing, ranging from the suspicious bark to the much louder, full-blown bark indicating there is definitely a presence of some sort at our home.
Also, with Frazier, there are different growls — his love growls and his warning growls usually given when someone gets near his food, picks up a favorite toy ,or tries to pick him up. He never growls at my son when he picks him up. Frazier has trust in him to know how to pick him up correctly.
Frazier even has different levels of begging. There is the minimal beg when he just sits looking at me which often moves to the “big beg” when he raises one of his front paws while still sitting. That usually means he needs to go out or badly wants a treat.
Frazier and I usually adhere to a certain bed time to go to our bedroom, but once in a while, I will stay in the den a while longer than usual to finish up a show or movie on TV. Frazier will often start walking out of the den when our usual time arrives, but always stops and turns his head towards me as though asking, “Why are you not coming with me?”
I imagine many of you reading this column have similar stories about your fur babies. I do not mean to make light of the many communication talents and abilities of our fellow primates such as gorillas, but dogs’ abilities to communicate so well with humans and their unparalleled loyalty and devotion to them have made them man’s best friend since the dawn of history. So thankful to have my precious “retirement buddy.”
Helen Cox is a former journalist and educator in Richmond County.