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Speaking to Your Dog in Estonian

In December 2020, Maris Hellrand from the Associated Press published a news story about Zorik, a black and white dog in Tallinn’s Kalamaja neighbourhood. Over his life of 12 years, Zorik had gone from being found abandoned in a “coal storage area” to befriending and receiving the care of many local residents.

A dachshund at Toompea Castle (from travelnuity.com)

Zorik, in turn, was cautious but caring to other local animals, such as stray cats. Within his final months, he was brought to a home in the countryside. Zorik's moving away and death deeply saddened the community members who loved him.

Thus, in his honour, journalist and animal rescue volunteer Heiki Valner came up with the idea to place a statue of Zorik (along with the kind of cat he would have been seen with) in his old neighbourhood. Speaking about the dog's role in the area, Valner said, “He was a point of social integration.”

This would definitely not be the first time dogs have been kind and feeling. But perhaps there was something distinct about the use of the Estonian language that connected this dog to his human neighbours.

Although English and French are Canada's official languages, when we broach the topic of how best to communicate with our canine friends, I would vouch for the effectiveness of Estonian. If you were to visit every Estonian household with a dog in North America, for that matter, I'd hazard a guess that a significant number of them were speaking Estonian to their pet dogs—even if Estonian wasn't the primary language in...

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