Editor’s note: Jean found this column from 2014 about her relationship with her cats. It’s as true now as it was then, down to the last kitty hairball.
I’m a talker. Get me started and I can go on and on about anything and everything.
Sometimes I even know what I’m talking about. Rarely, but it does happen.
I like getting to know people, getting their back stories. I like learning how and why some folks tick the way they do. It’s not a long process, really, answers to a couple of simple questions and enough of knowledge can developed to sustain a relationship, whether it turns into a passing acquaintance or a deep, lasting friendship, maybe even more.
There are a few conversations, however, that can be so one-sided that little insight can be gained, viewpoints are unshared.
I’m speaking, of course, of conversations with cats.
Oh, yes, I’m quite the cat whisperer. Well, actually, I’m more of a cat screamer, but the concept remains solid. I tell them things at the top of my voice and they proceed to ignore me completely.
Living in a four-cat household, I have plenty of opportunities for feline interaction. Some good, some bad, frequently fleeting, unproductive in general.
One cat, Chester, is a bigboned, well-fleshed yellow and white tabby. He’s a lover, seeking affection in between long, luxurious naps. He stares at his intended sweetie, obviously contemplating his best approach to his paramour. More often than not he ambushes his prey and proceeds to make enormous biscuits—my euphemism for the kneading cats do on various surfaces. On me, he is fond of my legs, massaging one spot for so long he’s actually left bruises. His enjoyment is obvious from the tip of his tongue escaping his mouth, giving him a slightly silly yet earnest appearance.
He communicates succinctly, with short trills as he gallops from one room to the next and a breathy purr when he’s content. A full meow is reserved for only extreme circumstances—the food bowl is empty.
Of the two tuxedo girls ruling the roost, Popper purrs loudly at every opportunity and has the most mournful meow I have ever heard. It is designed specifically to produce pity and therefore much attention. She is very dainty and delicate, shiny sleek, and she will extend a “bless you” after I sneeze with a quiet little sound not so much a meow but more than a heavy breath. She’s also the most skittish, jumping at sounds apparently only she can hear.
Oreo rarely speaks. It’s a staccato vocalization and not terribly loud. You might miss it if you’re not listening closely. Her conversations usually revolve around her ricocheting off various pieces of furniture at nearly the speed of sound. Chasing the white tip of her tail is one of her favorite pastimes.
Of all the fur babies at my house, Coco is by far the most vocal, the most vociferous of any cat I’ve ever had in my life. She’s loud, demanding and not easily dissuaded from her need to be heard. She has something to say usually at the most inopportune times, such as 3:30 in the morning, and she expects everyone to listen to her monologues.
She’s a tattle tale. If one of the other cats is bothering her or one of the dogs is not behaving as she thinks they should, she makes a point of letting me know. If the water dish isn’t filled to meet her expectations, she calls for a refill from the kitchen. If she wants to lay down on me for a nap, she’ll give a shout out to let me know she’s on her way up. She’s inordinately fond of bottle caps, trying to steal any not tightly screwed onto its receptacle.
She’s the most likely to actually respond with a sound when spoken to, either a full-on meow or a high chirp. She’s also quite adept at trilling, the organic ring-tone sound all cats seem to have.
All my kitties have their way of getting their messages across to me. I claim ignorance in the ways of fur-bearing critters. But enlightenment has come after much trial and error. Understanding has come at the price of a lot of wait-and-see experimentation.
That’s all because of those human-to-cat conversations. I talk and they walk away, unimpressed and unconcerned. They talk and I lamely attempt to grasp their meaning, usually incorrectly. It’s give and take relationship: I give and they take and take and take.
I know there’s an inventor here in the U.S. who claims to have developed technology to translate dog to English. He says his contraption can transform canine barks, growls and whines into understandable human words. That’s a fine piece of craftsmanship, if it indeed works. I’m sure dogs have a lot to say.
But really, wouldn’t life be a little easier if we could understand cats, the real rulers of the world? Wouldn’t we be much more capable of serving our fuzzy leaders if we could communicate without the use of catnip, squeaky mice and tiny bells inside plastic balls?
Translate those meows. You’ll be considered the greatest inventor of all time.
-Jean Henderson is a columnist for the Citizen Tribune.