Everyone who has a pet, who has an ounce of social awareness, talks to that pet. In my mind, there is no excuse necessary for talking to a pet even though the pet is mostly unable to understand our words, or anything resembling nuance among our word choices. Dogs seem to understand lots of words and the dogs are proud of understanding them too. Cats also understand lots of words, but somehow believe that showing their understanding lowers them to our level. Still, sometimes cats just can’t help themselves.
My girlfriend has two cats. One of them, Bobbins, is pretty much the stereotypical dumb-blonde grown old. This black and white cat maintains her once great beauty, displaying the “fearsome symmetry” William Blake once wrote about in describing the rare beauty of the tiger. But Bobbins, ever on the catwalk, has the IQ of oatmeal. She can be entertaining, as all models can be entertaining as eye-candy, but there is little in the way of fruitful interaction with Bobbins.
Daisy May, her other cat, is loaded with character. As one veterinarian put it, “She has the body of a Jack Russell Terrier, in both size and strength.” Daisy gives the impression of being one giant, fat lump of a cat, who, when sitting, strongly resembles a feline, seated Buddha. But pick her up and one instantly recognizes her awesome muscularity.
Poor Daisy really is some kind of cross between cat and dog. Her form is feline and she tries to reflect that in her nonchalant, the-world-revolves-around-me attitude, but she is often caught out in her canine proclivities too. Like a pack animal, Daisy guards her territory against interlopers. She aggressively stalks any cat that moves about outside her house. She tries to protect the pack like all canines do.
My girlfriend likes to get Daisy going by saying the word “Cat.” I have challenged my gal on this word-recognition issue in the past. My position was that there was excitement in her voice as she taunted Daisy into action by saying, “There’s a cat!” But she demonstrated Daisy’s word recognition capacity for me one day by simply saying the word “cat” in casual conversation. Daisy didn’t exactly spring into action, but she did perk up her ears and swivel her head around to scan her immediate territory. In so doing, Daisy revealed her canine side. She recognized a word.
I don’t think my cat recognizes any word, even her own name. So oblivious is my cat to her name that others have suggested that my cat, Sasha, may be deaf or hard of hearing. But I know my own cat. She has no hearing problem. She’s probably a bit hard-of-thinking, but she has no hearing problem. If my cat has a problem it is that she is pure pussy, and all interaction with the human in her life is entirely at her discretion. It seems very one-sided to me, but she has me hooked.
Still, I talk to my cat. I especially encourage her to run around the house. She is an exclusively indoor cat, and I think that her opportunities for exercise are limited, so when she gallops, full throttle, from one end of the house to the other, I praise her aloud.
“Oh, what a fast cat!” I say. “She can run like the wind!” I say. “Nothing could ever catch that cat and nothing could ever escape her either,” I say. “Mice and small, skittery creatures beware the wrath of Sasha,” I say. “Dogs, mean creatures and nightmare imaginings have no hope of catching this cat,” I say.
I wonder if I kid myself into believing that Sasha gets some sense of the praise I heap upon her for running. She often does several repeats of this action as I continue to praise her athleticism. I say things like, “She’s a thoroughbred, quartercat! She could run between the legs of American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby! I think I’ll re-name her, ‘Thunder Paws,’ world-class contender in the six-yard dash!”
After receiving such praise, does she prance about pretending to wear the winning garland of the champion? No. She plops down on the carpet, raises her leg and licks her poop. Well, I guess that’s dignified for a cat.
It’s a curious world that we share. Whether I speak English or mimic her language, (which is not Catalan), we cannot communicate with fascinating specifics, only gross generalities. (And in the case of poop licking, I do mean gross. I would refrain from that activity myself even if I were capable of doing it.) But my meows to her are met with blank looks, bland, slow-motion, eye-closings and general indications that I’m just not getting through, or perhaps that my human accent in feline speech is so thick as to be impenetrable.
She must like me at some level beyond her appreciation for being fed and sheltered. She often chooses to be near me while I’m working in the basement or I am watching TV. In this whole big house, she chooses to be near me. That’s gotta mean something nice.