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Norwich Bulletin - 4/23/2006

Cat Talk


Going to a shelter that has their cats in cages is altogether different than seeing potential pets in a foster home. I tend to do it a lot because one of our functions is to take harder to place, older cats, from these shelters. It was during one of these trips that I realized many of the felines were trying to get me to take them by their “cat talk.”

Humans and cats have been hanging around together for over 5,000 years and although there is not an actual language between us, cats definitely have learned how to get what they want from their owners and potential owners.

Studies at Cornell University show there are well over 100 different vocalizations that cats use to show pleasantness and urgency, all rooted in how the calls sound. For instance, at the animal shelters I noticed that many cats tend to use a short, even and pleasant sounding meow with the energy spread evenly throughout the meow. They are soft and appealing sounds that are never demanding. These are the cats that have the best chance of being adopted and they know it. Cats are looking for a kind hearted human that will melt at the sound of their gentle, pleasant sounds.

Then there are the demanding meows we hear from our own very spoiled cats – they tend to wake us up at 7 a.m., urgent and demanding, when the cat wants to be fed. And we know without a doubt that our cat is telling us to get that can of food, open it and fill the bowl!

Cornell states that cats do not use a true language because cats don’t know the meaning of their own meows. After so many years of rescue, I don’t think I agree with the experts. I have watched my cats communicate with each other. There is the obvious communication between a mother cat and her kittens. When the kittens are first set free in the kitten room to roam (at about five or six weeks), the mother cat tends to chirp at her kittens while she is keeping track of where they are all investigating. The kittens respond to the chirping and come when she calls. That sounds like communication to me!

We have cats that give warning when other cats invade their space. Little Boy Blue has a definite high pitched, urgent and warning meow when he is in a bad mood and another cat gets too close to him. No matter where we are sitting, we know when it is Blue and exactly what he is saying. I believe the other cats know too, because they leave a wide berth between them and him when he is in his crabby state of mind.

Our cats do talk to us and I think they know what they are saying and we have become savy enough to figure it out most of the time. We have cats that plaintively talk to us when they want attention, cats that tell us they want to go out into the courtyard or downstairs to the cat room. I also believe our cats talk to each other – I have heard them meow at each other and then one will go to other and kiss them, as though either comforting them or just saying, “hey, it’s okay, you still have me.” And while I know this gives a more human connotation to my animals, I cannot believe that some of the smartest animals in the world, do not know how to communicate with each other.

Oh well, that’s just my unscientific opinion, and there are plenty of studies around proving me wrong. Put that’s okay because I know how to communicate with my pets and they sure know how to get their messages across to me!

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