As I sit here typing articles on my computer, Mike and Jesse, two of my large neutered male cats, gently meow at me and one reaches up with a paw to softly touch my arm. They know I will immediately get up and let them out of the room. They know it isn’t necessary to yowl or scratch or mope around or pee in a corner. I « get it. »
Then I check some emails, and there in my inbox are the inevitable forwarded jokes, always one or two about cats, because people know that as a licensed rescuer I have helped so many through the years. These people think these jokes are funny. I do not. As a rule, and as the jokes go, the dogs are cavorting around us, eager to please, tongues lolling and eyes bright with their playfulness, yet always at the ready to obey. The cat, on the other hand, is leisurely sitting at some distance, eyes squinted down while they plot some revenge, or simply don’t give a darn.
It is this attitude about cats that is responsible for the horrific ways in which they are treated in many homes, and in many neighborhoods. They are trapped, poisoned, shot, starved, and in many ways treated like vermin, eradicated as pests.
After working with many hundreds of cats, I can confidently report that cats do not deserve this treatment. If they get into a dumpster and knock something over, it is because they need to eat, or perhaps they need shelter.
A well-treated cat, like any other animal or person, given respect, proper regard and care, learns to relax and accept it. They do not try to get even. They do not try to destroy things. I have seen abused cats learn to trust again, and even to display appreciation.
To recognize that cats have this ability to « manipulate » us is to finally admit that cats are intelligent.
Another cat here has noticed that one family member is hard of hearing, so for that person, and only that person, Happycat purrs very loudly.
Callie thinks she needs to eat all the time, so she « alerts » us to her hunger pangs by flipping one side of her food bowl up and down. We can hear the tap-tap-tapping all through the house. When we come near her, she stops and gives us « the look. » Clearly, it means, « Feed me. » Shall I train her not to do this? Why? Is she going to grow up and leave home? It’s no bother, so I toss a few kibble bits into her dish to let her know I acknowledge her. Who knows? This behavior might be truly useful someday. I don’t know, but I intend to watch her to see what refinements she can add to it.
Cats are quite inventive when they realize they are able to gain our attention. Radar seems to understand that claws are painful to humans, so he is careful to keep them in when he treads on my lap. When he wants to leave a room, he goes to the door and stares at the doorknob. Of course, I know what he’s trying to do, so it doesn’t take much to get me to go open it. Responding in a timely manner isn’t the ultimate servitude… it’s a form of acknowledgement and reinforcement so they don’t forget the behavior.
If we want to communicate with our animals, we must open our minds and hearts to the possibilities, and realize it isn’t going to be with speech. It will be body language, eye contact, and certain sounds. The fact is, these signals already exist, but it’s up to us to recognize them. Our cats are using them now, and probably wondering what’s taking us so long to notice. Maybe they think we are not smart enough. If that’s the case, isn’t it wonderful how patient they are with us?