Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Difference of Opinion

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you're enjoying some nice fall weather, just like the ducks and I are here in Whoville. A curious thing happened the other day, and I've been doing a lot of thinking about how to tell you about it. I guess the best way is just to jump right in, so here goes.

I was talking with fiance John recently, teasing him about one of his idiosyncracies. I can't recall which one because he has too many to keep track of! It probably had to do with his propensity for really bad puns. I keep telling him that they're not all meant to come out of his mouth, but that never stops him! Anyway, the subject was endearing quirks, and I made the mistake of asking what he thought mine were. Between you and me, I didn't realize I had any quirks - or at least any that John was aware of! Turns out he had a list of them, and at the top of the list was this: that I talk to my cats, and believe that they talk back.

Considering that John has five indoor cats that he dearly loves, this comment came as quite a surprise. Given that John and I both have high IQ's, I just assumed that we were on the same animal-communication wavelength. I mean, of COURSE they talk: they meow, hiss, growl, and purr, just to name a few. I pointed this out to John, but it didn't seem to register.

"Well," I said, "other cats understand what they're saying, right?"

"Yeah...," he answered cautiously.

"So the cats ARE talking, right?"

"Yeah...," he still wasn't convinced.

"Just because YOU don't understand them doesn't mean they're not talking, does it?"

At which point he gave me that indulgent look that I really hate getting from people. It's the same look you give your child when they do something dumb but funny.

I suppose that now is as good a time as any to explain about the critters talking. My cats talk the most (more so, say, than the ducks). That's natural: I live with them, we interact all day long, and they have things on their minds that they want me to know about. Junebug is the most talkative, and her thoughts usually center around asking me to refresh her bowl of kibble, or give her snack treats. We don't spend all day talking to one another; it's simply a matter of Junebug trying to make a point, and me translating that point into my own language of human English.

One of my favorite things that Junebug says is this: when I give her a catnip toy, she'll lie on the floor and lick the thing soggy. And she'll say, "I'll lick all the smell off, Kelly!" Which is, of course, exactly what she's doing when she licks the thing soggy. Makes sense to Junebug. Makes sense to me.

My six-year old orange tabby, Spanky, who is so emotionally stunted that he thinks he's still a small kitten, often walks around the house wailing unhappily. What I hear him saying is, "Me!," though I have no idea what, exactly, he's talking about. I just know that he's unhappy and he wants me to know about it.

The problem with this whole subject of animals talking is that I worry about being mistaken for one of those eccentric cat ladies whose animals all speak in flowery prose, which is not the case at all! I've never once claimed that any animal spoke the English language to me, nor do their mouths move to form words. The easiest way to describe what I experience is that it's like standing in the middle of a stream and letting the critter-waters flow around me. I get the essence of communication, not an actual thought or word.

My thinking is that if you spend enough time interacting with your pets, you're bound to become a pet whisperer to some degree, if for no other reason than you love your pet and enjoy your bond with it. That's basically how it is for me: I spend such a large amount of time with my cats and ducks that I seem to have an inside track on what they're thinking about.

Meanwhile, I've learned the hard way that my high IQ fiance is a lot more narrow-minded than I realized. How disappointing! And as a fellow Trekkie, he should know better!

The subject of animal communication put me in mind of some really priceless movie dialog, and in the interest of accurate reporting, I sat down this afternoon and popped the video in the VCR so that I could get the phrasing just right. The things I do for the sake of my blog! In any case, it goes like this:

The crew of the Enterprise (Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home) become aware of a powerful space probe that's rendering star ships inoperable. No one knows where the probe came from or how to communicate with it. Dr. McCoy makes a sarcastic remark about the probe's intention of saying "'hi, there,' to the people of the earth." Mr. Spock gives him a pained look and says, "There are other forms of intelligence on earth, Doctor. Only human arrogance would assume the message MUST be meant for man."

Let me repeat that in all caps for the benefit of my myopic fiance:


There's no doubt that animals do, in fact, communicate - and make themselves clearly understood - with each other. Even John doesn't dispute that. Why he disputes the idea of one specie trying to connect with another, though, is unclear to me. Maybe he's got scary things going on in his head that he doesn't want anyone else knowing about. Maybe he's worried that his cats would rat him out! Who can say?

As for all of you critter-lovers out there, I know that you understand exactly what I'm talking about: there are all kinds of different species living among each other on this planet - birds and mammals, fins and feathers, and tail-less homo sapiens, and it's only natural that we're going to try to talk to each other. I'm starting to see, though, that talking might not really be the issue after all; perhaps LISTENING is.

Do you ever get the feeling that we're not doing enough of it?

Here's a challenge for you: the next time you're at your local park, walk around with your ears open and really listen to the natural world. Can you hear the birds? The ducks? The chipmunks? I dare you to take a walk around your neighborhood and leave your ear buds at home! I dare you to say hi to the people that you pass. I double-dare you to smile at them! Lie down on the floor with your dog or cat and relate to them on their level. Brake for squirrels! You never know - in the next life, you might BE a squirrel!

That's all for now, folks. Until next time, I'm going to be working on expanding John's mind. As always, please be kind to all the critters!

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