Doctor Doolittle optional in pet talk
Yesterday, I accidently stepped on the cat’s tail, and she let me know I’d committed an error of a horrendous nature. I apologized profusely, of course, but she wasn’t in the mood to forgive. She doesn’t take kindly to tail endangerment.
This isn’t the first time I’ve apologized to my pets — or conversed with them — far from it. When my dog is lying on the stairway landing and I have to step over her, I say, “Excuse me,” like I owe her that. I also speak platitudes to my animals. They are so pretty. So darling. The nicest kitty — or puppy — ever.
I don’t know if they understand a little or a lot of what I say. I do find myself talking to them and am not sure I should be admitting this publicly. But I guess the cat’s out of the bag, so I might as well run with it.
I’m guessing more than a few of us talk to our pets, and while they may not be able to answer in the verbal sense, they do communicate in return. Much like humans, they utilize body language to get their point across. And they do so quite effectively.
We’re familiar with the universal message of the tail wag — because I’m happy! My dog communicates happiness with more than her tail. Her ears perk and eyes light up in anticipation of breakfast, lunch and dinner. She lifts her two front paws in a half-jump upon mention of the word ‘treat.’ Her entire body wiggles in excitement at the sight of a tennis ball.
I’ve noticed my dog’s mood is a direct reflection of the people around her. When we’re happy, she’s happy. If I greet one of the kids when they come home from school, I’ll hear the dog’s tail thumping in the next room.
When the cat coughed up a hairball and we expressed displeasure about the mess on the carpet, the dog was pretty sure it was her fault. Her ears hung back low on her head. She avoided eye contact. Her shoulders sagged and her tail drooped accordingly. I’m sorry. So sorry, dear humans, for whatever it was I did wrong.
The cat, in contrast, was feeling mighty fine. She’d just coughed up a hairball, for gosh sakes. Do you realize how liberating that is? It was like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders — or a ball of fur released from her abdomen. She held her nose, ears and tail high with an attitude of hoity-toity only a cat can achieve. If she cared a smidgen about the dog’s misplaced remorse, she didn’t let on. Instead she twitched her tail a few times in a display of absolute confidence and sashayed over to the dog’s water dish, where she delicately and deliberately took a drink.
My feline has a catastrophically expressive tail. It twirls and dances with the grace of a ballerina. She’ll walk parallel to a wall — with her body touching, but barely so. (Why do cats do that?) Then she’ll slink around the corner, leaving just the curly-cue of her tail peeking behind as if to say, I love loving myself. You will too, but only if I allow you to do so.
To further assert her position as CEO (cat executive officer) of the house, the seven-pound cat will rub her body along the 80-pound dog, much like she does along the wall. The cat curls her tail around the dog’s back leg with an expression that exudes affection and authority. She is marking her territory. This dog belongs to me.
Meanwhile, the dog appears terrified. Her entire body slumps and her jowls fall toward the floor. Her snout cringes in a dog frown. Her tail lies silent. She shifts nervously — uncomfortable and intimidated, not knowing for sure what she should do, afraid she’ll do the wrong thing, all the while believing she probably already did. Just like with the hairball. Oh, golly.
My pets may not be able to talk, but they communicate both their moods and desires. The dog doesn’t want much. Only to be fed and loved and have her tummy scratched and please, oh please, not be in trouble this time, again.
The cat seems pretty satisfied with unconditional supremacy, unless I happen to step on her tail. Then she definitely demands an apology.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, playwright and author of “The Do-It-Yourselfer’s Guide to Self-Syndication.” You can read more and follow her column on the Slices of Life page on Facebook.