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Personification of animals

March 5, 2007

Actually, it is really Anthropomorphism, which is the attribution of human aspects inanimate objects, animals, or unseen forces.

As some background on the matter, I adopted a small black female cat from a shelter back in 1994.  The cat is the short-haired variety and most closely resembles the “bombay’ breed of feline.  She’s been an inside cat since I got her, and as such, I’ve been able to watch her behavior patterns more closely.    I suppose I always talked to the cat, usually calling her name in misguided belief that she would hasten, when summoned as will most dogs.   When the mood strikes, she will.   Over the years, I’ve noticed her behavior falls into routines, and each routine can last perhaps six months before being replaced by another.   I operated under the belief that cats could only recognize a handful of words, and probably derived meaning and intent more from tone of voice, than actual comprehension.   Perhaps a year or two ago, I was scooping out the cat’s supper and called for her to come and eat dinner.  No reaction from the cat.   Leslie suggested that I needed to tell the cat what she was having for dinner in order to whet her appetite.  Rubbish.  Half in jest, I called out again and announced that it was shredded chicken.  To my utter amazement, the cat hopped off the bed and trotted into the kitchen,  paused to look at me, than began to eat.   While I still remain somewhat skeptical, I do find that I now explain things more to the cat.   For instance, when it was time to move out of the apartment, I showed her the cat carrier (which from past experience, I know she is loath to enter)  then picked her up and explained that we were moving, and that I needed her to get in when she was ready.  I put her down on the carpet, and she walked 10 feet into the open cat carrier and sat down.   I stood there with probably the same look that early cavemen had when they first banged stones together and started a fire.

Cats have variation to the sounds they utter, as do dogs, and I think they understand us better than we understand them.   Recently, I’ve heard my indoor cat,  and one of our outdoor cats, a calico, make a very similar sound when they are overdue to be fed.  It’s an abrupt sort of noise, and I believe it punctuates the urgency of their request for whatever it is they want, which may or may not be linked to food.   I’ve only heard this particular sound uttered when in close proximity to the cats, and it differs from the longer and more drawn out sounds that appear to be calling or summoning sounds when a human or other cat is not immediately evident and the cat wants something – to be fed, let in or out, or to otherwise beckon.

What if a study were done to video an animal, cat or dog, over a period of time, and observe it’s interactions with others?  Digitize the audio and log it into a database of sorts, associated and cross referenced by the activity or situation that accompanied the sound.     See if any understanding of language can be inferred from association of sounds and activities?   How do we crack cyphers?  I would think some of the same techniques could be applied.   

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 5, 2007 8:50 pm

    I found my cat (Hermione) under a Car when she was no more than 4 months old. She’s been quite a Character ever since. I share the belief that they understand a lot more than we understand them.

    Oddly enough she’s a chatter, and always expresses her feelings, which go far beyond calling for food, or the kitty litter. For instance, she loves playing catch and fetch. She brings her toy, drop it at our feet and start calling for attention, she won’t stop until we toss the thing around a few times, until she’s tired enough and goes back to her 20+/day hours sleep. I’ve had cats since I was born, but this kind of “dog behavior” is a first.

    It’d be too long to portrait the full cat’s personality, but let me tell you, she has some very interesting mood swings, and you’d better not bother her if she’s on a “bad day” or she’ll run and hide until she’s on a better mood.

    I think we tend to underestimate animal’s understanding (intelligence?) and there’s not a single day I’m not amazed on the level of empathy the cat and us have grown up to share.

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