Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Our Pets Talk

I grew up with something like Noah's Ark. Dogs, snakes, iguanas, turtles, fish, hermit crabs, rabbits....

It doesn't take a genius to know that dogs and cats are common not just because they're generally pretty affable, but because they have personality. Like anyone with three kids, our three pets each have a special place, and each of them get and require special attention.

Mel is the smart one, who is pretty good at entertaining himself. He lives to please, but as he's gotten older, he also seems to see himself as a bit more of an equal in the family pack. Certainly he sees himself as somewhere in the family hierarchy above Jeff and Lucy, which, I suppose he is. He is often told he's "the good one" or "the smart one", mostly because he's self-sufficient and doesn't need constant maintenance. Mel genuinely has things figured out. He often just seems less like a pet and more like a particularly quiet roommate who is always up for hanging out or running an errand with you.

Jeff the Cat is our little time bomb. He loves me, but not so much anyone else. Including, to her eternal chagrin, Jamie. He follows me around all day, and sleeps by my side at night. Everyone else is suspect, but he is learning to sit on Jamie after living with her for nine years. But he'll also attack her at night if he feels his box isn't clean enough. Why he associates Jamie with the box and not me is sort of a question mark, but there you have it.

Nobody but me likes Jeff. We're pals. In his own way, he's terribly demanding and stubborn, but he's also my first cat, and maybe they're all like that. Jeff is also the rare cat that knows when he's being called and will eventually make his way over (if he's not otherwise occupied). I think he also knows his name.

Lucy is my little princess, but I suspect her lineage may be more of a bamboo shoot that a branching family tree. She's sweet as can be, but doesn't make the mental connections that Mel makes between cause and effect, which makes her very difficult to train. To my eternal frustration.

In her first year, she wasn't at all interested in people. She just sort of bumbled around, doing her own thing. Two years later, and if you're ever further than three feet from the dog, its because she's orbiting someone else. But she'll be back.

All three animals talk.

Mel is the only one who speaks on command, but will NOT do so if he knows Jamie is around as he is aware that loud barking upsets her. Seriously. He waits for her cue before he'll speak. Otherwise, he makes very little noise except to welcome you home (with little dog cries), and a sort of yawning sound when he wants something, such as dinner. He will wag just so to shake his tags if he wants your attention.

Jeff is one talky cat, and will wander around the house saying "Meow?" if he's not clear on where you are. He meows if he wants you to go upstairs. He meows for you to turn on the water in the sink so he can play while you shave. He also meows at you if you're not paying enough attention to him. And, he talks at birds. Do your cats chatter at birds? Its weird, but it seems to make him happy.

Lucy cries whenever she doesn't get her way. Which is about 80% of the day. Sitting near her but not petting her? Low whine. Getting close to dinner, but its not five yet? A long, slow, sustained whine. Happy? She says "Aeh, aeh, aeh". But mostly she cries a lot.

The pets have a minimally competitive thing going on for our attention. Mel is usually happy just being in the room, but Lucy isn't happy unless she's sitting on the couch with you or on you. Jeff wants to choose where he sits. But its not unusual to find yourself surrounded by pets if you're the only one in the house.

And aside from the constant motion between 8:00 AM and 10:00 PM, there's often some discussion going on between you and the pets. This includes guests, as Matt has noticed.

It's a good level of discussion, and there's few pleasures like that level of communication you get with your pets, where you kind of talk at each other with words, sounds and body language. Live together long enough, and that's kind of what you need to do to make it work.

Growing up, I had a somewhat stand-offish relationship with our first dog, who only really liked my mom. But our second dog, Misty, and I hit it off pretty well. And that's where I got used to talking to your dog and eventually learning what sort of conversations you have with your dog that work. Misty was pretty smart, and she had her opinions.

I have no idea how you people without pets get along.


mcsteans said...

All cats chatter at birds.

Like you with Jeff, I have a special place in my heart for Mel as he is my first dog.

Anonymous said...

My cat, Josie, talks to birds. So, I can verify. She also gets really pissed off if I pester her while she's talking to birds.


J.S. said...

Jeff the cat is pretty much an a-hole. He'd knife me in a heartbeat if he had the chance, but I'd never turn my back on that vicious SOB.