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The Purrfect Form of Communication

Fluffy, Fido, or Fiona. Many of us have pets that we adore. My three little fur boys, Oreo, Ree Ree, and Bagheera, have a very special place in my heart. I got them the day after my oldest daughter, Rachel, left for college. It was August 20, 2020, when the Animal Rescue League (ARL) called to see if we would foster these one-month-old kittens. Rachel had put our name down on a list at the ARL back in March to be a foster family. We had never had pets, and she felt lonely like many during the pandemic. Ironically, the call to foster kittens came months later, the day after she left for her first year at college. My younger daughter, Dani, and I were already missing Rachel and jumped at the chance to take care of some adorable cuddly kittens. The icing on the cake was that two of the kittens were black and white, or tuxedo felines as they are commonly known. They are my favorite since I had one named Inky growing up who I absolutely adored. These three little mischievous creatures have added so much laughter and happiness to our lives. The only downside is that my husband is allergic and must get weekly shots.

As a communication professor, I am intrigued by how the cats communicate with us. Although they don't speak a word of English, we know exactly what they are saying. Each of them has a unique personality and way of communicating to us.

Of course, they meow. But it's the other sounds they make which are more interesting. Ree Ree has a very low voice…with a lot of attitude. He sort of sounds like a teenager who is blowing you off. For example, he makes this grunt whenever he jumps on the kitchen island, and you tell him to get down. It sounds like he is talking back to you.

Oreo is the smallest, most agile, and the smartest. I am convinced he would be in the “Feline Olympics” if something like this existed. My daughter calls him the circus cat because of the crazy stunts he does. For instance, the great room in my house is two stories high, and Oreo often walks on the railing and then jumps down to the wall unit on the first floor. The first couple of times he did this, my daughter, husband, and I panicked, fearing he would hurt himself. So, we get a ladder and carefully carry him down from the top of the wall unit. But now we know he can safely jump down from the wall unit onto a chair ottoman. When Oreo lands on top of the wall unit, he sounds like a bird who is chirping to us. His high-pitched squeaky voice sounds like he is saying, "Look at me, I love it up here!  Don't make me come down.”

Bagheera is different in appearance and personality from his two brothers. He is a black cat and very mysterious just like you might expect. He is a creature of habit and does the same routine every day. Each evening when I am getting ready for bed he excitedly runs into the bedroom and heads straight for my bathroom. He jumps onto the rim of my bathtub and talks to me in a squeaky voice. It is my signal to go pet him. As I do this, he eagerly raises his head so I can pet his neck and he just purrs. If I stop petting him, he starts squeaking at me and I know I must continue.

I am fascinated by their communication techniques and decided to do some research on the topic. The majority of research conducted on cat communication focuses on how they communicate with humans. When speaking to their owners, cats employ a handful of distinct cat language sounds, including purr, hiss, howl, chirp, and, of course, meow. What's interesting to note is that these furry friends uses their meow as a special form of communication just for their owners ( ). According to a study which is called "Meowsic," launched in 2016 by Lund and Linköping universities in Sweden on how cats communicate with people it was found that "adult cats only meow to humans and not to each other, most likely because their mothers stopped responding once they were weaned off her milk," explains The Science Explorer. The study also examined whether or not cats mimic the same accents as their owners.

I think these studies show that my three furry musketeers really do have a special way of telling us what they want and how they feel.  I think the sign outside our vet’s office says it best, “Dogs have owners, cats have staff.” Our little feline friends are communicating with us so we will do exactly what they want.  They really have purrfect communication skills!



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