By David Jones
We have two cats at home, a couple of dogs and a visiting dog who I call the Grand-dog because she feels just like a grandchild.
I like dogs, but I’m much more of a cat person. I don’t enjoy having my face licked or dealing with the boundless energy of a pup, so I adopted a cat… who licks my face and has boundless energy. Such is life.
But our relationships are curious. In a way, they aren’t pets but family members, with consciousness and awareness and intelligence to whatever degree. They like some things, dislike other things, enjoy doing this and thoroughly don’t enjoy that. They have emotions, they somehow understand that we have a relationship. They express love and appreciation. They (and I) are living beings and we possess qualities that bond us to each other.
But why on earth do I talk to them? I’m not Doctor Doolittle.
I don’t really think they understand most of what I say to them. Outside of saying “No!” when cats sharpen their claws on our couch or “come on up” when I invite them to sit with me on the same couch, what do they really get? It doesn’t matter. I still talk to them.
I’ve read that cats reserve a lot of their vocalizing for people. Like cats growl and hiss at each other as a warning, but so much of their inter-cat communication is pheromones and body language. Dogs seem to do the whole body language thing too, although they’ll also vocalize at just about anything. (“Hey everybody! I’m running! Witness me!!”)
I got to wondering about it because I’ve always talked to animals, and many have talked to me. I’ve no clue what he means when he meows at me, but I acknowledge his meow and reply in my own way. He replies with another meow, and we hold a discussion for a bit. We both end with some sense of accomplishment, a realization that these incomprehensible sounds served their purposes.
The time spent telling the pup she’s a good girl or telling the kitty that he’s a silly kid isn’t wasted time because understanding the meaning of the words isn’t the point.
The point is that we all acknowledge each other as living beings, we forge a connection through sounds and posture and touch. My cat mews, trills and occasionally meows. My wife’s cat has complex meows that almost resemble the word-division or syllable-division sounds we use. In all cases we’re reminded of our connection. And it’s not just at home.
I remember my former workplace had this huge courtyard with a man-made water feature: two ponds connected by a sort-of waterfall. Folks would sit out there at lunch and watch families of ducks swimming around lily pads while geese lurked. Turtles would poke their heads out of the water as they swam with their kids. Fish swirled and rested in massive schools. We had a blue heron too.
Along with flowering plants and shiny sculptures, the running water and the animals living their lives in our courtyard lowered our stress and dissatisfaction for a little while at least.
But this wasn’t like seeing animals in cages or on TV, it was more personal, intimate. It was a reminder of something bigger than us, bigger than production targets or processing deadlines. We all existed with the freedom to roam, to interact, to commune. We spent a little time connected to each other, a sharing of lives.
I think that’s why I talk to cats and dogs and birds and often other people: it’s not to share information or to express opinions or ideas. It’s to interact and acknowledge our connection a little bit. Communication is related to Communing after all.
At my former job people often came up to me at lunch or in the hallways just to say hi and be sociable. But the term I started using for that was “they came by to touch.” Just to touch, as in “staying in touch,” you know? I spent a lot of time solving problems and helping folks out, and it was good that we all kept in touch afterward, to remember our connections.
When I come to a tree I like to touch it. When I’m walking on grass I remain aware of my shoes pressing down on the blades and stems, hoping it doesn’t hurt too much. I see animals in the wild and a part of me reaches out to them and I feel that connection. I tell squirrels I’m not a threat and apologize to the flock of birds I startled into the air when I stepped out of my house. None of them understand much or any of this, but I don’t do it for understanding. I do it out of respect, respect to the life I’m sharing a planet with. They aren’t inferior to me, they’re simply them and I’m simply me.
We communicate to recognize our connection.
To commemorate it, to share it, to celebrate it. The flower shares its scent, the cat shares its purr, the tree shares its shade, the grass shares its color. The plants communicate, as do the animals and the people and the insects and I’ll bet the earth and planets and stars. Look deeply and you’ll see it, hear it, and feel it. You don’t have to understand what it’s all saying to you.
Just smile and appreciate the connection.
Did you like this post? You may also like:
- Floating in Meditation: My Experience in a Sensory Deprivation Tank - November 15, 2023
- Going Back to Beginner’s Mind and Writing for Joe - October 27, 2023
- The Reason I Talk to Animals (I’m Not Dr. Doolitle) - September 25, 2023