What Are my Cats Thinking? More Importantly, Why do I Ask Them?
It’s not the hope that they know what I’m telling them that makes it continue
It’s just past dinner, and I’m settling in for my night of pantsless TV, when I hear two sounds from the kitchen. First is the hissing. Then the sound of kibble bouncing across the floor. This happens every night. Despite that, I go to investigate, knowing full well what I’ll find when I get there. Mae looms over her food bowl, now holding a fraction of what it did only moments ago. She growls at Biscuit as he knocks a single piece of kibble across the room, chasing it until he’s tired enough to lay down and eat it. I don’t have any idea which cat ate all the food in Mae’s bowl, but I do know this:
1. Biscuit’s newest toy most definitely came from Mae’s bowl, and
2. His bowl sits nearby still completely full.
Biscuit is exactly what you’d imagine a kitten to be. Not a year old, always full of energy, and the most problematic little son of a bitch you’ve ever met. I couldn’t love him more. Mae is at least six. She adopted us fully grown nearly five years ago, so it’s hard to be sure. For clarity, Biscuit is not her child. He thinks they’re the best of friends, and loves to sneak up from behind to boop her and run away. Mae wishes he was never born.
“Biscuit,” I say, and he looks up at me. He might know his name, or he might just know he’s been caught. “That’s not your food, buddy. Your bowl is over here.” I try to show him, but he’s long since lost interest in me. Of course, I know that he knows where his bowl is. He was eating from it while we ate dinner not an hour ago. With this in mind, I exhaustedly ask, “Why do you do this?” I can only imagine the nonsense explanation he’d give if he could answer me. But of course he can’t. So why do I ask him?
This is a nightly occurrence, and usually not just once a night. I ask Mae questions like this too. “He didn’t do anything yet, why are you mad at him now?” She’s usualy justified in her anger, but she never explains it to me. The more peculiar thing though is that I know this doesn’t just happen to me. I think all pet owners have asked their companions that exact question. “What do you think you’re doing?” We know they won’t tell us. Could you imagine if they did?
“Well, that squirrel in the yard looks threatening. So I thought I’d yell at it from here to scare it away.” Or maybe “Oh, I’m just taking your clothes to hide them somewhere. Don’t look, it’ll be fun.”
Personally, I’d be more worried to get an answer than thankful that they took the time to tell me. So again, it begs the question, why bother asking at all? Maybe it’s to try and teach them. Like if I say it enough, they’ll understand that it’s something they shouldn’t do, and stop. But do they understand me? Do they know their names? Can they distinguish the tone of our voices? I can’t answer any of those questions, and I’d wager that most of you can’t either. But do I have any intention to stop talking to them as if they were going to suddenly talk back? Of course not.
So I suppose the question really is, who’s the one that doesn’t learn? Yes, Biscuit will pull this night after night. He’ll assault Mae every chance he gets, and never take the cue from her hissing that it’s not a game to her. And yes, I’ll chastise him every time. But is it him who won’t learn, or is it me? After all, I’m the one with the mental capacity to change my behaviors. But I’ll never stop talking to them, and they’ll never stop being confused by what I’m saying. It’s not the hope that they know what I’m telling them that makes it continue. It’s the fact that people talk to one another, and we all consider our pets part of the family.