Chatty Catty

Janet Coburn
3 min readJan 28, 2024

Yes, I’m one of those crazy ladies who talks to my cats. The thing is, some of them talk back. They’re not often communications that I can understand, but I don’t care. It’s like having the TV on in the background while I write. It’s part of the ambient sound of the house.

(Once one of my cats did communicate something recognizable to me via brain waves. Dushenka was sitting on the arm of the sofa looking at me, and I swear I could hear her thought: “I need a drink of water.” When I checked it out, her water dish, which she couldn’t see from the sofa, was indeed empty. It was a psychic communication, adorable and yet a little creepy. But I digress.)

We had a cat named Shaker who taught a parakeet to speak cat. Shaker went around all day saying r-row (rhymes with now). We’d have little conversations with her. (“Shaker, what’s a kitty say?” “R-row.” “Yes, that’s right.”) Well, Ralphie the parakeet (named after Ralph Waldo Emerson), after hearing all this r-rowing many times a day, began saying it too. (We tried to teach him to say “Pretty bird,” but he only ever picked up the “bird” part. He started saying “Shaker-bird.” He was one confused little guy. But I digress again.)

Some of our cats stuck to the stereotypical “meow,” but they put their own spin on it. Julia, for example, had a little meow that was decidedly bitchy. Her personality wasn’t a bit bitchy, but her meow sure was. Her littermate Laurel had a silent meow, perhaps in self-defense. She would simply open her mouth with her lips forming the word “meow,” but no sound came out. (Do cats have lips, anyway? I’m not sure. Siri claims they do.) Louise would make a darling little sigh when I held her in my arms. I melted every time she did that.

I loved silent Laurel, of course, but I longed for another talkative cat. I went to the shelter and told the helper, “I want a talker.” All the aides looked at each other and then simultaneously pointed at one particular cage. (The kitty in the cage was named Precious Bob. That would never do. We renamed him Jasper. But I digress some more.) Jasper would wait until we were in bed at night, then come bounding up on the bed and meow both incessantly and insistently. We didn’t know what he was saying — just that it seemed terribly important to him. We would ask him what it was all about. “What’s that you say, Jasper? Timmy fell down the well? And Grandpa fell in after him? And all the rescuers sent to get them out fell in too? And then a plane crashed into the well? And caught fire?”

Our present cat, Toby, doesn’t bug us for food (mostly, that is), but when we say the magic words, “Toby, do you want to EAT?” he says mm-weep. He makes other cute noises like mm-wow and mm-woo, but mm-weep is saved for breakfast and dinner. He occasionally snores. (We briefly considered whether he needed a little kitty CPAP, but then we considered trying to put one on him and rapidly changed our minds. But I digress some more.)

But that’s just how our cats communicate with us. There’s also the ways we communicate with them. These vary from babytalk that makes us sound like babbling idiots: “Toto-boo-boo, does you want your noms? Num, num, num — om-nom” to pleading: “Toby, get off my lap. I need to pee” or “Move! You’re standing on my boob. You weigh like a brick!” It doesn’t matter. He ignores both babble and pleading. Just like a cat.

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Janet Coburn

Author of Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us, Janet Coburn is a writer, editor, and blogger at butidigress.blog and bipolarme.blog.