Out of the Blue

Kittyspeak 101

When a look says it all

By Deborah Salomon

Welcome, once again, to the annual January kitty column — the ninth, I believe.

I am a lifelong animal lover/advocate. All are welcome except foxes and coyotes. Once I kept a caged snake in the garage for my son’s friend while he was at summer camp. I cannot count how many forlorn, destitute kitties have come to my door, instinctively knowing they would be fed, adopted, cared for, loved.

The all-black ones with kind, intelligent eyes are my weakness.

Like Lucky, who showed up in 2011. He had been neutered, declawed and abandoned when his family moved. After feeding him outside for weeks I opened the door. He strolled into my house, my heart. A year later a pudgy half-tabby with a clipped ear signaling a spayed feral began hanging around for handouts. She rewarded me with hisses. I couldn’t ignore her limp so I opened the door. Lucky — who doesn’t have an aggressive bone in his panther-esque body — just stared, stoically. The half-tabby hissed at us both for about a week, then turned on the charm. Now Hissy Missy anchors my lap as I write, leans against my leg when I sleep, and treats Lucky like Meghan Markle does Prince Harry.

In public, at least.

Though intelligence-wise, she’s a dozen Rorschach ink blots beneath him — I should have named him Mensa — they each communicate, ask, answer, demand, complain in subtle, non-verbal, kittyspeak.

I remember seeing an interview of Academy Award actress Kate Winslet, who spoke of a director who criticized how she delivered a line. “Don’t worry, I can say it with my eyes,” Winslet snapped. My Lucky’s huge yellow eyes speak reams, convey a range of emotions: contentment, questioning, fear, acquiescence, warning and, rarely, displeasure. He lacks a loud purr, but stretched out across my lap, his dreamy eyes convey love. If I’m gone for too long I sense reprimand. As feeding time approaches his stare becomes an urgent frown. When the doorbell rings, his eyes warn.

But sometimes eye-talk isn’t enough.

A paw reinforces his query. I feel black velvet stroke my foot as I work on the computer. Pause. Repeat. If no response, a slight mew. I rise, he turns and leads me to his bowl, the back or front doors. Impossible to ignore the polite but insistent paw at 3 a.m. Lucky knows I keep treats in the bedside table.

So does Missy, but she wouldn’t dare.

Lucky also displays a heightened awareness of his surroundings. I broke my wrist recently. When I appeared wearing a cast Lucky was all over it, licking. Did he feel my pain? Was he expressing sympathy or just curiosity?

Missy is more self-absorbed. In fine weather (her definition of temp/humidity) she likes to sit on the back porch table and watch the birds and squirrels nibble peanut butter sandwiches. While Lucky dozes on a chair she remains alert for danger. Like blue jays.

Missy’s maddening method of getting my attention is circling my feet, often resulting in a stepped-on tail. She never learns.

The best is watching them communicate with each other via long, penetrating stares. At least once a day she washes his face. Play may be beneath Lucky’s solemn countenance, but she occasionally shadowboxes — tabby vs. the sphinx. Other than that, Missy defers to him in all matters.

A glass ceiling-smashing bra-burner this gal is not.

I need an animal relationship. Through the years this has been fulfilled by dogs, cats and my children’s pets who knew my home as their own. As for folks who brand kitties cold, aloof and mean, let me remind you that an animal companion often reflects its master’s personality/behavior.

True, I’m neither dignified nor stoic like Lucky. Not a Missy flibbertigibbet either. But at least, day in, day out, through thick and thin, rain or shine, we speak the same language.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

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