Dorothy Rosby
contributing columnist
“Yes, I know we need more cat food. I’ll pick some up when I’m out,” I say…to my cat. He doesn’t answer, but he does seem relieved.
I’d be ashamed to admit in this column that I talk to my pet if I weren’t so sure that a lot of pet owners do it—and that a lot of people don’t read my column.
Actually, the director of the Purdue University Center for the Human-Animal Bond reportedly once said that 97 percent of pet owners talk to their pets and the other three percent are liars. I think he’s right. Just the other day I walked by a woman who was talking excitedly to her black lab about the size and quality of the stick he was carrying. She didn’t even look embarrassed when she realized I’d overheard. Maybe because I thought it was an awesome stick too and I told the dog so.
Yes, I talk to other people’s pets too. One of my neighbors has three small yippy dogs that raise a ruckus every time I walk by. I tell them often that it’s my neighborhood too and that I have as much right to be in it as they do, so they should just stop their yapping. I hope the neighbors are never in the yard when I’m lecturing their dogs. They might think I’m talking to them. Now that I think about it, maybe I am.
I’ve had an assortment of pets over my lifetime—dogs, cats, hamsters, a canary and a few fish. I’ve talked to all of them though less to the fish than to the others. It’s so hard to hear underwater.
The pet-less may find it amusing that we pet owners talk to critters who just stare back with puzzled looks on their faces—or swim away.
But we know our pets understand us. My cat comprehends every word I say to him. Or at least some of them. Or at least one of them: treats, which is universally understood by all animals, probably even those in the wild. When my cat is outside and I want him to come in, I just say, “Do you want a treat?” in that voice I use to talk to small children. I’m afraid one day the little boys next door are going to take me up on it.
Not only do our pets understand, sometimes they even talk back. Before my canary went to that great aviary in the sky, I said “Good morning, Tweeters” every day when I fed him. And every time, he chirped exactly twice. I like to think he was saying “good morning” back. Or “thank you.” But maybe he was saying, “Now scram, so I can eat in peace.” Still, how amazing.
Anyway, I read that all humans, whether they have pets or not, have a natural tendency to anthropomorphize. That is, we all have a way of attributing human characteristics and behaviors to nonhumans, even inanimate nonhumans. I’m glad I’m not the only one. I knocked over my Christmas cactus this morning and apologized to it. I regularly talk to my handsome companion on life’s highway—my car. And I talk, and rather loudly, to the furniture when I stub my toe on it. So, it makes sense I’d also talk to my cat who clearly has more affection for me than either my car or my coffee table.
The pet-free can make fun of us all they want but talking to our animals is certainly more socially acceptable than talking to the furniture—or, come to think of it, ourselves as I’m prone to do. When my husband overhears me talking to myself at great length about the electric bill or the dirty dishes and says, “Who are you talking to,” I scoff and say, “The cat, of course. Who do you think?”
Dorothy Rosby is the author of the humor book, I Didn’t Know You Could Make Birthday Cake from Scratch: Parenting Blunders from Cradle to Empty Nest. Contact