Learning the language of cats

Photo by David Darnielle

I have always been a dog person.

There are fond memories in my mind of my grandma’s Doberman Pinscher — Czar — who, without fail, would take the spot beside my toddling form in a protective stance whenever a stranger was around.

Head low, ears and tail at dagger-like points, Czar trusted no one implicitly — other than the tiny, bushy haired youngin’ who would routinely grasp and grab at the form of his furry friend, pulling and stretching.

Czar would snap and jaw at everyone, but little Danny got away with being a terrible annoyance.

I also remember Bailey, the tiny lap dog that grew up perpetually at my feet. Bailey was a smart dog and knew all the tricks: roll over, play dead and could chase a ball late into the orange evenings of summer, for hours upon hours.

She looked more like a rat with her hair cut, and when it was grown out, she’d easily be mistaken for a particularly fluffy mutt. But I loved her until the day she finally passed.

So yes, I’ve much preferred the company of pooches to their feline alternative.

It’s not that I didn’t like cats. No, not at all.

Okay, I didn’t like cats.

Scratching, biting and filled with attitude — cats always seemed to be in some sort of mood.

It could probably be attributed to one night when I was a young man of 18 — with a long head of that same brown bushy hair to match the hockey players I adored.

I was sleeping off a night of revelry on a good friend’s couch, letting the cold night air waft in through a nearby window as my eyes fluttered to a close, the memories of more-than-enjoyable evening on my mind.

Then, my friend’s family cat decided to climb up the side of the couch. Using my lengthy hair as rope ladder.

My immediate reaction involved more four-letter words than I’d care to admit. It’d made a sailor blush and I probably woke up the neighbours five miles away.

So needless to say, I’ve never been a cat person, until recently. Until I met Pheen.

Pheen is short for Seraphina, of the Seraphim: the highest of the angels in Christianity.

Pheen, however, is a chubby tabby with an attitude. A queen of the street who ended up becoming my ongoing roommate through a series of events too long to recount.

Needless to say, Pheen recently became part of my household and I learned the language of cats.

Cats always have a look in their eyes as if they are just about to say something, as if language is just on the tip of their scratchy tongues and they’d just rather meow. The language of cats is interpreting what exactly those words might mean.

For example, while I’m at my nearby desk and Pheen paws at the blinds and looks out of the corner of her eyes to meet mine, it means “I want the window open”

She’ll watch out the window for the occasional bird fluttering by, the posture of a near-pathetic predator that couldn’t — and wouldn’t — kill a fly.

She’s much happier to use the language of cats to communicate “I’d like another meal please!” from the perpetually open can on the counter, by consistent meowing and attempts to trip me over my own two legs.

This might seem as thought it’s harmless and adorable playfulness. It’s less adorable when it’s at 4:30 a.m., a good two hours before my regular wake-up time.

Yet, Pheen has proved her worth most recently with a particularly specific use of the language of cats.

Loss is never easy. No one grieves the same way, but everyone grieves. And it lasts so long and it never gets easier.

I was lying in bed with my grief when Pheen worked her way into my room, hopping her wiggling, strutting bottom across the covers, and she came up to me.

She looked at me and tilted her head just slightly. I was confused for just a moment, hoping to interpret exactly what she wanted to say in the language of cats.

She kneaded her paws into my chest and twisted around a few times, before laying her entire, weighty body against mine and she just breathed. The gentle vibrations of her purring shivering into my skin.

I looked into her and she looked into me, and in that moment, I knew exactly what she was trying to say. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

Nothing at all.

So now I know the language of cats. And although I still am a dog person, I think there is room for an angel in my life.