The Ubiquity of Communication

Don't bother me.
The guy has it tough, yeah?

The other night I was sitting in the family room and our (formerly) male cat, Zack, was sitting on my lap enjoying me showering affection on him. As I’m petting him I’m talking and, mostly, using his name and telling him how much I love him and what a good cat he is . . . and he is, perhaps, one of the best cats I’ve encountered in my life. He is one of those cats that craves human company and follows us around the house seeking it. He’s really a great cat.

I was just relaxing, no doubt getting as much out of giving affection as Zack was out of receiving it, and I found myself thinking about how I communicate with him. He clearly knows his name, or does he? He responds when I call him, frequently by loping over from wherever he might be to receive a quick pet or a scritch. However, he’ll do that pretty much regardless of whether I’m saying his name or using some other term of endearment – and there are many, including just cooing at him in stupid, abject drooly-talk.

He seems to recognize all of them, so is he responding to his name, one of his many nicknames, some blathering expression of unbridled affection, or just the sound of my voice, which he no doubt also associates with food? Actually, given that I’m not really engaging him in meaningful conversation, does it really matter? He seems to always get the message. Maybe it’s just that he’s a slut for affection. I know all about that :).

About Rick Ladd

Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spent quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017. I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well. View all posts by Rick Ladd

9 responses to “The Ubiquity of Communication

  • The Other Trish

    Our cat always seems to know when he is being talked about, even when he is “asleep”, or at least with eyes closed and unable to see visual cues. I’m sure it has partly to do with subtle changes in the pitch of our voices that we’re unaware of, or hearing the exact direction that our faces are pointed. We rarely ever use his actual name. He always mrowrs as if to say, “I know you’re talking about me. Better not be anything bad.”

  • Lorena Dunn

    Communication for people = 9% message + 37% tone and inflection + 54% body language. I wonder how this ratio works out for our pets. I guess we’d need to add a 4th variable for scent.

    • Rick Ladd

      Good point! Scent is obviously important for humans as well, though probably not nearly as nuanced and informative as it is for non-humans. Old Spice, Obsession, Chanel N°5 . . . the list is endless, though I think the message is always related to sex. I think, with non-humans, the message is frequently “where the hell have you been?” or “what have you been up to?”. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Mark Eggleston

    Communication for people = 9% message + 37% tone and inflection + 54% body language. I wonder how this ratio works out for our pets. I guess we’d need to add a 4th variable for scent.

    • Rick Ladd

      Hi Mark – Your comment reminds me there was a much more protracted line of thinking that came with this concept, but it happened very late one night and, by the time I got around to writing about it, I had lost some of what I was thinking. Scent is surely an important part of how many animals, especially domesticated pets, communicate. I also found myself thinking about communication in terms of chemical reactions, DNA sequencing, gravitational influence, etc. I’m still mulling it all over, searching for that Grand Unified Theory of communication I expect to get that Pulitzer . . . or is it a Nobel . . . prize for. Stay tuned! Thanks for the visit and the comment.

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  • Trisha

    Awww, hello Zach! So cute, he does sound great. Who says cats are aloof and don’t need us humans?

    • Rick Ladd

      Hi Trisha – Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Zack’s sister, Weezy, is pretty aloof but I think that’s in part because he’s managed to terrorize her over the years. She just no longer is comfortable being touched, though she’s getting better.

      As laid back and gentle as he is with us and the children, he’s a monster when it comes to his sister. I’ve had to smack him around a bit to try and get him to leave her alone. She just sees him sometimes and immediately hisses a warning, which he is just as likely to ignore, especially since he’s got to be 25% more massive than she is. Ah, the complexity of it all.

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