My cat is loud. He’s emphatic. He’s insistent. He meows a lot. “Well,” you might say, “that’s what cats do.” Sure, but my cat, Thomas, does it louder, longer, more … I don’t know, flagrantly, than many cats. Thomas’ vocabulary contains at least 10 variations on meow. He has softer ones (including some adorable little purr-meows), but holy cow, he loves his loud.
Sometimes, I know exactly what he wants. “Give me another dinner!” “Let me go fight that raccoon in the backyard!” Other times I’m stumped. Regardless, the meows continue. If there were a word meaning “full-volume filibuster,” it might become Thomas’ surname.
Sound like aural torture? Well, yes and no. I’ve learned to love Thomas’ meows. He’s a remarkably expressive cat. Also, I’ve learned to shorten his filibusters, as it were. Living together for nearly six years, he and I have come to know and understand one another.
I still can’t access his volume control, but I now better perceive what he needs when he gets loud, so I can help him feel safe so he quiets down.
Puzzling it out
Much of this relationship development occurred during what I call “kitty bachelor weekends.” My wife, Daphne, travels for work several times a year, and when I’m the only human in the house, the schedule can change pretty drastically.
First, I’m a true “night person.” Second, I’m a painter and sculptor in addition to a writer and editor. So I love working alone in my studio late into the night. For me, it’s a creative break from routine, a time to process and rejuvenate. For a cat, however, it can signal the end of the world.
At first, that’s how Thomas took it. When he and I were alone overnight, “uneasy truce” was about the best it got. He was often restless and noisy in the late hours, periodically returning to my studio imploring me to … well, I didn’t know what. I could tell he was anxious, though, and he didn’t sleep in our bedroom, which is rare. So I set out to solve this puzzle.
I closely observed Thomas, and I researched cat behavior. I also strengthened the routines Thomas and I have on nights when everyone is home. Over time it became clear: These routines are crucial to a cat’s sense of well-being and general order in his domain.
These routines are pretty fun, too.
Daphne and I usually go to bed around the same time. Once in the bedroom, I have a really energetic play session with Thomas, using his favorite wand toy — which I call Stumpy because he has absolutely shredded it. Eventually, I let him catch Stumpy, whom he drags under the bed, victorious. When he emerges a few seconds later, he gets pets and treats. Soon afterward, all three of us are in bed, Daphne and I reading, Thomas taking a bath.
A new routine
When Daphne is away, though, I often stay up later, working in the studio. The break in routine seemed to trigger Thomas’ anxiety, so I tried an experiment. Around “normal” bedtime, I called Thomas and initiated the play-pet-treat ritual.
Afterward, I calmly said, “I’m returning to the studio for a while. You’re welcome to join me.” It took some adjustment, but now he often follows me and sleeps on my big red cushy studio chair. It’s not always perfect, but we’re establishing a new routine for just the two of us.
When I finish the studio session, I tell him I’m going to bed, and he usually accompanies me. When he does, I give him a bonus round of treats. If he doesn’t follow me, I don’t insist, but he usually comes in soon.
All this has helped us get more in tune with one another. On the one hand, he’s still loud at times — he’ll always ask for a second dinner, and he’ll never stop wanting to fight that raccoon. But his vociferous insistence no longer brings frustration or confusion.
Now I can better sense what’s getting at him, talk to him patiently (and sometimes humorously), and pretty soon he quiets down. Sometimes he’ll throw in some adorable little purr-meows for subtle emphasis. (Just kidding about the “subtle” part.)
Tell us: How does your cat react when his routine is interrupted?
Thumbnail: Photography ©JackF | Getty Images.
Keith Bowers is a career journalist who has covered pets, the arts, law, politics, business and crime. He is a visual artist in oil painting, sculpture and photography and has been the emcee for CatCon for three years. He lives in Corvallis, Oregon, with his wife, Daphne, and one cat, a brown tabby named Thomas.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Catster magazine delivered straight to you!