Purrfect Communication?

When my hubby and I were first dating, he thought I was nuts for talking to my cats. Now, nearly 15 years later, of all the conversations the cats have with the people in the house, probably 75% or more are with hubby, not me. He even — I kid you not — tucks them in and tells them bedtime stories at night to help them wind down before bed. (Now who’s getting a little nutty?)

Of all our cats, Mao (the Siamese) has the most extensive set of vocalizations and I swear, we always know exactly what he’s saying. Believe me, there’s little room for interpretation. The other cats are less vocal, and a bit less expressive, but they always get their points across. Then again, I used to have a tortoiseshell with whom I could have a dialog of infinite length … she’d respond to every word I said, back and forth, until I would ultimately throw in the towel. Her cat-speak was a puzzle to me; for all I know, she was telling me to shut my yap.

A couple of weeks ago, the Associated Press and Petside.com released the results of a poll in which pet owners were asked how well they understand their animals’ woofs, meows or other sounds. 62 percent of pet owners responded that when they speak, the pet gets the message. Here are some of their findings:

More women than men say they and their pets understand each others verbal stabs at communication. Older and lower-income people are also likelier to cite high levels of comprehension between them and their animals.

Molly Thibodeau, 20, of Fort Riley, Kan., said her two cats understand her so completely that if she wants to shoo them off furniture, I point at them and they get right down.

On the flip side, men are twice as likely as women to say they and their pets are clueless about what each is saying to the other a group that overall comprises fewer than one in 10 pet owners.

Its kind of like, What are you doing? Edwin Oto, 47, of Moraga, Calif., says of his futile efforts to figure out what his dog, Shilo, wants when she keeps barking after he lets her into the house.

Three in 10 dog owners think their pet is baffled when they speak to it, compared with nearly half of cat owners who say the same about their animal.

When it comes to communicating in the other direction, cat owners do better. Twenty-five percent of them say they completely understand their cats meows, compared with 16 percent of dog owners who claim to be totally fluent in barks.

But Jane Starring, 48, of Barrington, R.I., says she and her family are confounded by their 8-year-old cat, Flannel, who often chases people about the house meowing.

Were not sure were making much progress understanding him, said Starring. I dont know what his point is.

William Miller, a professor of veterinary medicine and medical director of Cornell Universitys Companion Animal Hospital, says its not unusual for many owners and pets to understand some of each others speech. He said animals and people learn to communicate verbally by over time associating certain sounds with actions, such as a particular bark when a dog wishes to go outside or the soothing tone many people use when petting their cat.

Its not like youll sit down and have a U.N. conversation with them spoken in different languages, Miller said.

So how about you? I’ve set up 2 polls below: one for cats, one for people. How well do each of you understand the other?