When cat parent Ali Kherbane filmed his cat Minoosh’s extraordinary talent, all it took was an envelope with one word printed on it. In a wacky, fascinating video titled “This Cat Knows How to Read”, Mr. Kherbane wrote a magic word on an envelope. Each time he thrust the envelope forward underneath the cat’s whiskers, the cat read aloud the word written on the card! Amazing, right? Minoosh got it right every single time! So, what’s the catch? Well, the word, the only word written on the card was the same each time. And…you guess it…the word was “MEOW”. Still, the video shows a charming pet owner playing an adorable game with his beloved kitty. Although, we learn little about the reading ability of felines from the video and the title is more than a bit misleading, the cuteness factor of the man and the cat made it go viral although Minoosh was merely reacting to the game itself, the movement, and the owner’s expectant, happy expression. As any cat owner who plays hide and seek or “which hand is it in?” with their pet can attest, felines just love a good game both with other cats (the ones they decide to get along with) as well as with their human companions. Even when it comes to the most aloof appearing cat; however, there is more to the game than it seems.
As reported by BBC, felines can tell how a human is feeling by studying their facial expressions. If a person is wearing a frown or appears angry, a cat, like we humans, will back away or even run and hide. Conversely, if a cat sees that we are smiling, and have an open, friendly expression, they will approach for petting, jump up in a lap, and do all sorts of adorable tricks to get attention, like rolling on its back and rubbing up against a piece of furniture or against a leg. Cats are reactive to stimuli, both positive and negative. Some say that cats have nuanced expressions that tell humans how they feel; however, the authorities on this phenomena are usually “cat whisperers” and “pet psychics”. Most of us just see those pretty eyes and pert little nose and mouth, except when the cat is hissing at something or someone. A contemplative expression when engaged in reading or a euphoric smile is something most of us just don’t get to enjoy from our cat companions.
It’s not that cats feel like we do, or that they can sympathize of be empathetic of our moods or feelings. This ability to “read” is simply another trick they learn, like how to track a mouse or bird. For domesticated felines, living in a safe, warm home, looking forward to that scrumptious bowl of food each day, dependence on humans is how they survive. Sure, if a cat has to, they can hunt in the wild… as we have all seen how many feral cats live a wild, fast and lean life on the run in the woods, back alleys or junkyards. Although aloof, the pet house cat knows that to help keep up their cushy lifestyle to which they have become accustomed, keeping an eye on their meal ticket is essential. They learn when to be soft and cuddly when the pet parent wants to snuggle, and how to keep out of sight if their human is in a bad mood. Yes, some cats will even console a sad person who has had a bad day, but there is an “ulterior motive” in that as well. A happy pet owner doesn’t forget to change the litter in the pan and they are more likely to remember the kitty treats on shopping day.
Many studies have been conducted concerning the symbiotic relationship between dogs and humans. The canine and human relationship has developed over time, partly out of mutual attraction, but mostly out of necessity. In order for mankind to survive in the wild, he or she needed the assistance of domesticated canines to assist in hunting, fishing and scavaging for food and other resources. While we tend to think of dogs as more caring and empathetic, there is a trade off for their affection as well. The interdependence of dog and humankind was once absolutely essential for the continued survival of both species. Dogs, in many cases let the human dominate them and put them to work under their command and in turn received their protection. Those who take a less than scientific approach will site instance where dogs have saved their owners life or ran into a burning building or jumped in rushing water to save a child. This is simply pack behavior. They are bonded to the humans and have an interest in ensuring that each member of the pack survives.
And yes, many pet owners say that both dogs and cats are capable of deep love and familial affection. While others argue that dogs bond with their owners, but cats bond with whomever is giving them their next meal. Try telling that to a cat lover, as they insist that their kitty’s detached demeanor is just a byproduct of their regal heritage. Cats have been worshipped in some ancient cultures, such as the Egyptians. Cats are a bit mysterious so who knows that their true motive could be? Domesticated pets and humans have an amazing, complex relationship. So be it altruistic actions for selfish reasons, the result is the same. Stimulus and response is in play be it a military dog protecting the troops or a cat meowing when presented with a word on an envelope. It’s pretty awesome, though, any way you look at it.
So, a cat can say “meow” when presented with stimuli but cats have also been filmed saying other words and even bizarre, cryptic phrases. Take for example the viral video, “Oh Long Johnson”, that was so hysterically funny that it was used in an episode of South Park. This angry, yowling, cat really sounds like he is saying “Oh my dog, oh long johnson, oh Don Piano, why I eyes ya, all the live long day!” Was he adlibbing, or reading from a cleverly crafted script. We may never know.