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Florence in Words

Six Months of Mr. Taksi, the Resident Cat

If I’m so pleased by Taksi, why hadn’t I moved earlier to adopt a cat? Three people very close to me are allergic to cats: my daughter, my daughter-in-law, my best friend, Helene. But they’ve understood, especially since he makes me laugh heartily at least once a day, often many times. And he now follows me around the apartment, settling into a nap if that’s what he needs, but waking up and moving with me, should I move.

And yes, he now wants to know what I am eating, and he’s interested in tasting whatever it is, though his palate is fairly limited. But he’s no nag. When I say no, he goes off.

Which brings me to language. Can cats, like dogs, learn verbal signals? I’m trying to answer that question, and I’ll tell you what I know at this six month point. When it’s eating time, Taksi is very excited and he used to stand up and try to knock the plate out of my hand. He’s over three feet when he stands up on his hind legs and he’s strong. So I’ve taught him the following words: “Sit” and “Stay.” And most of the time they work: I can actually get the food almost to the floor before Taksi moves to it. He’s now revised that little action to his sitting on the stepstool that I have at the end of the kitchen. And he’s dragged the place mat, meant to be beneath his food, to the top of the stepstool, where he sits. And it’s clear that he knows “Sit” and “Stay.”

He also knows “no,” especially when enunciated with volume and a special tone. He’ll drop something he’s carrying if I shout “no.” And he also knows the word “out,” issued usually from my bedroom, if he’s banging the venetian blinds to wake me and to amuse himself. He’s learned not to do that, since my response has been to lock him out of the bedroom, beginning with the word “out.”

I’d like to hear from people with cats who think they’ve been teaching their pets verbal cues. And, as a postscript, I’ve been trying to play fetch with Taksi, and I’ve made minimal progress so far. But he loves to play, and favorite toys are balls of paper or tinfoil, cardboard roll inside toilet rolls, anything that will move if batted. And a few times, so far, he’s carried the ball back to me in his mouth, as a dog would.
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