Baby Talk

Emma, a fluffy, white ten-week-old kitten, surveyed my office with the confidence of a conqueror viewing her new lands. Her blue eyes darted from the ticking clock to the window and then on to the gurgling water cooler. Spying a cat toy, she pawed at it, springing back with delight as it rolled about. She then wiggled under the cabinet only to emerge moments later covered with dust. She assessed the water bowl with a quick sniff then turned, sat down and started to groom herself. Emma might as well have been wearing a sign around her neck that said, "I'm adorable and I know it!"
Jill, Emma's person, had brought her in to see me because there was a problem. Emma was jumping all over Jill's other cat Bosco, a black and white tuxedo cat, who had been living contently with Jill for 3 years. Being the only cat in the house at the time, he slept when he wanted, ate when he wanted and enjoyed Jill's undivided attention in the evening. Since Emma had arrived a few weeks ago, she had been running around pouncing on Bosco and trying to wrestle with him. Bosco had taken to hiding in Jill's bedroom all day and never approached Jill when Emma was around.
Jill was very upset to see her sweet Bosco so miserable. She hoped it might help to have me explain to Emma that harassing Bosco was a bad idea. Jill wanted me to tell Emma that it wasn't okay to jump on Bosco or to bother him.
When Jill first called me about this situation, I suggested we wait until Emma was a bit older to talk with her about this issue. Generally, I find problem-solving conversations with baby animals to be fairly useless. Like young human children, they usually have very short attention spans and are focused on their own wants and needs. Jill insisted that she still wanted to attempt getting through to Emma, so I agreed to try.
My conversation with Emma went like this:
Me: "Hi Emma, I'm Polly. Your mom loves you very much and has some things she would like to talk with you about."
Emma (playing with toy): "What? I like this."
Me: "Emma, mom tells me you live with another cat."
Emma: "Where are we?"
Me: "You're in my office and I talk with dogs and cats here and help their people understand them better."
Emma then started wrestling with a small ball.
Me: "Emma, your mom says you live with another cat called Bosco. Do you know who I mean?"
Emma: "Bosco's not here. I'm beautiful, everyone tells me."
Me: "Yes, you are beautiful. Your mom wants to talk with you about Bosco."
Emma: "Mom wants to talk with me?" Emma then looked at Jill for a moment.
Me: "Yes, mom says when you are around Bosco you pounce and grab at him."
Emma: "I love to play. Why doesn't he like to play?"
Me: "He's older and doesn't play like that."
Emma: "Why?"
Me: "Because when cats get older sometimes they have less energy and don't feel like playing as much."
Emma seemed confused by the idea of not wanting to play.
Emma: "I like to play."
Me: "Mom hopes you can play gently around Bosco." (At this point I imagine a scene of Bosco lying quietly and Emma gently batting him.)
Emma: "No, that's not how to play."
Me: "Emma, mom loves you and she loves Bosco and she wants you both to be happy. When you pounce on Bosco that makes Bosco mad and then mom gets sad."
Emma was again confused.
Me: "Can you try to play more gently with Bosco to make mom happy?"
Emma: "I'm pretty."
Me: "Yes, Emma, you're pretty. Would you consider playing gently with Bosco to make mom happy?"
Emma: "That's not how I play. It smells like food here, but I don't see food. Where's the food?"
At this point I turned to Jill and relayed the conversation I'd just had with her little snowball. Jill said it didn't sound like Emma was even trying to change. I reminded her again that Emma was a baby and she was doing things normal for a baby: Emma was playing and her world revolved around herself. I suggested we have this conversation again when Emma was a little older and had a longer attention span and Jill agreed.
I always enjoy talking with young animals, but I also caution clients about expecting too much from these conversations. Talking with young animals can give you a good idea of how they see their world, which results in a better understanding of why they are doing a particular behavior. Still, I wouldn't expect to have deep conversations with young animals about much of anything. It's the same thing as expecting my 18 month old daughter to understand and convey deep thoughts about her world. They just don't have the maturity and experience to look at their environment the same way as older animals do.
The conversation with Emma reminded me of something that happened when was I preparing to teach my first animal communication class. I was trying to figure out some interesting way to start the class. Another person I know who also teaches animal communication said she asked her horse what was important for the students to know and then relayed the message to her students at the beginning of class. That sounded like a good idea, so I asked one of my cats, who didn't really care about my question and wasn't interested in thinking about an answer. Then I asked my three-year-old Newfoundland. He said, "Tell them you are nice and they have to listen really hard." Not profound, but I told him I would pass it along. At this point my 7-month-old Standard Poodle puppy, Jordie, broke into the conversation. "You didn't ask me!"
I turned to Jordie and said, "Okay, what do you think?" Jordie responded exactly the way you'd expect a 7-month-old to react. He said, "What are we talking about?"
If you've been trying to practice your animal communication skills with a young animal, be patient and give them a little bit of time to grow up. Then the possibilities will be endless for the conversations you can have with your animals.