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Karen Foster: The cat's meow

I know that a graduate student at Cornell has studied the meows of cats, both domesticated and captive.

In that study, the researcher determined it's solely the sound of the meow and not its content that is appealing to humans, that humans' reactions artificially select cat's behavior. Humans' responses to cat calls cause cats in turn to recreate those cat calls to get us humans to do something, like feed them.

He also stated that captive cats sound angry all the time to human ears. No kidding. I would be angry if I were held captive perpetually -- maybe that's why after I've been talking for a while at a party, I get tired of the sound of my own voice and leave.

Then there's the non-academic study, but one probably posted online by a cat lover, I've come across on the meaning behind certain tail positions of cats.

That study says that if a cat's tail is fully erect with a vertical tip, the cat is greeting me in a friendly, cheerful manner. If one were to watch my cat, Pumpkin, when he does that, one could rightly assume that he thinks he's the cat's meow. He's confident, sweet, yet really knows how to get what he wants. However, there are times when that tail and his meow mean something entirely different.

Today, he meows into the room, tail erect and meows more until I meander after him to the kitchen, where he saunters over to the screen door. I conclude that he wants me to let the dog in, and I do. But in contemplating that dog and pony show (tail and meow act), I think he really wanted me to let him out, as I sometimes do, and put him in a halter and hook the halter to a chain that really isn't tied to anything -- don't tell him that -- where he sits outside in the grass and chews.

There has to be more studies on cats' meows than that one. When my daughter's cat, Levi, meows at my cat over the cat dishes, Levi isn't trying to learn what his cat meows manipulate Pumpkin to do. I believe he is really saying something like, "You're think you're king cat, but you're only holding the scroll."

My daughter and I recently discovered something odd about cat behavior. Her cat, Levi, who was in our home long before Pumpkin, sometimes does not poop in the litter box, no matter how fresh the litter or how new it is.

I was complaining about this awful situation to a friend of mine, who informed me that behavior is one showing dominance. In other words, Levi's pooping outside the box -- I wonder if there's a correlation to male humans? -- says to Pumpkin, "I get the big cheese."

Well, we couldn't stand it anymore -- the pooping outside the box -- so after taking into consideration what my friend said about dominance, we decided that Levi needs a new home, one in which he is the one and only. Besides he seems to adore males, and since neither my daughter nor I is one, he had to go. So we put him in a cat carrier and off we went to the nearest no-kill shelter more than 90 miles away.

We didn't call first, as we should, denying the fact that there might not be room for one more domestic cat. And there wasn't, and we brought him back through more than 200 miles of weepy cat meows in various pleading tones.

When he escaped from my daughter's arms after we came inside -- we had let him out of the cat carrier in the car, hoping that the meowing will cease -- he zipped downstairs, head down, tail between his legs. The litter box is downstairs. That little escapade really fixed him for a time.

For the next month, he went in the litter box every time. We concluded that metaphorically in Levi's mind when he returned from that long trip like a prodigal cat, he became the house underdog.

A week ago, he pooped outside the litter box again; and we took him on a little ride again. Unlike Pumpkin, who adores being outside, Levi is a big pussy cat.

He despises being outside. If he finds himself on that sea of green grass, it becomes a bed of hot coals, and he tiptoes off as fast as his banty legs will carry him, screaming and cowering by the screen door, his tail tucked far up under his legs.

If I were someone who studies linguistics, I would definitely study cat meows, for there can't be much difference between the position of a cat's tale and what comes out of his mouth.