Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dog Speak, Cat Speak

Sailor here. I want to tell you about cats.

Now, I like cats, I do. But at first, our cat didn’t like me. She calls herself Hiss-Spit and introduced herself that way every time she saw me. This was not necessary. I knew her name; I learned it the first day I met her.

On my first day home with my new family, Hiss-Spit told me about dogs.

“Stay away from me,” she hissed, waving her feet in my face. “Dogs are obnoxious and beneath my notice. They drool and pant and want to chase me. I have better things to do than be friends with dogs.”

I did what she said. When I saw her coming, I quickly went in the other way. I wanted to keep the skin on my nose.

All this changed, though, when I saved Hiss-Spit's life.

Mom let Zoe and me out into the yard to play sled dog. I got tired and flopped down under the oak tree to figure out how to teach Zoe to play Herd. I was startled awake by a ruckus on the deck. Zoe had backed Hiss-Spit her into a corner. The cat yowled and spat and waved her feet at Zoe. Zoe had a bloody nose and a bloody tongue.

“TO THE RESCUE!” I barked.

Zoe grabbed Hiss-Spit by the back of her neck. I grabbed Zoe by the back of her neck. Zoe let go of Hiss-Spit. I let go of Zoe. Zoe grabbed Hiss-Spit again. I grabbed Zoe and frantically looked around for help.

“MMMphelp!” I cried through a mouthful of husky fur.

Mom leaped onto the deck and waded into the middle of the excitement she grabbed Zoe by her collar. Zoe opened her mouth and Hiss-spit jumped out of it.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” I gasped with relief.

I watched Hiss-Spit run up the oak tree, cursing. Her fur was sticking straight out and her tail was all puffed up.

Mom made sure Zoe wasn’t hurt. She put her in the dog run and hurried to see if Hiss-Spit was OK. The kitty was fine, except for the dog drool around her neck. My kitty’s eyes were huge. She growled and whipped her tail back and forth.

“You’re safe now, Hiss-Spit,” I called out to her. “I didn’t let anything bad happen to you.”

Hiss-Spit snarled and swore at Zoe under her breath.

All she managed to say to me was “Thanks, Sailor, grrrrr, see what I mean about DOGS?”

I wagged my tail. “I am a collie, Hiss-Spit, and you are my cat. It's my job to keep my flock safe.”

“Oh, Sailor, you are the hero,” Mom said, thumping me on my sides. She was impressed.

Zoe was not impressed. She yipped and whined from the dog run, “Why did you ruin my game? You made Mom put me in jail!”

“Is Zoe getting into trouble for this?” I asked Mom.

“No, Sailor,” Mom said. “She’s a Siberian husky and Siberians chase cats. She was only doing what her instincts told her to do. I will have to be more careful to make sure the cat is safe before you two play together outside again.”

Part of me was glad that Zoe wasn’t in trouble. But part of me was disappointed, too. Every time Zoe is a bad dog, she makes me look better and better. Mom tells me what a good dog I am and thumps me on my shaggy sides. She told me I was a hero and gave me a lot of hugs.
And Mom wasn’t the only one who thought I was a hero. After I saved her life, Hiss-Spit didn’t growl at me much any more. She and I were almost friendly. She stopped introducing herself to me when I startled her. She quit waving her feet at me. She actually seemed to like me.

A few nights after I was a hero, Hiss-Spit came inside and jumped up on Mom’s lap. She started purring and making biscuits. I sat on the floor next to Mom. Mom scritched my ears. Hiss-Spit crawled closer and closer and ended up right under my nose. She made her lawnmower sound and booped my nose with her nose. I froze. Then of all things, SHE LICKED MY MUZZLE! Then she settled down, rattling away with her face not a paw’s width away from mine.

“Aren’t you two just the most wonderful things in the world?” Mom praised us, petting us both together and sounding very happy.

I wiggled my butt in delight; I love to please Mom. I was careful not to wiggle my face.

“Finally,” I thought to myself, “Hiss-Spit and I are buddies.”

And we were. We were buddies until last night. I think it was my fault. It was dark o’clock and we were both asleep on Mom's bed. So was Mom. Hiss-Spit was making her lawnmower noise. Mom was making her lawnmower noise. I rolled over and found my nose inches from Hiss-Spit's face. I stretched out my neck. I touched noses with Hiss-Spit. Then, overcome by good will, I kissed her.

Yikes, what a racket! Hiss-Spit leaped up with a hiss and a hair-raising screech. She thundered off the bed and out the door and down the hall yelling, "HE TASTED ME!! HE TASTED ME!!"
She never did come back to bed, either.

And then she started acting really scary.

The next night, when I woke up from a nap by the fireplace, there was Hiss-Spit sitting in Mom’s lap. She was giving me the Cat Stare from across the room. Now I know in dog language staring is an unfriendly thing to do. It is aggressive. It says Stay Away. So I stayed away.

And then, Hiss-Spit began telling me lies.

She sat on Mom’s lap and wagged her tail. She her ears back. Everyone knows this means, "I am happy and friendly and won't hurt you." Then she stuck her butt in the air and everyone knows that means, “Let’s play.” When I took a step forward to play, she growled and glared at me. Everybody knows what that means too.

I began to need my head scratched. I began to need my ears scritched. The more Hiss-Spit stared, the more my ears twitched and my neck prickled and I really needed to be scritched. So, in dog language, I sent her my calming signals. I didn’t walk straight toward Mom for a scritch. Instead I walked in a wide half circle to Mom’s knees. I turned my head to the side as far as it would go. I licked my lips. These all say “I come in peace.”

Hiss-Spit didn’t understand. I think she wanted me in pieces.

“Poor Sailor,” Mom said. “Hiss-Spit speaks Cat. In cat language, I come in peace is said by squinching your eyes.”

I tried squinching, but my lip curled instead of my eyelids. Hiss-Spit stood up and growled a warning. I jumped backwards. Hiss-Spit lay back down. She stared.

“Hmmph,” I thought, “I am not a very good squincher.”

I walked to my corner of the rug, flopped down with a long collie groan and thought about this.

I remembered when I was new to Mom and got really excited to see her. I would jump and do dirty paws on Mom’s shirt. Mom thought that this was a bad idea. She started giving me doggy calming signals. She turned her shoulders a little to the side. She turned her head all the way to the side. She licked her lips. She looked way up into the sky. She then told me to lie down. I found this very calming. Now when I greet her, I lie down and she doesn’t have to lick her lips.

Mom understands my language and even speaks it a little, but Hiss-Spit doesn’t. I can’t tell Hiss-Spit that I would rather be friends. When she growls and stares, all my instincts say to turn my head and lick my lips. This should make her happy. Why can’t she understand?

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