I was thinking about your “why don’t cats get sick from not using soap and water?” question, and have to admit I came up blank. Um, because of course they don’t? Because their spit has magical cleaning properties? Who knows?
Not really adequate, but there you are.
However, this got me thinking about some of the other animal conundrums that have puzzled me over the years. For example, how much do our animals really understand?
Take Maydeleh, our ever-devoted (and perpetually hungry) Sheltie.
Considering that her spoken language is limited to “Arf! Arf!” and the occasional yodelling concerto, she has a pretty extensive receptive vocabulary.
Words the dog understands
Maydeleh’s reaction: Food! Food is imminent! I’m about to get fed! I haven’t eaten in hours! Yay! Run around in circles, wag tail, and bark with joy!
Food! Food is imminent! I’m about to get fed! I haven’t eaten in hours! Yay! Run around in circles, wag tail, and bark with joy!
Food Lady and Food Dude wish me to cease barking. Okey-dokey, ceasing now. Am I a good dog?
Play time! Food Lady and Food Dude want to play with me! Joy! Excitement! Bark! Look delighted!
Time to go outside! Yay! Don’t forget to bring the ball! Run to the front door! Happy!
- Car-car ride (Yes, we occasionally talk baby-talk to the dog. Don’t judge.)
Time to go in the car! Yay! Food Lady and Food Dude are taking me with them! I’m so happy!
- Leave it
For reasons that are unclear to me, Food Lady and/or Food Dude wish to delay giving me that cookie. I will sit quietly and drool until they give the magic word.
- Take it
The magic word! They said the magic word! Cookie, you are mine! Om nom nom nom.
- Off the road
A vehicle is approaching. I will sit quietly on the roadside and wait for it to pass, before resuming my exciting pursuit of the ball.
I will sit quietly while I wait for Food Lady and Food Dude to resume our exciting game of catch. Or feed me, or whatever.
For what? I don’t see the rationale for this, but I will comply. It might result in a cookie. Or more ball-throwing. Ball-throwing is awesome! So are cookies.
- Let’s go home
Yes! Home! Home is where the cookies are! Home! I love home! Let’s go there now!
This is a pretty decent vocabulary for a four-legged creature with a brain the size of a ping pong ball.
And I haven’t included words like “dog,” “Maydeleh,” “pup-pup,” and “puppy.” She answers to all of them.
Words the cats understand
Meanwhile, our two cats (whom I adore, so this isn’t a criticism, just an observation) know approximately one word apiece.
When you say their names, as long as you say them in the right sing-song coaxing tone, and accompany the word with the rattling of the kitty treat bag, they will occasionally turn their heads to see whether you might be speaking to them.
Then they continue napping.
And yet, despite overwhelming evidence that Maydeleh trumps Ralph and Stella quite decisively in the verbal intelligence department, we persist in calling Maydeleh “that dumb dog.”
And when one of the cats deigns to open an eye in response to its name (we think), we fall over ourselves with delight, exclaiming, “Who’s a brilliant kitty, then? Who knows his own name? Smart Ralphie, that’s who!”
Honestly, I just don’t get it.
p.s. Here’s a video in which Maydeleh the Wonder Dog demonstrates her superior intellect. And proves she will do anything for food.