The Cat Who Says Hello

Written March 29–30, 2004

A Multitude of Sounds

Before we had cats of our own, I was in the dark about cat sounds. All I was aware of was your garden variety meow and purr. I was only vaguely acquainted with hissing and had never actually heard it.

Now that we have our own cats, I know that they can and do make a multitude of different sounds! They can and do sometimes imitate other animal and even human sounds, including words; other cat owners we talk to, often agree with us on this point. One owner described how his cat imitates the sound of birds chirping outside his window.

Human Words

Imagine my surprise when one night, I heard an eerie voice from the living room saying, “Hel-LO, Hel-LO.” It was Shadow, speaking the word slowly and distinctly, like a person answering the telephone. Of course! She had heard Wendi do this many times, when no other human was present in the room. So in the middle of the night, when Shadow couldn’t find any of us, she said “Hello” to try to get our attention. It most certainly worked! She still does this sometimes.

Early in the morning on my birthday, Wendi told Shadow, “It’s Daddy’s birthday; go tell him ‘Hello.’ ” Boy, was I surprised when she ran into the dining room and greeted me with a very clear “Hello”! This was one of the very few times that Shadow would do this on command.

Another word she says clearly is “Mom.” This one is easy; all she has to do is close her mouth partway through a normal meow. But usually she is looking at Wendi when she says it! Sometimes, however, she merely wants down—and saying “Mom” accomplishes that for her, because once she is on Wendi’s lap, she can jump down easily. She is no stupid cat!

Sometimes Shadow will sit at the foot of the stairs and call up to Joe: “Rrroe, Rrroe.” I am not kidding!

When I hold Shadow (and sometimes Sunny too) I will do the Ummamum dance with her. I swing her gently back and forth and do a rhythmic “Umma-mumma-mumma-mumma-mum, mmm, mmm.” She has picked up on the Ummamum thing too, believe it or not. On rare occasions she has been known to say, “UUUMM-MUM-MUUUUM,” usually in a sort of warbly tone. And it isn’t the vomit warning sound (that sounds more like “letter, letter, letter” spoken with the tongue sticking out), because she is okay whenever she does it.

Perhaps she thinks of me as “Mum,” short for “Ummamum,” because I do the Ummamum with her. Sometimes if I’m holding her, she will look me in the eye and say “Mum”—a clipped-off version of the longer “Mom” sound that she does.

Other Sounds

Another sound that surprised me is the chirping, or warbling, sound they make. I think it’s the result of vocalizing while purring, sort of a “prrrrrrrt!” It’s very cute. Shadow likes to do it on the run, when she doesn’t want to be picked up (Sunny will just sit there and let you pick him up).

Sunny doesn’t meow often, but when he does, he puts the emphasis on the “oo” sound: “Meowww.” Shadow’s normal meow is more of a “mew.” Every cat’s meow is different. Likewise, every purr is also different: for example, Sunny’s is loud and raspy, whereas Shadow’s is deep and resonant.

Sunny whines like a puppy more often than he meows. It sounds like “Mmmmmmmm!” Joe and I imitate him, and sometimes it drives Wendi nuts (Sorry, Honey).

Then there is the hissing (“Khhhhhh”) and growling (“Grrrrrr”) that occurs when the cats are angry or nervous. Shadow rarely does either, but Sunny does them both, often. Other, even scarier sounds can occur when cats are really upset. More on this at Kitty Wars.

Feline Antics

Kittens grow up entirely too fast. One day they can barely reach anything at all, a week later they can jump onto furniture, and a week after that they can get on top of the kitchen counter! It didn’t take long for Shadow to learn to climb our brand new curtains in the living room (After two kittens, the curtains are now all but destroyed). She finally climbed clear to the top a few times and had to be rescued by one of us. On one occasion she jumped down to the couch—a gutsy move but fortunately a soft landing!

Both cats now jump onto the dining room table or the kitchen counter. They know they’re not supposed to be up there, and if one of us sees them, they jump back down immediately. If only we could close off the kitchen at night…

Shadow gets braver; she has been known to somehow get to the top of the large cupboard in the kitchen, just below the ceiling—and that with no front claws! The first few times she did it, she sat up there until she wanted to get down, then got scared and meowed loudly until one of us got up on a chair and lifted her down. Later on, she learned to jump to safety at a lower level: the top of the refrigerator!

One day, Wendi knew she was up there and yelled, “Shadow, get down off the refrigerator!” Thud! Shadow jumped to the floor from five feet up, and was apparently unhurt.

It was fun with one cat but sometimes crazy with two, especially when they decide it’s play time. And with cats, that can be any time of the day or night! They will chase each other back and forth across the house and up and down the stairs, even using Wendi as a jumping block (Yeah, I might have that much energy too, if I only weighed nine pounds)! When they rumble around upstairs, they sound like an elementary school basketball team.

Cuddle time with the cats is precious. They nuzzle up to us and purr, letting us know that all is well in the House of Oo.

Despite all of the scratches, bites and bruises, Wendi has said that the cats and their antics help keep her spirits up when she is not feeling well. The joy they bring makes it worthwhile to clean their litterbox and sweep cat hair off the floor each day.