Body language is notoriously complex.
This is all the more fraught with peril since cats are notoriously subtle, and humans are notoriously dim.
Think about the early days of film. If you watch oldies like The Maltese Falcon, you’ll immediately notice that everyone is acting awfully…well, dramatically. (And, debatably, just plain awfully.) There’s lots of gasping and flourishing and flailing about, where a simple raised eyebrow would do the job. But early movie audiences were used to the theater, where the distance from the stage can make such bold gestures necessary.
Now we can appreciate the subtlety of a Once or a Lincoln. But when it comes to cat body language, I’m afraid our species has never graduated past the point of needing GREAT BIG CUE CARDS as to what’s going on. Fortunately, the Tabby’s Place cats are magnanimous enough to draw in bold colors for us.
There’s Mario, who walks directly to the kitchen door and gazes from doorknob to human to doorknob, patiently: I would like some tinned roast beast, please. There’s Angel, who politely inserts her forehead under my hand as I type: Please apply hand directly to my self. Repeat. And there’s Hobbes, perhaps our most emotive actor of all, who communicates his desire for attention by slathering his entire body across Jonathan’s entire body.
Subtle, no. Effective, yes. Our little minds appreciate this.
But a few cats insist upon taking their performance to a higher standard, and so we’re left to blunder through their cues. Currently, our nabobs of nuance are highly concentrated in Adoption Room #2. Consider it the Stagedoor Manor of Tabby’s Place.
This is the theatre of such greats as the very Kevin Spacey of the feline world, Bartholomew. Although still timid, Bart has tiptoed on tenterhooks towards our affections. Yet he’s not a cat who will Hobbes you (“Hobbes” having become a verb for the action pictured above). If he’s open to your affections, Bart will glint his enormous eyes in your direction with a gaze that could be interpreted by dim/all humans as:
a) I would like your attention.
b) I’m so fancy.
c) Go <expletive> yourself.
Angling for her own Oscar is Bartholomew’s roomie Eve, that slinky little doyenne of delicacy. Eve’s not one for bounding up to you shamelessly. Heavens no — she’ll leave such bawdy behavior to Nicki Minaj (and Violet). No, our grey-and-white girl is more likely to welcome you with a dart halfway under the couch, followed by a stare equal parts “Come hither” and “Stay thither.” Which does she really mean? That’s up to you, poor dear human, to discern.
Fortunately for the cats, we humans are as patient as we are dunderheaded, which is to say spectacularly patient. We’ll keep working with Bart and Eve and their ilk as long as they’ll keep working with us. (Bonus: they have no choice. We open the tinned roast beast.)
Fortunately for us, we have one advantage in Adoption Room #2: an interpreter. Persimmon dances the balance between cat-speak and human-understanding, and she does it all on tiny tuxedo feet. She’s a veritable Audrey Hepburn, able at turns to be both over-the-top hilarious and exquisitely subtle.
Persimmon, far more than her neighbors, has given us GREAT BIG OBVIOUS cues that she adores our adoration. She’ll rub. She’ll cuddle. She’ll blink you right in the eyes: “I. LOVE. YOU. See?” <Blinks again in slow motion.> “I….love…you. Now you try. Good human!”
To top it off, Persimmon’s influence has intrigued her roommates, giving them the courage to experiment with bolder moves. There have been reports of Eve not only allowing human contact, but enjoying it in all sorts of undignified giddy ways. As for Bart, it’s just a matter of getting to him — it’s all over but the purring and candlelight and Boyz II Men music once you convince him you’re not going to consume him.
Persimmon’s bilingual communication would make sense coming from a cat whose past was soaked in 100 proof peace. Yet, as we relearn daily at Tabby’s Place, cats don’t need a daisy-lined path of perfection to find their way to a happy heart. Far from comfort and ease, Persimmon’s history snakes through a crowded shelter with such limited resources that it couldn’t treat her severe dental disease. By the time she came to us, Persimmon was underweight and ready to lose all her teeth. (Which would also be a more eye-catching OK Cupid headline than “Single and ready to mingle.”) One extreme dental makeover later, she’s feeling phenomenal…and giving love-language lessons to two species at Tabby’s Place.
Or, should I say, was. Just like a no-brainer Oscar, Persimmon’s adoption was inevitable. We’re looking forward to hearing the details of this sweet girl’s sequel, and her adoptive mama promises me an update is forthcoming.
Meantime, the spotlight stays on Adoption Room #2. Properly trained by a master of her craft, Eve and Bartholomew are almost ready for their debut. We’ll do our best to keep up with all the things they’re singing to us ever so softly.