to Pluto the cat yesterday and said, "I never talk to animals. They don't understand."
Now I admit this person is someone I do not particularly like. He is entirely without a sense of humour. He likes the sound of his own voice and he believes he is always right. He is, fortunately for other people, not married. Locally he is unpopular because of his constant trouble making. (He went on to complain that a rubbish bin belonging to our neighbour had not been taken in on time.) He does however do a great deal to keep the neighbourhood clean and tidy.
I wanted to ask him how he knew that animals did not understand but I kept quiet. His answer would have been long and convoluted and I would not have agreed with it.
I would not have agreed because I am convinced that animals do understand something - often more than we give them credit for - and that they try to tell us more than we understand. Only that morning someone had said research suggested that cats could make about one hundred different sounds. Dogs apparently only make about ten. I was not given a link for this so I cannot judge how the research was conducted or whether there is anything in the claim. It would not surprise me. What would be the point of being able to make those sounds if they had no meaning - if not for us then for other animals?
When we had cats we used to take them to a small animal vet not far from here. He was a particularly nice person and he would, quite unselfconsciously, talk to our cats as if they understood all that he was saying to them. They responded. They behaved for him. Other people said the same thing about him. Even now people will say, "I wish 'X' was still there. He could talk to animals." Perhaps he had a particular capacity to observe. I do not know.
I think it would be supremely arrogant of us to believe that animals do not understand and do not communicate. Perhaps they understand us better than we understand them.