Thursday 20 January 2022

Could you recognise your cat's meow over the phone?

You might have heard of the story: a woman recognised the sound of her cat's meow over the phone when she called her veterinarian. I presume that the sounds were in the background while she was talking with veterinary staff who said that the sounds had come from a black rescue cat which had ended up at the veterinary clinic. The woman, Rachel Lawrence, hadn't seen Barnaby in eight months. She had given up seeing him again.

Could you recognise your cat's meow over the phone?
Rachel Lawrence's kids with Barnaby after the reunion. Photo: Rachel Lawrence (SWNS).

She had called her veterinarian because her current cat required veterinary treatment and she was checking on progress. She mulled over the meowing sound that she had heard and developed a conviction that her long lost cat had coincidentally ended up at the same veterinary clinic after he had been found.

In fact, she was confident that it was him. She asked the veterinarian in a subsequent telephone call if he was black and had a distinct white patch on his back foot. The veterinarian confirmed that this was true.

She went to the veterinary clinic to pick him up and it was him by all accounts. She said that she cried buckets. To use her words, "I was howling".

Barnaby has settled in just fine after his eight-month absence. He had changed which is to be expected. She said that he had "loads of scabs and missing fur patches". He had lost a considerable amount of weight which is also to be expected. But he's getting well quite quickly and returning to his old self.

The big question is the one I pose in the title: do you think that you could successfully recognise your cat's meow over the phone in a blind test? I'm not sure that I could. Of course, I know the sound of my cat intimately but the difference between the meow of one cat and another can be distinct but it can also be subtle. I guess success depends upon how distinct the sound of your cat is combined with a bit of luck.

It is probably fair to say that all good cat owners would recognise the sound of their cat in a blind test about 70% of the time at a rough guess. But you couldn't guarantee that you could do it accurately all the time.

I think I have to mention the human mother's innate ability to pick up the sound of their baby when they need help. And there's also a discussion about a baby's ability to recognise their mother's voice. The domestic cat is like a baby too many women and indeed men. People are very sensitive to cat sounds and cats have developed a cry which has undertones of the crying sound of a baby. This has been developed over thousands of years to elicit a response from their human caregiver. This modification has taken place both to the purr and the meow. All these are influencing factors on whether a woman or man can recognise the sound of their cat in a blind test.

What do you think? Please leave a comment.

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