By Iris Winston
Rufus and Freya have distinct personalities and ways of communicating.
Rufus regularly tells me how grateful he is to have a loving home. I am not sure how long he had to survive
without one, when my cat, Freya, started bringing her new — then thin — ginger friend to my door.
Did she tell him that many years before, she had been a stray and that this was a good place to be? Was
it just chance that he followed her?
No matter. The food I left on the front step for him disappeared regularly, though he was too nervous to come
close when I was visible. The connection, which began in February 2020, just before COVID hit, grew slowly. It
took several months before I was able to persuade the little ginger cat to come into the house and a few more weeks
(after a vet check for a possible microchip and neutering) for him to feel completely at home.
Now, he is calm, friendly and no longer skinny. In fact, his mid-region is probably a little too round, but when you
have spent months wondering where your next meal is coming from, you tend to stock up when food is available.
And you always say thank you. His way is to purr loudly and rub his cheek against me whenever I set out a food dish. He
never misses a chance to show his gratitude. He purrs loudly while he shares a chesterfield with me. He purrs close to my ear
early in the morning to tell me he needs to go out. He purrs and rolls over to say how much he enjoys being stroked, while
he rests on my bed or when he shares a dog bed with Marnie, my Irish Setter.
Their form of sharing is a little different. They are not on the same dog bed at the same time. Rather they ring the changes
and swap places for favourite spots. And when the dog bed in the computer room is occupied, while I’m writing, the
bedless one moves onto the closest comfortable chair. The aim is always companionship. Their way is all about compromise,
accommodating each other and sharing the spaces. Would that aggressive humans behaved as sensibly.
And when it’s time for me to take Marnie for a walk, both cats frequently tag along, walking a few paces behind until we
reach the nearby park. Then Rufus comes closer, often walking alongside Marnie or running back and forth under her legs.
His movements declare as much as his purring that he is happy and grateful to be part of the family.
Freya, who first showed up 16 years ago, doesn’t express gratitude as often because she has been certain of her status as
cherished cat for so much longer. She assumes that a special place in my heart is her right.
The two cats also have different approaches in asking for anything. While Rufus sits quietly waiting for food, Freya
announces clearly when she wants to eat or be given a little cream. (I offered her a tiny amount of cream on one occasion
when she seemed to be off her food. Now, she frequently tells me what a good decision that was and asks for a repeat.) As well
as chatting extensively when she hears me on the phone, she communicates as clearly and directly as if she spoke in words
when she wants to sit on my lap or cuddle on my shoulder when I’m in bed. She is also very definite about which side of the
door she wants to be on, even calling from a distance on her way up the path when she wants to come in. Meanwhile, Rufus,
with his head on one side watching for me, sits in polite silence outside a window or door waiting for his turn to come inside.
As Jane Goodall, the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, says, every animal has a different way of demonstrating
personality and emotion and telling you what they want. Her love of animals and her journey with chimpanzees reportedly
began with Jubilee, the toy chimpanzee her father gave her when she was very young. More than eight decades later, she still
has Jubilee and maintains her close connection with animals.
While I didn’t have a Jubilee, I, too, have always admired the ways that animals communicate. Marnie, Freya and Rufus add
joy and interest to my days through their approach to life and to each other. Watching their interactions and listening to what
they are saying makes life richer.
Almonte, Ontario, writer Iris Winston is a former executive director of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. She
has been an animal lover all her life. Her pets have always been important members of her family.