Category: Feline Ingenuity

Can Cats Talk Like Humans, Or Is This Viral Video A Hoax?

A new, internet-breaking viral video appears to capture a cat speaking English, prompting a wave of speculation about whether cats are basically furry parrots when it comes to talent for mimicry.

The TikTok clip features a voice saying “Hello” and “Are you coming?” followed by an amused narrator turning the camera on his cat and incredulously asking “What did you just say?”

The video’s viral success has led to a net-wide conversation about animal cognition, and whether cats in particular understand far more than they let on.

“And this is a proof that animals can talk,” one TikTok user commented, summing up much of the online reaction to the clip.

It should be noted the handful of times cats have been recorded producing vaguely human-sounding speech, the sounds were stress vocalizations from terrified or anxious cats.

That’s what’s happening in the famous “Oh long Johnson, oh don piano!” video, in which a stressed out tuxedo vocalizes a few phrases before proceeding with more gibberish. To people who aren’t familiar with cats the video may seem funny, but those of us who care for the little tigers can recognize the signs of extreme agitation.

Here’s the “Oh long Johnson” video:

And here’s the new “Hello!”/“Are you coming?” video:

The viral TikTok video is a whole different ballgame: The words are well-formed, the sound is clear, and the phrase makes sense.

Unfortunately, it’s not real.

First I’ll point out the obvious: The cat is off-camera when it “speaks” because painstakingly editing video to make its mouth move in sync is a much more difficult task than dubbing in a vocal file.

Secondly, a careful listening with headphones makes it clear the “Hello” and “Are you coming?” are not from the same source as the meow, and the directional mix isn’t right. The sound should be distorted and should be directional if it’s coming from a cat in the next room, to the right of the person recording the scene on a smartphone.

This was an audio cut and paste job without much attention paid to detail. The video’s creator didn’t bother panning the clip.

But perhaps most damning of all, the sound looks wrong. I isolated clips of the cat “speaking” in a wave editor — an old copy of the ultra-reliable Cool Edit Pro — and compared them to various samples of cat meows pulled from the Internet and sampled from Buddy himself.

When visualized in an audio editor, “the waveform of speech is complex and variable, reflecting the variety of vowels and consonants that are used and the dynamic nature of speech articulation.”

In other words, you can see the stops and starts of human speech and the articulations of different sounds reflected in how the audio appears visually. This is because we have fine motor control over our vocal apparatus, something animals lack. (A 2016 Princeton study determined macaques, for example, have the necessary vocal anatomy to mimic human speech, but they don’t have the “brain circuitry” to form the precise articulations.)

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Wave forms of human vocalizations. Source: Psychonomic Bulletin & Review/Springer

Cat vocalizations, on the other hand, lack those markers. Additionally, at higher resolutions you can see patterns indicative of rhythmic sounds in samples of cat vocalizations, not unlike isolated drum tracks in a studio recording.

This is because feline meows often have embedded purrs, and trills are naturally quantized. They’re rhythmic sounds. If you’ve ever had a purring cat laying on your chest, this will be familiar to you: You can hear the percussive sound, which persists while the cat is exhaling and inhaling.

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A domestic cat’s meow in waveform. Notice the lack of transients, pauses and variation, which would be indicative of human speech patterns.

Solicitation purrs and even basic meows have similar qualities. It’s a well-known fact that cats communicate with each other via body language — tail, eyes, ears, posture — and scent. Adult cats rarely vocalize to each other, so when they meow to us it’s because they recognize that we don’t “speak” tail or whisker, and they’re trying to communicate with us in a form we understand.

But cats are like macaques — they do not possess the brain circuitry to form the precise articulations necessary for human speech.

As primates, macaques have similarly-formed mouths, tongues, teeth and lips. Cats do not, which presents another set of problems when imagining them mimicking human speech. Think of “t” sounds, both the hard t and the soft “th” — they require us to rest our tongues against our upper front teeth or the roof of our mouths.

Cats don’t have substantial front teeth. They’re more like little shredders.

Likewise, to speak the phrase “Are you coming?” requires fine motor control to form the hard “c” sound. It involves precise control of air flow from the throat to the mouth and subtle placement of the tongue

Although the idea of talking pets may be appealing to generations that grew up on Disney movies and other media featuring anthropomorphized animals, the truth is they do talk to us in their own ways. The least we can do, as the supposedly more intelligent species, is to meet them halfway.

Indictment: Buddy the Cat, Catnip Cartel Boss

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

Manhattan Division

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. Buddy the Cat, defendant

February 2020

INDICTMENT

THE GRAND JURY CHARGES THAT:

COUNT ONE

19 USC § 741D (Unauthorized Distribution of Schedule I Catnip)

The defendant and other relevant persons

1.     Between or on about April 22, 2014 and January 1, 2020, defendant BUDDY THE CAT (“Buddy”) operated a vast interstate operation dedicated to the cultivation, packaging, distribution and sale of Nepeta Cataria, commonly known as CATNIP, and by the street names “The Nip,” “Feline Piff,” and “Meowijuana,”  as well as Actinidia polygama, commonly known as SILVER VINE.

2.     While overseeing his criminal organization, defendant Buddy the Cat headquartered his operation out of a New York apartment, entrusting his lieutenants Nipsy Rock, Socks the Evil Killah, Chairman Meow and Pawblo Escobar with the sale and wholesale distribution of catnip and silver vine, both Schedule I nipcotics according to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

3.     During his tenure as the east coast’s primary “Niplord,” Buddy the Cat did engage in a ruthless campaign of violence and intimidation in order to claim territory (“corners,” “stoops” and “blocks”) for himself and his criminal organization.

COUNT TWO

23 USD § 892b (Criminal Endangerment of a Kitten)

4.     Buddy the Cat, aided by his capitans, lieutenants and soldiers, did participate in the recruitment of kittens younger than six months of age for the purpose of serving as runners for “The Nip” and as lookouts to provide advance warning of the presence of law enforcement. The young kittens were recruited with promises of a glamorous lifestyle, compensation in the form of Temptations treats, and “street credibility.”

COUNT THREE

USD 113a § 046 (Feliny catslaughter in the first degree)

5.     Buddy the Cat and his aforementioned lieutenants participated in the ruthless and diabolical elimination of rivals and potential “snitches,” among them Fat Tony Catsonova, consigliere of the Il Nipolino catnip cartel, Felix “Heisenpaw” White, chief chemist for the Los Angeles-based Los Gatos criminal gang, and “Meowvelous” Mikey Mike, a show cat who moonlighted as a dealer specializing in high-grade silver vine.

COUNT FOUR

USD 562a § 215 (Conspiracy to transport catnip across state lines)

6.     On or about Oct 12, 2016, defendant Buddy the Cat and Nipsy Rock were observed by a federal agent discussing the shipment of 4,000 lbs of premium Meowijuana, with a street value of approximately $200,000 USD, from a grow warehouse in California to the operation’s Nip Distribution Center in Newark, NJ. In addition, defendants Chairman Meow and Pico de Gato were overheard planning the ambush and robbery of a silver vine shipment intended for a Los Gatos stash house in Houston, Texas.

The Substantive Violation

Defendant Buddy the Cat did willfully participate in the manufacture, distribution and sale of Schedule I nipcotics, the termination of rival Niplords, a protracted series of turf wars and a permanent campaign of disruption and terror aimed at his rivals in the illegal catnip trade.

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Have you seen Buddy the Cat? Federal authorities have announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to the successful capture and conviction of the notorious niplord.

Merry Christmas from Buddy!

Little Buddy got a great gift for me this Christmas:

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The text reads:

Dear Cat Dad,

Thank you for being my dad. If some other man was my dad, I’d piss on his shoes, claw up his face, and go find you.

Love,

Bud

Such a heartwarming message! It brings a tear to my eye. (Although I’ll have to talk to Buddy about his punctuation. We don’t use the Oxford comma in this house.)

Like any proud parent whose kid takes up a paper route or an after school job and buys presents with his own money for the first time, I beam with joy knowing Buddy sold enough catnip to neighborhood kitties to buy this mug for me. My little one is growing up!

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So proud of my good boy!

Cat Caught Smuggling Drugs Into Russian Penal Colony

Apparently some criminals in Russia avoid jail sentences and are sent instead to penal colonies, which are closed compounds resembling Laconian communes instead of prison blocks.

And apparently using cats to smuggle drugs into penal colonies is a favorite pastime among the Russkies — every few months a new story hits the headlines, detailing doomed drug delivery operations using kitties as couriers.

The latest comes to us courtesy of Tatarstan, where an inmate’s non-incarcerated confederates withheld food from a cat for a few days, then slipped hash in a hidden sleeve in kitty’s collar before setting him loose near the penal colony.

The hungry cat headed toward the compound where an inmate was presumably waiting with pungent chow to lure his unsuspecting mule. But guards realized there was something odd about the cat, and after a short chase around the grounds they were able to corner the purrpetrator, according to the BBC.

Here’s the sneaky tortoiseshell immediately after penal colony guards intercepted him in late October. He doesn’t look happy that he’s been caught and he’s missed some meals:

Russian cat gets caught carrying drugs
Can we get some Friskies for this guy already?

Meanwhile in the city of Novomoskovsk a case against a local inmate is on the brink of collapse after the cat who allegedly delivered drugs to him managed to escape from custody.

The slippery kitty was allegedly an accomplished mule when authorities nabbed him and found heroin in his collar. Three witnesses told prosecutors the tabby was a reliable enough courier that his owner, Eduard Dolgintsev, took regular drug orders for other inmates, per Russian media reports.

Wanted: Russian drug mule
WANTED: Dmitry the Deliverator, on charges of delivering smack to Russian inmates and talking smack to Russian prosecutors 

The defense isn’t buying it.

Dolgintsev’s attorney told Russian newspapers he wanted to run experiments to see if the cat really would make reliable runs to and from the penal colony, hoping to demonstrate to the court that the idea was more fanciful than feasible.

The cat, who was considered evidence in the case, was kept in a “secure location” in a petting zoo facility, but when Dolgintsev’s attorney went there to check on the feline he was told it had slipped custody earlier, when staff let it out of the enclosure to get exercise and two dogs began creating commotion.

With the kitty’s dramatic escape, the case against the inmate looks shaky. A Russian legal expert told Kommersant.ru that the case would be dismissed unless “proof was previously obtained that the cat really did serve as an instrument in the crime.” Proof like lab test results showing traces of heroin on the his fur, for instance.

In the meantime, a very interested Buddy is wondering if the same method could be used to smuggle catnip and silvervine into The Big House, aka Animal Control…

Drug smuggling cat
This photo shows the Houdini of Novomoskovsk before he hightailed it out of his holding pen.

Cat 1, Parents 0: Heroic Cat Rescues Toddler

A cat in Colombia has been hailed a hero for saving a 1-year-old boy from a potentially nasty fall down a flight of stairs.

The incident happened on Halloween in Bogota. Samuel, the toddler, had escaped his play pen and had nearly made it to the stairs on all fours when Gatubela, a Siamese mix, leaped into action.

The cat dragged little Samuel back from the brink, then put herself between the toddler and the stairs, pushing him to safety:

 

“The cat has been part of our family practically since birth, we had her here when she was a month, a month and a few days old, and she has become familiar with my children,” Samuel’s father, Jesid Leon, told a reporter. “She is two months older than my son.”

As for the rest of it, I have no idea what’s going on here. Why does the floor look like a demilitarized zone? Where are the parents? And does Gatubela — whose name means Catwoman — get paid for babysitting? At the very least she deserves some treats…

Gatubela, Hero Cat
Jesid Leon, father of Samuel, cradles the heroic Gatubela.