Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Deaf as a Dog; Clever as a Cat

I have neglected to tell you about a small experiment I decided to try a while back. I wanted to see if I could teach the cats sign language!

A long time ago, when they were both kittens, Husband and I decided to use a consistent phrase that they would come to and would relate to food. The reason was that, in an emergency, we wanted a phrase they would respond to. So every mealtime, we asked, "Are you hungry?" The upward inflection of the question helped them recognize it, and now the phrase in any context will send them bounding to their food dishes. (In the emergency scenario, the theory is we'd say "Aha! Gotcha!" and scoop them up and throw them in their carriers.)

After learning some ASL, I took this a step further by adding the ASL sign for "hungry" to the phrase. I was curious - how long would it take for the sign alone, without the phrase, to mean "mealtime"?

The answer surprised me. I did the sign simultaneously with the phrase for the first time on a Friday. By the following Wednesday, Mojo had begun responding to the sign without me saying anything as a call to suppertime. Ronnie's progress has been more inconsistent... but then she's more stubborn. Sometimes she responds to the sign, sometimes not. Just like a cat.

I was reminded to tell you about my little experiment when I read this article today about a deaf dog which is doing well training to hand-signals. Now, while training a deaf dog to respond to signs is a novelty in the hearing world, in the world of assistive dogs for the deaf trainers have known for a very long time how well (hearing) dogs can respond to hand signals from their deaf owners, rather than verbal commands. I want to particularly highlight the Lions Club Hearing Dogs for Deaf People program, 'cause my Dad is a big-time Lion and has been involved with this program for a long time, and that's something I am very proud of him for. I also like the fact that the Lions use rescued dogs to aid the deaf, hitting two of my pet causes with one stone. (No, I am not thinking of getting one at this time; but if I lived alone, I know I would.)

The cats in a small way play a similar assistive role. If I am not in the room equipped with the alarm system they will let me know if someone is at the door. They also let me know if the phone is ringing - we all look at it, all three of us, sitting there, equally useless to answer it!

So with one sign more or less under our belts, I think it's time to double their repertoire. What's ASL for "clean your litterbox"?



Blogger Chris Clarke said...

What's ASL for "clean your litterbox"?Left hand scratching air toward you, fingers down, at chest level. Pinching nose shut with thumb and forefinger of right hand.

About 13 years ago we decided to combing a few hand gestures with spoken commands for Zeke (dog). That has come in very handy this year, especially his "down" command (right hand, palm down, pushing air toward the ground) and his "here" command (essentially ASL for "dog" - snapping fingers of right hand and patting thigh.) We never really anticipated that he really would go deaf, but the planning wound up coming in handy.

5:09 p.m.  

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