Burton on the Bay
Your Animal Companions Voice
Dogs might say nice things about you, but what cats have to say you probably dont want to know.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
Book of Matthew
Hopefully, Masahiko Kajita wasnt making such promises when he got involved in the development and marketing of an electronic gadget aimed at closing a bit of the communications gap between humans and canines. As it already is, in many households when dogs ask it is given, and when they bark or paw at the door it is opened. Why cant we leave it at that?
But along comes Masahiko and the Japanese toy company Takara with Bow-Lingual, an electronic gizmo intended to decode for the master the woof-woofs of his pet. Were told a quarter of a million have already been sold in Japan, and theyre selling briskly in the USA.
The dog wears a microphone/transmitter on its collar, the owner holds a receiver, and on its digital screen five seconds after the bark translation takes that long appears what Rover is trying to say.
In all, there are 178 phrases that can pop up on the screen based on the Fidos woofs, and were assured by Takara that this is no random interpretation process. No sir, theres real science involved. A private research facility, Japan Acoustic Laboratory, grouped barks from more than 80 breeds into six moods based on digital voiceprints.
Then an eminent though unnamed veterinarian tied up the loose ends. Now, if youre within 30 feet of your hound (in rural areas, you can be even farther away) youll be able to read on your hand-held receiver that vets interpretation of the barks and yelps of your best friend. And all in plain English.
Now comes the kicker. As with just about everything electronic, youve got to program your end of the Fido talk machine. You punch in the date, time, Fidos breed and gender. If your pooch is of questionable parentage, youre still In business. Bow-Lingual isnt as snooty as the American Kennel Association.
All you need do is enter the pets size small, medium or large its snout type (long or short) and date, time and gender. Then its up to Fido to find reason to bark.
Hey, thats not all. If youre a master or mistress with a job and Rover is left home alone for the day, Bow-Lingual will pick up and store interpretations of barks for as long as 12 hours, affording you insight into Fidos activities and thoughts during your absence. Maybe youd prefer not to know and maybe you wont, seeing as how youd be obliged to do a bit more programming.
I felt rather smug when first reading about Bow-Lingual in The Wall Street Journal because the Burton household is populated only by humans and felines. But near the end of the story there was the news that Meow-Lingual is already on the drawing boards.
With Cats, Its Dont Ask, Dont Tell
We all know that in the past 5,000 years or so, dogs have been bred and pampered to be faithful and obedient servants of man. So dogs probably only have nice things to say about their owners.
But cats are more independent, much more so, and who dares tune into the thoughts of their feline pets? Not me, even though 2-E, the resident white longhair at 178 Park Road, seems quite satisfied with her accommodations.
Id prefer that relations at least perceived relations between 2-E and me remain as they now are: Visual and personal. When she purrs, she is content; when her tail wags slowly, she is content; when she gazes fondly at me, she is content; and she is content when she climbs into my lap and curls up. What else do I need to know that could be possible from Meow-Lingual?
The last thing I want from my cat is a lot of lip; I got my ration of that in fathering six kids through their teenage years. I knew what they were saying, but once they got past 11 or 12, they never seemed to know (or listen to) what I was saying. I dont think a reverse Talk-Back Lingual would have been of any help.
I also know what 2-E thinks of any kind of collar, so I fear the digital printout of her message on the receiver in my hands wouldnt be too complimentary. I can visualize it: Get this damned thing off me.
Of course, it would be nice to know what 2-E thinks of her food at a given meal. Some cats, usually big fat ones, gobble down everything in their dishes. Its the other way around with 2-E. Shes thin, even thinner than a cat is supposed to be. She picks at whats put in her dish, but after a minute or two if Ive guessed right she gets down close to the floor and makes short work of her helping.
If Im wrong, she just meows a time or two and departs the kitchen. Some days a shrimp and tuna mix are the ticket, other days its turkey and giblets, or chicken and liver and sometimes its peoples canned tuna. Might I say that 2-E is the only cat that Ive ever had that at times turns her whiskered nose up at canned people-tuna.
If that vet in Japan whos currently working on interpreting cat meows gets it right, I could in the course of a year save enough in wasted cat food to pay the suggested retail price of about $120 for a Meow-Lingual.
You Know Whod Wear the Meow-Lingual in Our Family
But, methinks inventor Masahiko Kajita has got things backwards as far as cats are concerned. I think it would be more practical if the shoe were on the other foot. Does it not seem more practical that with felines, they should get the message, not give it? The transmitter would be on me, and 2-E would have the receiver.
Computers can do anything these days, so instead of a digital printout for 2-E, who can do anything but read, shed get in cat language what Im saying. An always-obliging dog will usually cock its head and wag its tail when spoken to, which is communication enough for mutts and their masters, but you know how cats are.
Once rigged with a reverse communications system, I could explain to 2-E why she must take medicine twice daily for her thyroid problem. Pharmacist Lee Vandenberg pulverizes her pills in liver flavored oil (fish oil was tried first), but getting one milliliter down her throat twice daily is akin to forcing cod liver oil down the throat of teenager. As I said, most cats arent as trusting as dogs.
Id probably get more sleep, too, if 2-E wore the receiver, and I could make it plain that getting up at 4am in response to her meows for breakfast isnt my cup of tea&Mac226; unless Im going fishing. Shes relentless. If I chase her off and close the bedroom door, she howls loud enough to short circuit any transmitter on her collar.
If youre wondering about the validity of battery-powered Bow-Lingual with its 178 phrases, let me remind you Takara is a toy company. But then what dog owner looks at a price tag for a pets toy?