How Cats & Dogs Track their Owners’ Whereabouts

How Cats & Dogs
Track their Owners' Whereabouts

Barbara’s musings and research about
animal telepathy and how cats and dogs think—
all the more interesting if you have more than one pet.

DID YOU KNOW . . . that domesticated cats may be able to keep a "mental map" of their owner’s location?

This ability, previously unknown in felines, is now being studied by Japanese researchers. As a lifelong cat lover, I was fascinated by the article, “Your Cat May Know Where You Are Even When They Can’t See You” by Corryn Wetzel, Daily Correspondent for Smithsonian Magazine.

It reports on a series of experiments conducted by two Japanese researchers who wanted to learn if cats can actually track their owners using cues like sounds. Included in this article is a link to their abstract about these experiments titled, “Socio-spatial cognition in cats: Mentally mapping owner’s location from voice.”

How My Cat Tracks Me

The above article confirmed some of my suspicions about how my cat always knows when I get out of bed in the middle of the night or in the morning. She knows exactly where to find me when I sneak out of my office, leaving her sound asleep near my desk to go to the kitchen to fix lunch. Within minutes, she’s always where I am, and I do love that she has such a strong desire to always be near me. Clearly she knows kitchen sounds, and the sound of a toilet flushing, and that the doorbell signals someone that might come through the door, which still scares her and sends her to her hiding place in the bedroom closet.

Responding to sounds also explains why, whenever I’m having an extended conversation on the phone, she thinks that’s the perfect time to come from wherever she was napping to jump on my desk, walk all over my papers, and insert herself between me and the phone cord as she begs for some petting.

Dogs Also Have this Ability

Prior to doing this research, I didn’t know that the ability to “form a mental map of the world” was a hallmark of animal intelligence. Having absorbed that thought, I suddenly understood the premise behind all the great stories of a lost dog or cat being able to find its owners after ending up separated from them by hundreds of miles. What dog lover can ever forget the 1943 classic movie, Lassie Come Home?

Something else I didn’t know until I read this article and thought of this movie was that it was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1993, having been deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and in need of being preserved.

Ever curious about any topic of interest to me, I did a little more “Lassie searching,” and was rewarded with a lovely story of  “The Amazing Story Behind the Dog that Inspired Lassie,” and how the Lassie character became one of only a very few fictional characters to have a STAR on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Cats That Find a New Home

I’ve heard many stories of how cats just wandered into a person’s life and found a home. The home I grew up in the small farming town of Buckley, Illinois was across the street from the grain elevator, which was home to a lot of feral cats and their kittens. More than one of those cats ended up on our doorstep, and Mother could never resist bringing them into the house and making them part of our family. All were free to come and go as they wished, but they all remembered where dinner could be found. Here’s a note from Mother’s privately-published memoir—now part of my book, Marcella’s Secret Dreams and Stories:  

“The latest news is that we have a new cat. When I went to the garage this morning, right on the front steps was a tiny kitten, a three-colored pussy cat. I don’t want it, but it is so poor and tiny that I brought it in and fed it. I suppose we’re stuck with it now. I don’t know how all the homeless orphans find this place, but they always seem to.”

As Ernest Hemingway once wrote, "One cat just leads to another.”

In Conclusion

Writing this post reminded me that in my stack of dog books still waiting to be read as research for my dog memoir/novel still in progress is Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home. In various chapters of this book the author explores animal telepathy (cats. dogs, parrots, horses, and other animals); incredible animal journeys and pets finding their people far away; premonitions of fits, comas, and sudden deaths; forebodings of earthquakes and other disasters; and much more about how a dog’s mind works. I’ve now moved this book to the top of my stack of must-read books. You might like to read it too.

The article, “The Amazing Science behind Pets That Find Their Way Home” also adds much to the above discussion.

“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.” – James Herriot

Previously published as a Brabec Bulletin blog post on April 4, 2022.

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