the language of animals

When Kath was about five years old, she prepared a special gift for her teacher’s birthday. The little girl overheard her kindergarten teacher’s fear, detecting a potential for the big surprise. Frequent visitor of a barn where raw products awaited their future at her family’s distillery in a Northwest German village, Kath explored the paths in the top floor between the piles of straw, searching ‘the object in question’ on the ground. It didn’t take long for her to find what she was looking for. The gift was carefully wrapped in a kitchen towel. Arriving at school, the angelical blond child marched toward her kindergarten teacher with both hands holding the package. She shouted ‘Happy birthday!’ whilst handing the item to the birthday woman. As she unwrapped the present, her facial expression shifted from sympathy to terror: there was a dead mouse inside of it. The teacher strode to the nearest trashcan holding the dead animal, followed by an army of young pupils, including Kath who felt excited within for having provoked such a reaction.

Not only could the little girl collect a dead mouse with ease, but she also befriended the animals considered enemies of rodents. Felines brought a sense of comfort that she didn’t know existed. In the same barn in which a few dead mice, cadavers of pigeons and spider webs were to be found here and there, cats would find a place to rest among mountains of straw that would be used for cattle bedding. To get closer to a tabby cat frequenter named Suzy, the kid would observe the animal from distance and make a subtle sound before every move to warn the animal about her intentions. This was not the only trick she developed. When the cat would close her eyes, Kath would shut hers, too. Proud of her connection with the felines, she narrates the time when Suzy became a mother and showed her the way to the litter. Cats usually hide their lineage from predators; exposing those little living creatures to a human was an ultimate sign of trust. The little girl had some sort of access to the animal kingdom. Kath would place the kittens on top of her body while stretched out on the floor. The lack of human affection in her early life led those fluffy tiny living beings to turn into soothing material; a satisfaction to her cravings for warmth.

With horses, Kath developed another sort of relationship. Trained in dressage from a young age, she would become a team with the four-legged companion. The line dividing the animal from the human body would somewhat dissolve in an invisible tune; a ballet of nature. The gallant young woman learned how to move her arms and legs with tenderness to let her pal know which kind of sequence to follow, whether it’d be leg yield, shoulder in, travers, half pass, flying changes, pirouette, rein back, counter center, or one of many other dressage movements. The animal followed her hints, most of the times. Depending on their personality, the experience would be an easy pie or a challenging endeavor. Kath has ridden from shy and friendly to wild and rebellious equines. Her intimate knowledge of animals guides her to understand how to conduct even the most temperamental horses.

As an adult, Kath still finds peace in the company of animals. She didn’t grow to become a veterinarian or zoologist even though she has undertaken an internship taking care of dolphins in a zoo in Duisburg when she was 17. She would prepare food for the aquatic animal and help clean the area around the tank. With her charms, Kath was even able to attract a dolphin to the edge as he turned around so she could pet his belly, going against the rules as interns weren’t supposed to touch the charismatic swimmers. The excitement to be near those friendly acrobatic mammals contrasted with a critical sense of the animals’ living conditions and their use as entertainment, being in captivity with no voluntary relationship to humans. During her PhD thesis in modernist literature in England, she’d ‘kidnap’ the cat’s neighbor to make him her faithful squire. Not in the sense that she’d have to force the feline inside the house, she just knew how to enchant Milo, a black and while amiable cat. Kath explains that she doesn’t lure felines with food; for her it’s not the right way to get close to them. The animals shouldn’t join her as a business trade of any sort, but they should approach her for affection solely. The literary modernist student knows how to make felines fall in love with her the same way that she falls in love with them. Kath is fluent in the language of animals.