Planting myself on the lounge, my eyes were glued to the TV.
As a kid, I loved animals and my dad, Ron, and I never missed an episode of David Attenborough. I wanted to be just like him.
When I wasn’t watching birds around our home, I was busy outside catching lizards and observing their every move.
But the animals that intrigued me most were cats.
Aged 11, my parents finally let me have one. Naming him Ziggy − after Ziggy Stardust − I was besotted. But the feeling wasn’t mutual!
Ziggy was often cranky and didn’t like being held.
That’s when I realised that, like humans, every cat is different, and if I wanted to develop a proper relationship with him, I needed to do it on his terms.
So, instead of smothering him with kisses, I waited for signs he wanted to be petted, like when he rubbed his forehead against my leg or hand.
Over time, we became the best of friends.
After finishing school, I studied Animal Science then worked as a vet nurse for 10 years, before moving on to be a zookeeper at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo.
Then in 2005, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to travel to Africa to work with endangered lions.
While they were much bigger than the average moggy, they really were just like big cats!
It was so beautiful to watch them have the freedom to run around and play together.
It got me thinking about all the animals back home that were often misunderstood and abandoned.
Every animal deserves to feel safe, I thought.
After two months in Zimbabwe, I returned to Australia where I worked as a behaviourist at my local animal shelter to help unwanted and often mistreated pets learn to trust humans again.
Taking the time to observe their behaviours, I was able to pick up on how they were feeling.
If they slowly blinked at me or walked towards me with their tail in the air, I could be assured they felt safe and content.
But if a cat ran away or hissed when I approached, it meant they wanted to be left alone.
Often people would surrender their cats to the shelter because they simply misunderstood what their cats were saying, but I knew I could speak their language.
One cat that was handed in had fur so badly matted it had to be shaved off because it was in pain from being groomed.
‘Every time I tried to brush him he attacked me,’ his owner said.
But they’d just misread their cat’s attempts at playing.
Then in 2010, I took the leap and launched my own animal consultancy company called Animal Behaviour Experts, going to people’s homes to help them understand their pets.
One elderly lady was convinced she needed to get rid of her cat after he tore her arms and legs to shreds.
But I realised the cat had just been trying to play with the tassels on the bottom of her dressing gown.
‘Try this,’ I said, offering a feathered toy.
Incredibly, she was never scratched again and they’re now the best of friends.
Another family’s cat even caught out a mischievous husband.
They’d always known their kitty didn’t like being left alone, but after the moggy started going to the toilet all over the house, they knew something must have changed. That’s when it was discovered that the man, who was supposed to be working from home, had frequently been out all day.
While my family think I’m just a crazy cat lady who talks to animals, I couldn’t be prouder of the work I do.
I’m pawsitive it was the job I was born for!
Rose's top tips for learning to speak cat!
The tail up
When a cat walks towards you with its tail up, this is an affectionate greeting. This is kind of like a cat seeing you and saying,
‘Hi, how was your day?’. Sometimes, once your
cat has your attention, they might lure you over to their food bowl, but they are at least happy
to see you!
When a cat looks at you and closes both eyes slowly, it’s their way of saying ‘I like you’. It’s like blowing someone a kiss. Cats use their eyes very well for communication. To close their eyes is a sign of trust and affection. This is something we can do
back to them too.
The head butt
This is a hug and a kiss all in one! Also known as ‘bunting’, the head butt will be the cat’s way of showering you with love. The ultimate bunt is on your face or head wherever they can reach. They are also smothering you with their scent to help you smell better – and also remind you how appreciated you are.
The roll over
Cats roll on their back to greet you and as a sign of affection. Humans sometimes misinterpret this as a ‘rub my belly’, which is often met with a bite or being grabbed with the front paws in the ‘Venus flytrap’ that lures us all in. Some cats might tolerate the rub, but it’s meant by the cat to just say hi . But some people take it a
step too far.
Rose will be speaking at the Cat Lovers Show in Melbourne on Nov 28-29.