Kim Silva is a cat lover and a retired teacher who previously worked at the American School For the Deaf. Silva and her husband, who are both hearing impaired, have almost always had cats in their house. But in 2009, they decided to add a special new addition to their home: a deaf cat named Bambi they found on Petfinder.
Silva wanted to help Bambi lived the fullest life possible. And so, she decided to teach Bambi and her other cats sign language.
“Since my daughters learned signs from infancy, I had ideas how to introduce sign,” Silva told Huffington Post.
Since Bambi was in Texas and Silva lived in Connecticut, it was going to take a while for rescuers to get the cat to her house. While Silva waited for Bambi, she decided to see if she could teach her other cats, Bear and Bobcat, sign language.
“Bobcat immediately understood,” Silva says. “My other cat, Bear, was very old and was not interested.”
By the time Bambi arrived, Bobcat was an expert at sign language. Bambi was able to follow Bobcat’s lead, and she quickly picked up the new vocabulary.
Sadly, Bear died from old age soon after Bambi arrived. In 2013, Silva brought a new cat into her home, Thomasina. With Silva, Bobcat, and Bambi’s help, Thomasina quickly picked up sign language too.
In 2014, Silva’s son-in-law Tim O’Donnell shot an incredible video of Silva signing with her cats.
The video shows how intelligent the cats are, and it shows how well they know sign language. It also shows how much they like communicating with people. The cats know about a dozen words, including “stay,” “sit,” “come,” “play,” “shake,” and “high five.” They also understand “dance,” but Bobcat is the only one who will actually follow that command!
“Cats become much more interactive with people because they want to communicate,” Silva says. “Bobcat was a ‘pillow that ate’ before he learned sign. He interacted with other cats, but ignored people. After he learned sign at age 7 years, he became the extroverted show cat!”
While Silva’s cats understand signs, they can’t sign themselves yet.
Silva is hoping to train them to sign to her. Bambi is the only cat who tries to sign back to Silva—when she wants to play with a ball, she’ll stretch and tap Silva’s hands. Some people have been able to teach their cats sign language, so Silva is hopeful that she’ll be able to teach her cats too.
Silva did an incredible job teaching her cats sign language! If you’d like to learn more about Silva and her cats, check out the video below.
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