We are all guilty of speaking to our pets as if they are going to respond, whether that means having a conversation with our super intelligent cat or talking in a baby voice to our cute widdle doggie. Are cats and dogs like humans? When we leave the house, do our cats become quip-spouting, adventure-having humanoids like Garfield? Are our dogs actually struggling alcoholic writers like Brian Griffin? According to a 2010 study by Wofford College, dogs can indeed comprehend words, though they probably don't understand why you keep crying in bed. We asked the people of New York if they thought their pets spoke English.
Ben, unemployed: No, that’s too vague of a question. But they can understand some things.
Domestication. Petting. Food.
I mean language-wise. Like if you are having a conversation with your friend can they understand you?
Not at all. But they can be trained.
To what extent?
I don’t think cats as much so as dogs.
Brad, occupation “it’s complicated”: From the context in which people understand people, no I don’t think they do. But from the context and structure of the mind of a dog and a cat I think they have some understanding of people. It's their own way of perceiving people.
How do you think animals perceive people?
Well, I’m not a dog or a cat, so I can't perceive that any more than they can perceive what it’s like to be a person.
Have you tried talking to any animals?
I talk to birds all the time.
What do you talk to them about?
Sometimes I use human words and sometimes I just sing to them.
Patty, works in the theatre: Well, I think dogs are more people oriented. I think they understand. All animals understand more than you realize. They are very much like people. They have emotions and feelings.
Do you think they could understand a conversation we are having?
Yes, I hear they are as smart as three- or four-year-old kids. That’s smarter than a lot of grown-ups.
Do you talk to your animals?
All the time, so be kind to them because they have feelings.
Maddie, musician and traveler: I think dogs and cats can understand anything a person says.
Do you think they could understand this conversation we are having right now?
More than likely, yeah. If you have a smart dog.
Do you think you can verbally hurt their feelings? Like if you cuss them out but in a normal speaking tone?
Absolutely. Animals pick up language, sound waves. If you have an animal long enough it knows if you’re saying something like" good girl" or if you’re just like, "Fuck you, you’re stupid."
Uversa, spiritual counseler: Yes.
On a personal level?
To what extent?
They can sense our emotion. They understand if the conversation is positive or if they need to be more on the lookout. If it’s a conversation about them or if it’s a conversation about peace.
Do you have any pets?
Unfortunately, I think they should be out in the wild. Almost like fish in an aquarium. I think they should swim in the ocean.
Sam, self-employed vendor: Yes.
I believe they have a brain, right? They can hear. They can see. They don’t walk around like us.
Have you ever had a conversation with a dog or a cat?
Yeah, but he never answered me.
Larry, bird feeder: Yes. I feed the pigeons in Washington Square Park and I have certain pigeons that have names, and they come to their names. Once a dog learns its name, it will answer you. It understands English, or whichever language.
Do you think dogs and cats can be multilingual?
Yes. They have their own language too. Like birds have their own language.
Do you understand bird language?
Not really, but I do talk to hawks.
I just whistle to them and they screech back to me. [breaks out into a high pitch whistle]
Will, skateboarder: To an extent. I guess our body, the way people respond and act.
Do you think you could talk to a dog on an intellectual level and they would understand it?
Not at all.
Do you talk to animals?
I don’t know. Just stupid funny shit I guess, whatever’s on my mind.