The first step toward freedom is finding your voice.

That’s what I’ve learned from my cat, Spazzy McSpazitron (A.K.A., Cleo Catra). The other day, I sat in my camp chair in the yard enjoying an iced tea, watching my black cat for a little light entertainment.

She had just come around the corner of the house with dust bunnies in her eyebrow whiskers.

“How’d you get so dirty?” I asked.

She yowled at me, as if it had been rude to interrupt her thoughts, and commenced to answer my question by rolling around in a pile of dirt in the driveway.

“What is she doing?” my son asked.

I shrugged. “I thought only dogs rolled around in dirt.”

For the first few years of her life with us, the cat never said a word. She was quiet as the Egyptian tomb where she would be revered as a goddess rather than ridiculed for her Pig-Pen habits. During that period, she was an indoor cat. We didn’t let her go outside for fear of her becoming hurt or lost.

Most days you would find her in the living room window, watching all of the birds and bugs. There was real longing in her golden eyes.

For a while, I felt like one of the guards at Shawshank. We had worked out a system for getting in and out of the house without ever leaving both the inner and outer door open. Even so, she attempted many jail breaks. When she got out, we would sound the alarms and turn on the search lights. Wesley and I would chase her around the yard, forcing her to hide under our red barn of a garage.

Here and there, she had a few hours of freedom, a chance to chase the bugs and chew leaves before she was returned to her cell. Soon afterward, our quiet feline found her voice.

Cats don’t speak our language, but if you’ve ever lived with one, you know they communicate perfectly well. When she wants you to pet her head, she comes and purrs and pushes her head under your hand. If you ignore her, she jumps onto your lap, puts her paws on your chest and purrs cat breath directly into your face.

Likewise, when she wants the door open, she sits by it and howls until you come and say, “What?” Then she slinks around between your feet and yowls some more.

Finally, we caved. I asked my wife to pick up a cat collar with a tag for her. Instead she brought home a black collar, bedazzled on one side with fake rhinestones, a bell and no tag. I had been picturing something like a dog license.

“Of course they didn’t have that,” Christine said. “I’d have to go somewhere and get it engraved.”

She laughed at the idea of fitting Spazzy McSpazitron onto a cat tag. This prompted pre-recorded couple argument #39. This is the one where she goes out and gets something at the store, usually groceries, and I’m disappointed because it wasn’t what I wanted and am informed that I could have gone out and gotten said item(s) myself.

Her plan, instead, was to use a product called “puff-paint” to write our phone number on the collar.

“That will never stay,” I said.

She pointed to my guitar strap, which she puff-painted fish onto years ago to ensure my guitar playing did not lead to any accidental coolness. The fish are still there.

After we explained to the cat what it was for, she calmly stood still and let us put the collar around her neck. Yeah right! Putting the collar on turned out to be a 20-minute affair with Christine gradually changing from motherly and nurturing to thoroughly exasperated.

“You’re OK, you’re alright, ow! You little turdbucket! Hold still!”

Christine and the cat walked into the living room, both with hair a bit disheveled. The cat took two steps and dramatically let herself fall over on her side. She clawed at the collar for a minute or two, muttering cat expletives.

But finally she was free — free to roam the endless vista of the Dunkle yard; free to observe the bees in the dandelions, free to crawl under the porch and through spider webs, free to sit shivering in the rain, wondering when we’ll get home.

She howls to get out. Five minutes later she’s scratching to come in. No sooner back in, and she wants out again.

So far the experiment seems to be working. There’s only one small drawback.

“Ugh!” my son exclaimed yesterday, running across the yard. “I almost stepped in dead squirrel!”

Wesley, Samantha and I stood over the corpse. “Ewwww.”

I looked back to the cat in the dust pile. “Well, what do you have to say for yourself?”

But the cat, who had so recently found her voice, knew when to remain silent.

Daniel Dunkle is news editor for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, two children and black cat. Email him at or follow him on twitter at @DanDunkle.