(Charles Platt is a guest blogger)
When I owned a pickup truck, my cat Eddie used to enjoy sitting on top of the instrument panel, under the windshield, where he watched the highway while I drove. I was commuting to a regular job at that time, and if I altered my everyday route even slightly, Eddie would look at me and meow, indicating that he had noticed the change in our routine—although whether he approved or disapproved was hard to determine.
After some vandals stole the pickup truck and urinated into the gas tank before abandoning it, I bought a car. Its more steeply raked windshield allowed insufficient room for Eddie to sit under it, so, I made a shelf for him which hooked onto the hardware associated with the sun visor, and I stapled a piece of doormat to the shelf so that Eddie could dig in his claws. I suspect that a primary reason why many cats dislike riding in cars is that they don't feel entirely secure on a moving object if they cannot use their claws effectively.
The next time we went for a drive, Eddie located himself on the shelf without any prompting. He seemed to understand its purpose immediately. This photo was taken outside my Florida house when he was waiting for our morning commute to begin.
In my experience, if you treat a cat as “just an animal,” that's how he will behave. He will sense that you are not really trying to understand him, and naturally enough, he will give up trying to communicate. The more you engage with him as an equal and try to understand his perspective on the world, the more he will respond to you, and the closer your relationship may become.