Cats are not dogs, and a corollary is cat people are different than dog people. Their feelings on this subject run very deep. Marriages and other relationships have faltered over this. Among pet owners, there is often a fierce divide between cat lovers and dog fans. Some of us like all animals, and have both, but “exclusively” cat types are a mysterious breed to the dog purists, and vice versa.
There’s no question that the two species offer different rewards. Dogs, friendly, affectionate, and oriented to meeting human needs, indulge our need for affection. Cats are beautiful, elegant and inscutable, providing endless mystery to their devotees.
The New York Times recently reported on some of the challenges that cats provide for their owners. Reporting on “National Respect Your Cat Day” (March 28, should your want to note it in your calendar for next year), Abigail Tucker, the author of “The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World,” says that it is only one of several on the calendar that celebrate our feline friends. (Others include National Cat Day, National Feral Cat Day, National Hairball Awareness Day, and Happy Mew Year).
They say that if Internet hits determined what is important in life, cats and Kate Middleton would be ruling the world. Cat owners and admirers are a very robust and passionate group. The Times noted a study that reports that 64 percent of people with cats prefer their cat’s company to that of their significant other.
What ignites this passion? Is it the fact that they are so “hard to get?” What factors contribute to these preferences? It’s not immediately clear why the passion exists (full disclosure: though I like cats, I am a dog person) since it seems that quite a few cats don’t like to be petted, are allergic to fragrances we humans prefer (soap, perfume) and even dislike the decibel level at which we usually speak, according to Tucker. They definitely don’t come when called, that’s for sure.
Respecting your cat involves understanding their true nature, rather than anthropomorphizing them or treating them like “elegant dogs.” They are unique, and very interesting creatures, which is part of their appeal, says Tucker:
“The humble house cat is one of the most stunning organisms on the planet. No creature is more exquisitely sensitive, and yet none is hardier. None beguiles us more but needs us less. There are more than 600 million domestic cats on the planet today, and we are hard-pressed to explain why. Humans apparently never tried to cultivate them (their abilities as ratters are overhyped). Rather, cats took the reins in our relationship, undergoing a novel process of self-domestication, tweaking their brain structures to better withstand the terrible stresses of human company and thereafter radiating out from the Middle East in determined furry battalions. In an era when lions, tigers and other types of felines flirt with extinction, house cats are themselves an intensifying menace to endangered species.”
Many cat owners will admit that it’s true that the cat is in charge. Is this what we like about them? Perhaps being beholden to another creature suits them — they admire the cat’s “strength of will” and independent spirit, and possibly identify with it? Dog owners often delight in how dependent their pets are. Does that make us feel better about our own dependency needs, which we can project onto our dog, and then try to satisfy them? Why do some people enjoy horseback riding so much? Do they like being able to dominate and command this beautiful, enormous beast?
Cat psychology is pretty consistent. Humans, not so much. These animals have made:
“Our living rooms. …Their final conquests, as indoor-only cats are a phenomenon of mostly the last 70 years or so. It hasn’t been an easy takeover. In fact, chaotic human homes, with their noises, stenches and overbearing occupants, may be the most radical and challenging environment that these little hunters, which flourish on deserted sub-Antarctic islands and the slopes of active volcanoes, have yet faced.”