(Originally featured in Arizona City Independent Edition, December 19, 2001)
First, a disclaimer: I'm a cat person. Have been most of my life. Can't do anything about it. In fact, at different times in my life, I've tested positive for allergies to cats, and everyone knows cats really love to cuddle up to people who are allergic to them. It's part of their nature.
There's nothing wrong with dog people. A lot of my friends are dog people. I even like dogs. I grew up with a beautiful black-and-gray cocker spaniel named Smokey. With eight kids in the family, Smokey rarely lacked for companionship, but, technically, he was supposed to be my dog, since he came into the family on my sixth birthday. I was also the only one in the family with the intestinal fortitude--actually, compassion--to take Smokey to the vet, more than a decade later, so the poor ailing creature could be put to sleep. (Yes, kiddies, Smokey went to doggie heaven.)
Oddly, none of the rest of my family are cat people. Most are allergic to them, like me. Unlike me, they won't have them around. I don't know where I got my cat gene, but there it is.
When we met, Jim was in the Navy, stationed on a sea-going ship, and I was a single mother living in an L.A. apartment, so there was no room for animals in our lives. Still, growing up in small towns in Oklahoma and Arkansas, Jim believed a "real man" must "own" a dog. Actually, he would tell me how he wanted to raise a small herd of hunting dogs, and he planned to get up early every morning to cook breakfast for them! Heck, he never got up early to cook breakfast for me! Why I married him after that kind of talk, I'll never know!
Over the years a strange thing happened to our pet genes. "Our" one attempt to have a dog failed miserably. Jim had the bright idea that I was going to take care of a dog "for the kids"--while he was away at sea and I was alone with one small child, pregnant with my second, and sick or working, or both. Needless to say, that didn't work out at all. After that fiasco, no mention was ever made again of having a dog for either the boys or the macho hunter. In fact, the macho hunter now confines his "shooting" to a camera. He's come a long way, on many levels, since those days.
We first noticed our cat genes sparking when several stray cats began to appear in our lives. At first my deteriorating physical health, no doubt aggravated by allergies triggered by all the cats hanging around, limited my ability to entertain them full time. We eventually compromised by leaving food and water on the back porch of our mobile home, thus becoming proprietors of the most popular feline "restaurant" in the neighborhood.
Even after we stopped leaving food outside, cats kept showing up at our house. I think that, like hobos during the depression, they leave a mark somewhere on the property to show that the kind (cat) person inside will provide a free meal. A couple of abused cats preferred our brand of affection to the hellish environment of their previous homes. Gradually one, and then another, of these animals chose us as their permanent "family."
I guess by then we were officially cat people. Later, allergy shots and better control of possible cat-specific symptoms contributed to my ability to tolerate their presence. They certainly do tolerate mine!
A recent piece on a TV magazine show discussed the fact that dogs are not meant to be treated as mere house pets. They were bred to be working animals, and they should be allowed to follow their nature by performing as hunters, herders, and even "nannies" to flocks of children. Apparently, people who leave dogs alone to entertain themselves all day long in an empty house or apartment are doing the animals a tremendous disservice. Experts claim this is the reason for the proliferation of psychological problems among dogs today.
The program showed several different dogs who were busy at work. One herded sheep, of course, and another spent his days playing with a group of children, protecting them from harm. One dog actually accompanied his "master," who is a carpenter, to work almost every day. Wearing a specially designed tool belt, the dog scampered all over the construction site, delivering tools and other items to his human co-workers. The dog was delighted to be of use to his human friends, and the boss certainly didn't mind getting so much work out of a helper who could be paid in dog biscuits.
Dogs might enjoy working for their humans, but cats are definitely free agents. They work for themselves, at whatever interests them, always at their own pace, and unlike dogs, they never volunteer. Cats sleep--up to 20 hours a day--and wake on their own schedule. They roam when they choose, and hide when you most want to find them. You might claim ownership to a dog, but you do not "own" a cat, any more than you "graduate from" school. It's actually the other way around: You "are graduated from" school, and you "are owned by" a cat!
As different as the two species might seem, these animals do have certain things in common: Nothing gets both cats and dogs moving faster than an operating can opener, whether manual or electric, though the cat is more likely to turn up his nose at whatever you offer. There is also the advantage their human "parents" experience over the supposed joy of raising kids.
You can talk baby talk to an animal all you like, and it's not going to develop any bad speech patterns in later years. Dogs just love being talked to, about anything, in any old way at all. Cats know when they're being talked down to, but they usually tolerate it as the price of room and board.
You can say or do anything in front of a dog or a cat, and it won't go out and blab all your deep dark secrets to the entire neighborhood. Small animals are generally easier to keep clean than small humans, and they're certainly a heck of a lot less expensive to maintain.
You can spoil a pet, and it won't grow up and wreck your car, or call you at one a.m. from the county jail.
On the other hand, a cat just might leave a dead rat on your doorstep in the middle of the night, but cat people understand that's a token of a feline's deep and abiding affection and respect. That's when you know you are truly blessed.
That's when you know you're a real cat person!