Copyright © 1997 Henrietta W. Hay
December 26, 1995
A recent news story of major importance tells us that cats have now surpassed dogs as America's most popular pets. Last year there were 63 million pet cats as compared to 54 million dogs. These figures come from the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, whatever that is. One does wonder who counted the animals and whether any stray kittens might have been hiding under beds and been missed.
Actually, the switch took place ten years ago, but dog owners have been trying to keep it a secret. Franklin Loew, Dean of the college of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell explains, "Dogs represent America of yesteryear; cats are the next millennium."
According to the experts, Rover is the victim of changing life styles and Kitty Litter. With more homes which are empty of people all day, and more people who are living in apartments and condos, a dog becomes a social problem while a cat adapts well to day-long solitude.
Cats do not need to be walked. If it is snowing, the cat will sit at the window in comfortable warmth and watch with a smug smile, while a dog will insist on being taken for a walk and romping in the stuff. If a dog has to be enclosed in the house all day, it is apt to annoy the neighbors and chew on the furniture, while a cat will wait quietly until its people come home and then complain to them for being abandoned.
The other thing which "they" say accounts for the ascendancy of the cat as a pet is the invention of Kitty Litter. We must admit that cat boxes can be a bit smelly. When a bright soul in Michigan tried the kiln dried clay used to sop up grease spills instead of sand or sawdust in her cat box, a new industry was born. Kitty Litter makes it possible to share a house with a cat.
At the risk of offending every dog lover who reads this, I think cats are the most beautiful animals in the world. I was taught that by a series of Siamese, whose grace make Baryshnikov look a bit awkward.
"If a fish is the movement of water embodied, given shape, then cat is a diagram and pattern of subtle air," according to Doris Lessing. One of the world's really great painters knew it, too. Leonardo da Vinci said that the smallest feline is a masterpiece.
I have no quarrel with dogs. They are loyal friends. We had a wonderful German Shepherd once. Handsome, huge and gentle, Hans took care of all of us, including many litters of kittens. He was a brave dog most of the time, but when it thundered he was a cringing coward and became a lap dog -- mine.
My real love, though, is the parade of cats that I have known. I met my first Siamese kitten many years ago as I was sitting on a friend's couch. The little creature chose to go to sleep on my shoulder, and started my long love affair with Siamese.
The last one was Tiggy, who has been gone for a couple of years. She was the most beautiful cat I ever shared my house with, and the softest. According to Lillian Jackson Braun you have never felt "soft" until you have stroked a Siamese cat.
She was a writer's cat. Robertson Davies, a writer with a sense of humor, explains, "Authors like cats because they are such quiet, lovable, wise creatures, and cats like authors for the same reasons." I'll buy that!
I don't have a cat now, but I do have an extended family of felines. Pepper, the big, handsome black, still has the hunter instinct but if he is in the right mood he will let me rub his ears. Mandy treats me with great formality, and murmurs a polite hello when I am seated. Babe wanders around outdoors on the end of a leash and has learned to hunker down on the grass and let me stroke him.
I can't imagine life without our pets. Cats and dogs make our lives brighter. But I still agree with Jeff Valdez. "Cats are smarter than dogs. You can't get eight cats to pull a sled through the snow."