Someone recently told me that there are more U.S. households that own dogs than cats (43 million vs. 36 millon). I guess there must be a reason why.
I was a cat person myself, once. When I was a kid, I was in love with cats. To me, they were sublime creatures. I recall one summer photographing a lot of cats on a family vacation. They captured aloofness in its finest hour. They knew how, in a pinch, to be cool, and walk away. I guess, in many ways, I felt like a cat.
That year, I was in love with a cat character in the Disney movie That Darn Cat. I pined for D.C. and wrote about him in my diary. I went to see the movie twice so I could watch him, aching for him to be my own. My brother and I weren’t allowed to have pets when we were kids, so I asked my mom to buy me a stuffed Siamese cat, and loved it as much as any kid could love a stuffed animal.
Apropos of a cat, however, I didn’t cuddle it tight and sleep with it. Instead, I would keep it next to me in the bed for a few moments and then put it up on the shelf, taking care to keep it groomed and in pristine condition.
It wasn’t until I left home for college that I had a chance to have a real cat—Gertie. She was white with pinkish eyes, and she was typically independent, somewhat moody, and prone to disappearing in the evening for long bouts of time.
In essence, she was like my college boyfriends.
What was it about cats and guys, I wondered, that they needed to be aloof and independent? The qualities I once admired in a cat, and even identified with, were now starting to bug me as I encountered the “commitment issue.”
Post-college, I dated a guy who was a dog lover. He had been raised with a brother, a sister, and a real (not stuffed) dog, and when he found and brought home our first dog, JoJo, his happiness was palpable and fun to watch.
Well, neither Jojo or Gertie were around very long (although the boyfriend was). Gertie went out one night and never returned. And you can read the fate of Jojo on my earlier blog. Nevertheless, I began to see the subtle differences between dogs and cats, and something began to dawn on me: dogs were better, more ardent companions.
My love of dogs decisively trumped my love of cats when I became a mother. While aloofness and independence might be cool for the single bohemian, for parents, the value of companionship and the institution of family interdependence take on more importance. For several years, we were an only-child family. When it was clear that wouldn’t change, I also thought about companionship for our daughter. I thought of a dog.
With our Yorkie, Jackie, our daughter suddenly had another little mammal in the house to love, one that jumped up and made welcome noises whenever she came home. There was another companion for her to eat with, to play ball with, to walk with, to go to the lake with, to sleep with, to take photos with, and even to dress up with at Christmas. Are these things a cat either could or would do? Probably not.
I’ve come to believe that the relationship between a person and a dog resembles that of parent and toddler, while the relationship between a person and a cat is more like two roommates. If a cat doesn’t like what’s for dinner, he’ll go out and get something else (for Gertie, birds). If he doesn’t like a visitor, he’ll disappear. And when he needs to wee, well, you better have a litter box.
I’m sure some cat owners feel passionate about their pets as a part of a family, but if for nothing else than the list of things dogs can do with humans and cats can’t, dogs are now my choice. I am officially a dog person.
But I still have my stuffed cat. For years, I have used it as a place on which to hang various and sundry mementos of those old, pre-dog romances.