One thing me and the Ruski really don’t see much eye to eye on is the relative merits of cats and dogs. He loves cats, and is happy to be the staff of our little cat, Chilli, who will wake him to feed her and then come back to my bed to snooze with me (without eating anything). He has also been known to chase off the two little dogs from our neighbours who occasionally get loose and like to bark at Chilli. She was perfectly safe, sitting on top of the fence pretending to ignore them whilst driving them crazy, but the Ruski had to ruin her fun. He has mellowed somewhat in the last few years, but for the longest time he did not like dogs. This was in large part to the childhood memory of being chased and treed by a pack of wild dogs in Siberia.
I, on the other hand, have some reservations about our love affair with cats. I get that they are lovely or hilarious to watch (I have been known to spend time watching cat videos on YouTube), and can form relationships with humans and be warm, affectionate company, and cats other than ours can kill pests (or entire species, let’s not forget). Chilli is the worst hunter ever. But those qualities we commonly find endearing in cats, their self-contained and commanding nature, distain, fastidiousness, savagery… we would not like these qualities in a person of our acquaintance. Also, consider these points:
- It has apparently been shown that cats do understand what we say and want, they just don’t care. http://blogs.discovery.com/bites-animal-planet/2013/12/study-shows-cats-understand-their-ownersbut-they-dont-care.html
- They are not too bright: they apparently have the same IQ as an octopus, which makes the octopus a surprisingly intelligent mollusc, especially because it has no parental guidance to learn things (http://boingboing.net/2010/02/01/the-secrets-of-octop.html ), and the cat a surprisingly dumb mammal. The vast majority of its behaviour is instinctual and reflexive.
- And, to quote Freddy Mercury, a courtesan is “faithful as a pussy-cat”. Not a high standard.
Now I have heard the protests of the cat-lovers: “not my cat – my cat is smart / faithful / friendly / caring…” and I have to admit to seeing a lot of variation in cat attributes myself. This can be attributed to the fact that we don’t spend a lot of time killing off cats that exhibit strange or anti-social tendencies, like we do with dogs, and so more behavioural variation can be expected. Commonly we find the mad cat endearing, even when it scratches us for no reason or steals the neighbours’ panties off the washing line eg http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2397155/A-real-cat-burglar-Cheeky-Norris-steals-neighbours-underwear-night-prowls.html We excuse their bad behaviour in the same way as overindulgent parents, with maybe a slight embarrassment, but private delight.
To highlight this, the other day Chilli came over for a pat when I was in the middle of something. I gave her a quick pat and moved to walk away and she scratched me on the leg. I told the Ruski about this, and he said “What a bitch! [Pause] You should know better than to walk away when she wants attention!” I think he deserves everything he gets with the joys of cat ownership, including the catbox duties and the barfed furballs.
On the other hand, the things we culturally find pathetic or undignified in dogs – their unconditional love, desire to please, steadfast loyalty, and boisterous nature – these are things that commonly make a person our best friend, though maybe we would be a bit nervous of this, thinking we don’t deserve it. Why do we choose to laud the antisocial behaviour of cats over the social behaviour of dogs? Or, if I am to get serious for a bit, why do we imagine that people who treat us rudely or with distain show quality and are desirable, and those that accept us and treat us well can be taken for granted and used? I do believe these traits of humans are interconnected, and bear thinking about.
Why do we have these double standards in the value of these qualities? This is why I have reservations. It’s not because I don’t love cats, it’s because I do love humans, and I wonder if we hurt ourselves and sabotage our relationship happiness by confusing our values between humans and our furry friends. What’s the chance we see the dog or cat qualities listed above in a person and accidentally apply the reversed interpretation we give these qualities in our familiar non-human friends? For example, I suspect the Ruski admires cat qualities in girls, which I believe accounts somewhat for his miserable romantic life. If I say someone has a cat-like personality, I am not saying a nice thing about them, but am likely thinking of a sociopathic or neurotic narcissist. I admit to being a sucker for narcissists, which is probably why I actually do like cats. And this is OK: they are not humans, and they teach us humility. Dogs teach us how to be friends.