With an exception, I love most animals. I am not fond of parasites, of which I have had personal experience. Of these, Haemadipsa picta, the tiger leech of Borneo, was probably the most entertaining, a bloodsucker that gives the lie to the old claim that you can’t feel a leech when it bites. There was also a fun encounter with amoebic dysentery, contracted in the course of a leisurely paddle down the Batoka Gorge of the Zambezi. I am also not enamored of the mosquito, though I respect its elegant design and its usefulness as a food source for other, more amenable critters. Other than these, I am pretty much comfortable around everything from skunks to sharks.
So why is it that cats are so special? You hear “she’s a dog person” or “he’s a cat person” all the time. We’ve had a number of dogs. I’ve loved them all and they’ve loved me back. But there’s something about cats ….
Even the noted horror writer HP Lovecraft was a boundless admirer of cats, to the point of writing an excellent essay on the matter of dogs vs. cats, ingeniously titled “Cats and Dogs.” Not “Dogs and Cats,” you notice. Lovecraft even wrote a charming fantasy (not horror) story on the subject, “The Cats of Ulthar.”
Lovecraft is hardly an exception. Cats figure prominently in the lives and stories of innumerable artists. I’ve written a few myself. The story “Ali Babette” and the novel Cat-a-lyst come to mind. I’ve also written stories featuring dogs, most notably The Taken trilogy. So, why cats?
I think it comes down to cats being regarded more as equals and dogs more like — well, like servants. Dogs can be trained to fetch your slippers (I guess some folks still wear slippers), bring you the morning paper (I guess some folks still read a morning paper), play chase, guard your domicile, and catch frisbees.
Rather than fetch your slippers,it is more probable that a cat will make one of them into a daybed. As regards the morning paper, a cat is likely to take personal possession of it, following which the fragments of said paper may well be unreadable, suitable only for (ponder this now) filling a cat box. A cat will play chase, but only with objects of its own desire, and at a time and place of its choosing. Cats have been known to warn their owners of danger, attack intruders, and defend children. Furthermore, they do not have to be trained to do this. As to catching a frisbee, a cat may watch, but only watch. Because fetching frisbees is an activity that is plainly beneath it, and a pastime suitable only for goofy humans.
Cats will also scour your house of mice, rats, and bugs large and small. Our cats handle any scorpions or centipedes that make it inside. Imagine your dog doing this (successfully). Cats keep themselves groomed and do not have to be walked. They (generally speaking) will not dangerously overeat if food is constantly left out for them. Their favorite pastime is sleeping, which is a huge solid for someone who works at home. They do not vocalize hysterically at passing aircraft or cars. They are excellent judges of character, where to a dog a human is immediately branded either a friend or enemy, too often without a careful measuring of relevant characteristics.
I do not mean to imply that cats are angels. Their worst trait is a propensity for consuming small birds. We have a deficit of small birds in this country that increases year by year. We keep all our cats inside, the one exception being a cat named BK who is not much bigger than the birds she would hunt, and who is never allowed outside unless I am with her. During such sojourns she has never touched a single bird.
Dogs tend to pant, whine or bark. In contrast, the hum of a purring cat is one of the most relaxing sounds in the world. Forget Sominex and its like. Nothing will put you to sleep faster than a cat curled up beside you with its purring mechanism turned on High. I once had the opportunity to pet a purring cheetah and can tell you that the only difference in sound between it and a purring housecat was the volume.
That said, much as I admire them, I would never keep a big cat as a pet. It's not fair to the feline, they don’t live nearly as long (generally) as house cats, and I don’t think I could manage regular changing of the litter box. Also, the furniture would suffer. Besides, just like humans and dogs, even the best behaved and most mild-mannered cat can have a bad hair day. In that event, if it’s your pet tabby, you might lose some skin. If it’s your pet lion, you might lose the neighbor’s kid. Notwithstanding these little peccadilloes, all cats are great people.
Also, they don’t have access to AK-47s.
Prescott resident Alan Dean Foster is the author of 130 books. Follow him at AlanDeanFoster. com.