Ignoring those unfortunates who despise all animals, when it comes to domestic pets – and for these purposes I’m ignoring incarcerated beings such as snakes, lizards, tortoises, turtles, terrapins, rats, mice, stoats, ermine, hamsters, guinea pigs, goats, guinea fowl, parrots, cockatoos, budgies, macaque monkeys, warthogs, horses and goldfish – essentially, for the bulk of sane human beings, the world boils down to a choice between cats and dogs. Well, save for those of us who opt to have examples of both species … and they should really know better.
I guess (whether or not this is a matter of class, location of origin, or what) most Brits divide into those who say “Shrews-bury” and those who say “Shrows-bury”, “tom-arto” or “tom-ate-o”, “scowne” or “scon”; those who prefer rugby league to rugby union, or Manchester City to Manchester United, or Liverpool to Everton, or even Arsenal to Chelsea; those who live north of the River (Thames) and south of it – in other words, there’s a healthy gulf of tribal loyalty, distain and misunderstanding between so many of us that keeps things ticking over.
But all of these pale into insignificance when compare to the divide between those who own dogs and those who own cats. I’d go further. Even those of us who are animal lovers but, for whatever reason (e.g. temporary personal circumstances) are obliged or decide not to own a pet at all, tend to divide into those who consider themselves as ‘dog’ or ‘cat’ people.
Here’s my declaration of interest. Mine has always been a dog family.
I haven’t owned a dog for nearly twenty years but – if I either won £120 million on this week’s Friday night Euromillions draw and/or givemestrength.com (my patented idea for a website via which widowed individuals aged 55 plus could hook up to pretend to be couples so they can argue with each other) suddenly hit the jackpot by being bought up by Amazon for US$1.2 billion – I’d immediately buy a medium-sized estate in the Gloucestershire countryside complete with a helipad and three or four dogs.
I’ve never quite ‘got’ cats, or indeed why indeed some people become devoted to them. I’ve put it down to that fact that instinctively some people like one thing and others the complete opposite. It’s probably part of what makes the world go around.
I’m on the subject today because at the back-end of last week there was a media story doing the rounds on the subject of cats that, in stating what some might see as the bleedin’ obvious upon our feline friends, also incidentally helped those who are dog lovers feel a little smug.
It seems that a research study into animal behaviour at the University of Lincoln in the USA has shed new light on attitudes and independent nature of cats.
Apparently their research has shown that domestic adult cats are completely different from dogs in that they tend never to regard their human overlords as their primary source of security, comfort and food.
Applying a version of the Ainsworth Strange Situation Test (or SST) which seeks to measure the ‘secure attachment’ bond between human parents and children in unfamiliar environments, the cats under scrutiny were placed in plain rooms and then observed when by themselves, with their owners and then with strangers. In each case the researchers observed the cats’ passive behaviour, distress when an owner was absent and/or in contact.
It seems that although the cats were more vocal when their owners departed than when strangers did, this was not because of a ‘secure attachment’ bond with the owners. Professor Daniel Miller, co-author of the report, said that in strange situations attached individuals normally seek to stay close to their carer, show evident signs of distress when separated from them and of pleasure when they return – but cats did none of these: “This [their vocalisation] might simply be a sign of frustration or learned response.”
Cats are apparently much more independent creatures in strange situations than dogs, for whom owners represent a specific ‘safe haven’ he added. This didn’t mean that cats do not develop close relationships at all, just that these are not based upon an instinctive need for safety and security.
For me, cats always come across as aloof and independent characters who occasionally, on their own terms only, offer themselves to humans to be stroked or petted.
In contrast dogs are instinctively ‘joiner-inner’s, who crave affection, reassurance and contact with their owners and, hopefully, food They constantly need to know their place in the human tribe ‘pecking order’ and what is or is not expected of them … and then they’re as happy as sand boys (whatever sand boys are). They do everything they can to please.
Cats don’t. Domestic life is on their terms and nobody else’s and can seemingly be taken or left upon a random whim.
I’m not arguing dogs over cats at all, just recording my personal observation.
Here’s an interesting article on cats that I came across today on the website of THE GUARDIAN