the old cat versus dog thing

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love cats.

As a child we had big ginger Titsy, who was a boy, and his small delicate mother, a tortoiseshell. Tortoiseshell coat pattern is a sex-linked gene and requires two X chromosomes to appear, so every torty is a female.

At times there were other kittens, who were given away. I particularly remember a sick kitten who clearly need a vet’s care, but there was no money to pay for the visit. I learned then about priorities with money. We all say “I can’t afford that” when what we mean is “my priorities for the money I have lie elsewhere”. As a small child I couldn’t imagine prioritising a sick kitten below anything else and thought my parents cruel and uncaring when it died.

I didn’t own a dog till I got one for the kids when I was over 40 and it was a disaster. It was a pedigreed black chow chow which seemed to me untrainable. If the gate were left open for a second it would run off at speed, never looking back. I tried both chasing it and letting it go, assuming it would return, neither worked. So much for a dog’s loyalty! Many hours were spent looking for the damned thing, once I found it on Windsor Road at Castle Hill, headed purposefully for Windsor. I brought it home where it lasted a few weeks before escaping again, this time I searched in vain, but weeks later I saw it sitting in someone’s front yard, dirty and unloved. Taken home again, the critter finally divorced itself from the family one more time and was never seen again.

Though I like other people’s dogs, sometimes a lot, as with their children, I have no desire to take them home. But their cats…….well, I could happily ferret one away in my bag on leaving and one day might.

Cats never want anything but their owner, some food and a quiet warm spot to nap. My cat Lily wasn’t even much interested in food, just in being on my lap or in my bed. If I moved rooms, she moved rooms. She watched me take a bath, hang the washing out, cook a meal, patiently waiting for me to read, watch the teev or settle into bed so we could be together, just us. I slept with one hand holding her paw or tail, that is if she were not asleep on my chest, for most nights of her 14 years.

A dog on the other hand always wants. Wanting a feed, a walk, a bath, but always wanting. Dogs are high maintenance. When I get home from work I want a companion, not an obligation.

Robert Dessaix, ever a confirmed dog man, says that he prefers dogs because of their ability to abandon themselves to fun, something that he has never felt able to do in his life. The sight of his dog gambolling on a beach, “yanks me out of my buttoned-up cramped self”. I, on the other hand, am absolutely comfortable with being silly, I need no proxy. My cats enabled me to contemplate with a companion, she had her thoughts (they were always shes) and I had mine.

As an Irish monk put it a thousand years ago in reference to his cat Pangur Ban: “So in peace our tasks we ply, Pangur Ban my cat and I; In our arts we find our bliss, I have mine and he has his”.

But perhaps Kinky Friedman in his elegy to his cat Cuddles sums up my feelings, ” She was always with me, on the table, on the bed, by the fireplace, beside the typewriter, on top of my suitcase when I returned from a trip……….. People may surprise you with unexpected kindness. Dogs have a depth of loyalty that often we seem unworthy of. But the love of a cat is a blessing, a privilege in this world.”

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