It’s said they are man’s best friend, but since my teens I’ve had a love-hate relationship with dogs. When I was eleven, my mother took up showing dogs as a hobby which I saw as pay off for my years of begging. I was thrilled to finally have a dog in the home, but the hobby turned to obsession and one dog turned to dozens in a few short years. The constant chaos of a life lived among throngs of smelly dogs was cramping my teenage style, which I had very little of to start.
The scent of dog was deposited like sediment in every pore of my unwashed teenage body, and picking up tonnes of their waste as part of my daily chores left my nose hairs perpetually coated in the oily effervescence of fresh dog shit, which I began to smell everywhere I went. To this day, I can’t help from checking the bottom of my shoes. The experience severely dampened my total enthusiasm for all things dog.
Dogs are an enigmatic species of beast. They can detect tiny nuclear components and small amounts of drugs in shipping containers, act as the eyes and ears for persons with disabilities, keep law enforcement on the trail of escaped fugitives, but can’t be potty trained to for all the Milk Bones in the world. Walking through a dog-owner’s back yard is like tip-toeing in a Cambodian minefield.
I’ve had clever, toilet-trained six-year old dogs who would periodically just decide to crap in the house, lift their leg on the bedpost, or water the fern in the living room. Just because. Imagine, a forty two year old accountant taking a dump in the corridor or peeing on his cubicle wall at the office because it was Wednesday and he was in a mood.
If you threw a ball off a cliff a dog would blissfully leap off the precipice to fetch it. They lick incessantly when you put peanut butter on the roof of their mouth. They can’t help from sticking their heads out the window of a moving car and letting their tongue flap about in the wind, which makes the most regal canine look like a bloody imbecile. A dog scratching its anus is the most deplorable behaviour of any domesticated animal, with leg-humping a close second.
I had a relative whose dog ate his lawn furniture while he was at work. When dogs meet each other in the park, even if they’ve both been trained to shake a paw they’ll still sniff each other’s anuses to say ‘hello.’ For many dogs, their own frozen poo is the piece de resistance in canine cuisine.
The truth is, no matter how awesome they can be, dogs are basically a bunch of morons.
Competition between dogs and cats for domestic pet supremacy is a common row between enthusiasts of each species. On the plus-side, cats do their business in a box, which is easy to clean and out of the way. All cat breeds are small. If they sleep on your bed there’s still plenty of room for yourself and other intruding family members.
Cats fit on your lap easily and purr when you pet them, but don’t stay there forever because they basically detest humans, and tolerate us only because we’re their main source of food. They don’t bark and growl at random phenomena for hours on end. In all, unless you’re allergic, a cat is a pretty unimposing pet and can seem like good company if you have a vivid imagination.
And that’s the problem. They’re perfunctory. They’re a soft, furry stand-in for a sentient being to project your misguided affections and stoke the delusion you’re in a relationship with someone. In reality, they give you nothing in return other than their body weight in waste every other day and random piles of hair-soaked vomit. They shit in a box because that’s what they do – they aren’t doing it to please you. They’ll sit on your lap because it’s the warmest thing in the room, not because it’s you. If you put a heater under a rock, the cat would choose the rock over you.
If you were hiking in the woods with your cat and got caught between a big brown bear and its cubs, the cat would scratch you in the face to slow you down and make its getaway. There’s something evil in their DNA, a diabolical streak behind the ‘Cheshire cat grin’ that barely conceals the fantasies they stoke in feral minds that desire to eat you in your sleep.
Cats aren’t loud creatures but they keep weird hours, when the noises they make are magnified ten-fold. In the middle of the night they’ll run around chasing invisible mice or utter shrill, ghoulish growls at some random slight they’re pissed off about. They are usually bitchy and hissy to your guests, and are capricious as hell in dishing out and receiving affection. They’ll purr in bliss as you pat them in your lap, until the moment they grow weary of the stimulation, then they’ll bite your hand and viciously slash your arm to make you stop the annoying petting.
Cats are often blase about your arrival from a long day at the office, as if to say, “Oh, yay. You’re here *yawn*. So, I suppose you want your chair? Pfft.” Then, as they leave the room in a passive aggressive huff without uttering a measly ‘meow’ to say hello, they’ll sharpen their claws on your couch and dash to the litter box to take a shit and kick some litter around; maybe even pee on the wall to put the most pungent, offensive icing on a box of clumping cat-litter cakes.
Cats are unrepentant and vengeful. I had a cat that looked me in the eye as she stood in the litter box and peed on the wall because we hadn’t gone to the grocery store for her wet cat food. The same cat used to paw my nose in the middle of the night and sit on my face to wake me up and give it water.
Cats clean themselves, which is great, but then they hurl and wretch disgusting hairballs in the middle of the night, which is more aggravating than just giving them a bath. They’ll rip your furniture to pieces and pierce their claws into your skin when startled while sitting in your lap. It’s as if they know eventually something will startle them as they nestle in your lap, and they’ll have a ready-made excuse to tear your succulent flesh without being punished for it. I cottoned on to that feline gag and can report the myth is true: cats do land on all fours, no matter how much indignant rage goes into throwing them across a room.
The reality is, cats are preternaturally pathological leeches.
There are few human beings capable of the unflinching loyalty of a dog. If I was in the slammer for axe murder, Fido would be waiting anxiously for me when I returned home. He wouldn’t judge me for being a ruthless criminal like other fair-weather friends. He’d cuddle with me and play ball without making me feel self-conscious about being a homicidal sociopath. If I were being chased by that bear, Fido would see his death before that bear got to me.
There are legions of stories about how dogs have helped make the lives of people with intellectual disabilities, depression, or other neurological impairments better and more independent. They don’t take your flaws and throw them back at you. They sense when you aren’t right emotionally and have a protective instinct that makes a person feel safe and secure. I’m never surprised to see a homeless person with a dog. It’s another mouth to feed, for sure, but necessary for the soul of a person suffering so much hardship.
Which is why it’s a no-brainer in the cat versus dog debate: dogs by a landslide. I should qualify: big dogs. Small dogs are like cats in their futility of purpose, except they’re dumber. They can shit in places you won’t find until it’s long been fossilized. Every time I’ve been bitten by a dog it’s been one of the small breeds, whose owners believe them to be friendly because they’re little. ‘Friendly’ compared to a badger, maybe.
The temerity of these mini-dogs when encountering larger dogs accentuates how stupid they are. To their credit, the big dogs are bemused at the posturing, as if to say “What is this funny little thing that barks at me so? Can eat this squeaky toy?” I ruefully imagine the day a German Shepherd grows weary of the petulance and wolfs it down, taking its stupid Jimmy Chu doggie-shoes and Vera Wang sequined jackets in a single chomp. When the day comes, I’ll thank Kaiser Wilhelm and be content that my heels are safe from another rat on a leash and I’m spared the side-show of an owner feigning incredulity that it happened.
So, in the cat vs. dog debate, I’ll go with the big dogs and leave the cats and dressed up chihuahaus to the celebrities and Real Housewives who collect them like Barbie dolls. In a big dog I’d have a friend who could pull me out of a burning building or rescue me from an avalanche and bring me a mini-Keg of Neo Citran for my troubles. He’d wake me up if I was sleeping through an inferno, or bark in telling fashion when he senses the woman I’m trying to win over at the park is an emasculating gold-digger.
Me and my big dog would run through meadows and lie joyously among dandelions and daffodils as I rubbed his big furry belly and his leg kicked uncontrollably. He’d still crap in random places in my yard and I’d still have to clean it up. And yes, he’d also hump my leg, and bark at leaves, and eat frozen poo and jump off a cliff for a ball. He’s a dog, after all. But he’s also a best friend who’d gladly stand up to a bear to save my sorry ass.