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 was introduced to the world of dog showing and decided to make a hobby of it. She bought a cute little cocker spaniel puppy with the aim of putting it in the show ring, just for fun. I was thrilled, thinking I had finally been rewarded for all the years I spent praying for a dog to a God I did not believe in.
Because my mother was compulsive, the quaint hobby with spillover benefits for me turned to a dog-obsession that would become the bane of my existence. In a few short years that one cute dog became several, and would thrust me into an existence marred by dozens of yapping, shitting, clarions from Satan’s kennel passing through my house, shitting on my shoes, eating my socks, and monopolizing the finite affections of my emotionally cool mother.
The scent of dog was deposited like sediment in every pore of my teenage body. 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. I could not get over the terrifying feeling that I smelled of dog shit whenever I met a new girl or went to parties at the cool kids’ houses. I bathed several times a day to ensure it would never be an issue.
To this day, I can still detect the unparalleled stench of freshly deposited canine excrement from miles away – a gift I disavow at dinner parties, even when others might benefit. More often than not I find myself reflexively checking the bottom of my shoes, or asking strangers “Is it just me or do you smell dog shit?” I kick myself for being oblivious to the truth of how easily offended strangers can be.
The pitfalls of a childhood spent in a home-cum-dog kennel would ultimately dull the torch I had previously carried 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 yarn spun between enthusiasts of either species of hairball. 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 over cats any day.
Small dogs are much like cats in their futility of purpose and lack of reciprocity. Except small dogs are dumber, louder and use their mouth not just to bark – which is its own brand of unique hell – but also to bite; all of which makes them far worse than cats.
A small dog can shit in places you won’t find until it’s long been fossilized and requires expert excavation to remove. On the odd occasion where I have 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 I 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.
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 I’ve said something self-sabotaging to the woman I’m trying to impress by humbly picking up after my dog after it shits in the park (a sight that is simultaneously the most deplorable and welcome of public spectacles in the twenty first century).
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 skin.
When the idea of picking up dog shit ceases to pry open those old emotional scars, I will make a bee line to the local dog rescue shelter to get me a big, furry canine to call my own. Until then, you’re likely to see me at the park, bus stop, or farmers’ market offending random strangers whom I’ve not-too-deftly inferred smell like shit.