It has been 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, haunting my existence with dozens of yammering, waste-producing, clarions from Satan’s kennel. My brother and I resented our hairy new housemates, who saw fit to announce their arrival by repeatedly crapping in my shoes, eating my socks, keeping me awake through the night, and monopolizing the meager affections of my emotionally chilly mother.
The scent of dog was deposited like sediment in every pore of my teenage body. Cleaning up after them left my nose hairs perpetually coated in the oily effervescence of fresh dog manure, a foulness tainting the smell of my reality, no matter where I went. I was consumed by neurotic worries that my flesh and clothes radiated the smell of wet, dung-soaked mutt. I would incessantly sniff myself out for offensive odours, particularly when around pretty girls, at parties, or on the bus. I bathed and changed my clothes several times a day to ensure I did not smell of a sanitation worker at the city pound.
To this day, I can still detect the unparalleled stench of freshly deposited canine excrement 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, asking strangers, “Is it just me or do you smell dog crap?” I sometimes forget just how easily offended people 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 canine.
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 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, 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 seem, dogs are stupendous morons.
Competition between dogs and cats for domestic pet supremacy is a common yarn spun between enthusiasts of each 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 don’t engage in loud, pointless posturing at random phenomena hitting their senses for hours on end.
In all, unless you’re allergic, a cat is a fairly unimposing pet. Except they’re also like a roommate who doesn’t pay rent, is emotionally unsupportive, and requires you to feed and clean up after them. Anyone who is a parent of teenagers or has had chronically jobless, couch-surfing friends popping in unannounced for months-long stays, would struggle to understand why anyone would willingly run to the pet store and pay good money to acquire such a thankless burden.
Soul-destroying loneliness seems the only explanation for such a foolhardy choice of pet as a cat. A goldfish would be far less cumbersome and just as responsive to your care and concern as a cat. A cat makes for marginally better company – at least for those with a vivid, slightly delusional imagination or a lack of real friends.
Aye, there’s the rub.
Cats are perfunctory, distant, desultory animals. They’re a soft, furry stand-in for a sentient being; a focal point to project our misguided affections and stoke the delusion of relationship and fealty with another creature. They will ungratefully accept whatever cares you extend, but give you next to nothing in return – other than a daily helping of their body weight in hair, excrement, and tattered furniture.
Cats adorn your home with conspicuously placed piles of hair-soaked vomit; most often at a time where it cannot be seen and in a place where its owner’s foot is certain to step. They do their business in a box because that is what nature commands they do – they aren’t doing it to ingratiate themselves to their owners. A cat will sit on a lap because it’s the warmest thing in the room, not because it longs for the human affection. If you were to put a heater under a rock, the cat would choose the rock over your lap.
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 wicked 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 odd hours, when the noises they make are magnified ten-fold. In the middle of the night little Fifi runs around chasing invisible mice or utters shrill, ghoulish growls at some perceived slight – the squirrel who traipses in the yard rubbing its freedom in Fifi’s face; the flock of sparrows at the bird feeder on the neighbour’s lawn that Fifi wants to massacre; the obsequious dogs cowing to their masters like blinkered fools.
Cats are either indifferent, sceptical, or openly hostile to your guests; they are never cordial and warm. They are steadfast only in their caprice in giving and receiving affection. They’ll purr in bliss as you pat them in your lap, until they grow weary of the stimulation, usually after very little time has passed. At that point they choose not just to leave, but to bite your hand or viciously slash your arm to make you stop so they can abandon you in peace.
Cats are often blasé 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 do their messy business, kicking and spreading the waste-encrusted gravel all over the area. Depending on their mood they may even pee on the wall to put the most pungent, offensive icing on a clumping cat-litter cake.
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 had been less than diligent in supplying her favourite wet cat food. The same cat would paw my nose in the middle of the night and sit on my face to wake me up when her water dish had run out. Years later, I have yet to experience anything as horrifying as seeing a cat’s anus up close, which is saying something, having since watched my twin children born by Caesarian section.
Cats clean themselves; and then hurl and wretch to dispense a disgusting aftermath in the middle of the night. It would be less unpleasant just to give them a bath.
They’ll rip your furniture to pieces and pierce their claws into your skin when startled while sitting in your lap. They seem to revel in tearing succulent, human flesh without provocation. I grew impatient with that feline conceit and have countless empirical cases allowing me to confidently assert the myth is true: cats land on all fours, no matter how much indignant rage causes them to be thrown across a room.
Cats tolerate our intruding presence in their lives because we are their main source of food and lodging. Cats are slumming with us human-folk, because they know they are screwed without us. Make no mistake, they cannot stand humans and our fickle emotional needs; our preference for equal, reciprocal relationships.
In essence, 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 crap 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.
It makes the idea of picking up foul dog manure much less unappealing, despite those old emotional scars. When my lifestyle feasibly supports the addition of another creature to care for, 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 may see me at the park, bus stop, or farmers’ market offending random strangers whom I’ve not-too-deftly inferred smell like dog shit.