The Real Truth Bout Cats and Dogs
I’ve been thinking about cats and dogs lately. When these two animals come up, the conversation always inevitably leads to a discussion of preferences (as though they’re ice cream flavors….isn’t it funny no one ever asks, “Are you an iguana person, or a snake person?”)
What you hear most often from “dog people” is that dogs are sweeter; cats are so cold, they say. There’s just something more “loving” about a dog.
As humans, one of the main reasons we keep animals as pets is the love we get. The unconditional, at our fingertips, on-demand love. Essentially, dog people are saying they want their love- and they want it now. We like dogs because they respond to our beck and call. Cats give you love….when they’re good and ready, allright?!
So, I can understand why dog people are mad at cats. Cats aren’t necessarily “cold”. We just say that because they’re just a bit too human, and their response doesn’t satisfy the expectation of “pet” behavior. And, so, many people “hate them”.
We cannot snap our fingers and have a cat sit at our feet. We cannot demand they get into bed with us and cuddle. If they do, it’s only because they want to. Cats refuse to play the game and are essentially declaring that they are sentient beings and have a right to their own decisions (…in so much as possible without having to hunt for their own food).
Cats have managed to meet the minimum of our “pet”requirements for centuries…never fully accepting what we demand of them but doing just enough to convince us to keep loving them. They’ve found a balance between our expectations and their own needs. You’d never presume to ask your cat to “roll over”, and you know it. And, they know you know it.
From that perspective, I have some pity for dogs. You could argue that never was there another animal more broken down. (Horse lovers may disagree with me on this, and yet I think they somehow manage to keep their dignity even with us riding their backs.)
If anyone’s ever really looked into the eyes of a dog while it’s pooping in a public, grassy area, you can’t tell me it doesn’t look embarrassed. I know you’re scoffing at this suggestion, but, really look at their faces…really look at their eyes. I think we did break some spirit there….But I digress.
The CIA has surely spent billions on brainwashing techniques with the holy grail being to get humans to be as obedient as a dog; and many kidnappers have managed to turn their prey into such dependable dependents.
We should be proud of ourselves for how we’ve broken down dogs. (*sarcasm*)
Ok, before you bawk at my me, I fully honor the “spirit of the dog”, as indigenous cultures would call it, and have respect for their courage, and the friendship and loyalty they have for humans. I’m just pointing out that perhaps this was never their “true nature”. And, that’s my point here.
We take for granted that dogs are [supposed to be] sweet, obedient, loyal….mankind’s best friend. Those qualities have been institutionalized by into “Spirit of Dog”. We have expectations of this behavior as their true “nature”. But, that wasn’t always the case. We had to domesticate them to meet our expectations. From brave and wild Wolf, we’ve created an ideal companion for our human species.
As “pet”, dogs have watched over us, protected us, hunted with us (or for us), and given us comfort. I recently saw a documentary that stated that dogs are the most varied mammal species, thanks to centuries of human manipulation via breeding. No other mammal, this documentary asserted, has seen such diversity. But, again- due to HUMAN manipulation.
From a sociological and psychological standpoint, these two pets- cats and dogs- provide the perfect scenario for evaluating what is “innate” and that which is expected for so long, and taught, that it has become innate.
Did we always assume cats would not do our bidding? I’m sure there was countless an ancient human who would never have believed it possible to “train” a wolf or wild dog. But, we managed it over the years. We expected we could, I suppose. But, why? Did the cat just resist us long enough to have us give up? Is that the key to surviving overlords?
Alexander Pope, 18th century British poet and satirist, once commented on what his contemporary society considered the unequivocal “nature” of women. He stated that- in his opinion- no other being had so been altered from their true nature by their masters, as women had been by men. A bold statement for the time. He was not so much an early Feminist, perhaps, as an observer of humanity and society. Pope, it seems, understood that if conditions are consistently created under a set of assumptions and expectations- for long enough- they will cause the expected result; then the result becomes “fact”.
In his time, general consensus was that women could not make decisions for themselves, and existed merely to serve and please men. And, the “frailty” of women had become “truth” through centuries of artificial conditions created by Law and Soceity, which subjugated women to men and ultimately created a self-fulfilling truth. Women were in fact “stupid” because they were not allowed education. Women were in fact “frail” because of the ridiculously binding clothing they wore. And, women were in fact incapable of participating in public life because…well, because they were allowed no life outside the home for a very long time. (FYI, I’m referring to “western culture” here).
Socially, we create our reality everyday with this kind of approach, from how we design public policy to how we engage in our relationships: rules built on assumptions that create “truth” to which rules/laws must be applied, which ultimately reinforce the “truths” which reinforce the assumptions.
Example: We assume our youth can’t handle alcohol consumption until they reach age 21 (a totally arbitrary age, by the way). We reinforce that reality by vilifying alcohol, creating laws to outlaw it, and- funnily enough- making it seem exciting and forbidden. Consequently, our youth binge on it when alcohol IS accesible…thus reinforcing our assumptions in the first place.
Example: We assume our child is lazy and doesn’t try…so much so that anything they achieve is ignored, and ultimately they stop caring- or trying. Otherwise known as “self-fulfilling prophecy”.
Example: we enter into a romantic relationship assuming we’ll get hurt (…we all know this one), and in the end we do. Why? Because we acted with such distrust of the person that they ended up not trusting us. Cue breakup, heartache, and “I KNEW this was going to happen”. Yes, yes you did.
Every day, we lead with assumptions and expectations. We often assume a person should act a certain way, or say a certain thing. But, we forget that everyone has their own nature. Their actions may not mean to them what it means to us. Nothing has caused more human heartbreak or misery than assuming that a person has a specific nature, or intention.
“Assumptions are the first step on the road to hell.” (…that one’s mine, I think).
If cat and dogs are somehow reflections of sides of humanity, then what does that say about just how much socialization can affect us?
In our pets we have a very long running social experiment. Centuries old. Millenia old, in fact! How does how we treat another sentient being affect its “nature”? If we apply assumptions in our behavior to the world around us long enough, our world reflects those assumptions back to us.
So, I muse on the question again: did cats just resist us for long enough for us to let them be themselves? Or did we just have our hearts so set on dogs we tried for longer to tame (and change) them?
Is the key to life and society resistance [to what society expects of you], or persistance [of your assumptions about the world]?
I suppose that’s why the ancient Egyptians made cats guardians of the Afterlife.
You really don’t want someone easily swayed managing the dead, do you?