Food for Thought
I have always subscribed, with some degree of conviction, to the idea that the world is divided into 'cat people' and 'dog people'. The writer Emily Yoffe, a long-term cat lover herself (though she later converted into a dog person, much to my approval), described how her young daughter made her own pro-canine preferences clear very early. Whilst still a preliterate, the little girl managed to write her first sentence: "I love dogs". Shortly afterwards she came back from her kindergarten with a chart featuring each child's favourite pet - unsurprisingly, hers was the dog. When her mother gently reminded her that she had cats at home, not a dog, she replied without missing a beat, "They asked for my favourite, not what I have"!
Nor was she ready to give up that preference any time soon, despite her mother's attachment to their cats. She would cut out pictures of dogs and paste them all over her room; and instead of bedtime stories she preferred to leaf through the American Kennel Club guide to dog breeds, discussing which dog she would get when she was old enough to leave home. Whenever they visited friends with dogs, the child's state of mourning over her own dog-less situation invariably intensified.
It was after a visit to see someone's new puppy resulted in the little girl's tearful collapse - "I don't have anything I want! I don't have a brother. I don't have a sister. I don't have a dog. Dogs are who I am. Dogs are my life" -- that Yoffe realised that the problem wasn't going to go away any time soon. The family's subsequent decision to adopt a rescued dog from a shelter is hilariously chronicled in her book.
Don't get me wrong though, I'm not arguing that you can't have both canines and felines in your life. I'm just saying that when the chips are down, most people can choose their favourite quite easily, like the little girl mentioned above. For example, when I was growing up, we always had one cat and a few dogs in our home; until as a teenager, I developed a rather violent allergy to cats. This was particularly unfortunate since the Siamese cat we had at that time was utterly convinced that she was a dog, and became depressed if she was deprived of sufficient human contact.
The decision was made to restrict her access to certain parts of the house and she was not allowed into my room anymore for fear that she would shed hairs and aggravate my allergy. All this she resented bitterly, yowling miserably whenever she was banished from where the rest of us were sitting - invariably to heartbreaking effect. As a result of my consequent (chronic) sense of guilt, I was reduced to regularly taking an antihistamine to fend off the invariable sneezing fit, in order to spend some quality time on the veranda with her to compensate for the injustices of the world.
Which brings me to the quite ridiculous extremes that some people (including myself) can go to, when it comes to pandering to the needs of their pets. I'm not referring to the quite obnoxious overspending on the feeding and decoration of trophy pets, which I take strong issue with, but more the emotional indulgences most of us undertake where our own animals are concerned. One dog owner was heard to complain about how his Dutch Shepherd drove him and his wife crazy with its wake-up routine, which started at the unfortunate hour of 5:30 am. The dog would run in an ever faster circuit around the bed, panting loudly and bumping against the mattress. When the owner was asked how Riley, the dog, was able to get all the way around the bed in order to run in circles, he explained that the bed was pulled out from against the wall - "because Riley likes to run around it"!
I could relate to this to some extent, though not to the dog owner's decision. My problem had been that my beloved German Shepherd dog, Shanti, was completely unable to understand why she wasn't allowed to stay indoors overnight. As a result, she used to be on high alert every morning for any opportunity to slip in behind one of the household staff and rush upstairs to my bedroom.
Once I was roused from a deep sleep at 2 am by a series of thundering hammer blows against my door. In panic, I leapt out of bed thinking that we had burglars. Of course that wasn't the case. My party-loving brother had returned in the early hours of the morning and staggered off to bed without realising that my dog had snuck in behind him; needless to say, she lost no time in rushing upstairs and seeking what she considered the most direct route of entry into my room - by hurling herself against the door. That she consequently took several years off my life in the process was, I am sure, not at all part of her plan…
Another personality trait of pet-owners is that they can be remarkably unsympathetic to those who object, complain or in any way express anything less than adoration towards their beloved animals. Emily Yoffe's husband discovered this the hard way when he complained that their cats, which were allowed to sleep in the bed with them, were keeping him awake. “In the middle of the night, they run up and down my body; then they sit on my chest and crush it”, he insisted. A light sleeper herself, Yoffe couldn't understand why he was complaining, since the cats had never disturbed her rest. So she generously suggested that he might be suffering from nocturnal psychotic episodes and had been imagining all of it.
And she stuck to that story, until she woke up one night to go to the toilet, and returned to the bed to find that her cat Biscuit, who weighed around 10 kg, was sitting in the middle of her sleeping husband's chest -- staring “like a dentist about to perform surgery” into his open mouth, as the poor man snored. The other cat, which was only slightly less heavy, was walking up and down along her husband's legs. Yoffe was shocked, and from the next day the cats were banished to sleep in the basement at night-time.
Those cats got off easy. Another pair of French cat-owners, whose jobs took their family to live in different parts of the world, found that their cat adjusted to their nomadic lifestyle very badly indeed. By the time they had moved to Turkey, the cat was found urinating all over the house to indicate his displeasure at being dragged off to yet another new location. After various kitty-litter box solutions had failed, they gave up and sent the cat back to Europe to live with a friend who lived on a farm in the French countryside.
Their friend was a painter, who worked on massive canvases that sold for large sums of money. One day he noticed an old yellow stain in a corner of one painting. Looking at several other canvases, he found that they all had the same weird stain right over his signature. He couldn't imagine what was going on - until he walked in one day to find that the cat had lifted his leg to impose his own 'signature' over the artist's! This artist turned out to be one pet-owner who was not willing to put up with that particular indulgence, and in a display of artistic temperament the cat was swiftly delivered to the vet the following day and dispatched to his maker…
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