Living with pets, learning about ourselves

What do dogs and cats tell us about ourselves? These two creatures are the most popular pets among people around the world. Did you ever wonder why?

  • Tuesday, January 17, 2017 9:46am
  • Opinion

What do dogs and cats tell us about ourselves? These two creatures are the most popular pets among people around the world. Did you ever wonder why?

Part of the answer lies in the cost of having them. They’re considerably cheaper than caring for horses or llamas. They’re softer and furrier when contrasted with serpents and turtles. They’re friendlier than tarantulas. Cats and dogs tell us more about ourselves than we usually think.

Both dogs and cats are predators and meat eaters. For some reason, we humans are more attracted to carnivores than vegetarians. Perhaps, their predatory and aggressive attitudes toward weaker creatures resonate with our own tendency toward dominance over things that are weaker. Providing for their meals and a place to live allows us to control their behavior by creating a type of social contract.

We feed them and they decide to stay.

Dogs historically are animals that run in packs in the wild, and most gave up their predatory ways because we fed them. Humans became their pack leaders. That is probably where their loyalty to us comes from. Because humans care and feed them, it almost seems like we are their gods.

Cats are far more individualistic and independent. They’re also a lot harder, if not impossible, to train. Cats tend to project an attitude that you, the owner, exist to care for them. They seem to view themselves regally, as gods, and you are their devoted servant. Perhaps that attitude is why ancient Egyptians worshipped them.

Cats are also manipulative. Our cat, Luna, a spayed tuxedo, has trained me to pet her and rub her head when she lies on my lap as I sit reading in my recliner. If I ignore her and continue to read, she’ll bite my book to get my attention.

When I was a child, we had a large white cat that would scratch the furniture to get our attention and let her outside. She trained us to open the door for her.

Cats are more careful and picky eaters, while dogs will eat just about anything they find. Dogs also tend to be dirtier and less concerned about hygiene than cats that are constantly licking and grooming themselves.

Pet owners love dogs because they are utterly loyal. Dogs deeply want to please their masters or mistresses. They can be easily trained to do tricks because of their fixation on food. Their penchant for barking at strangers makes them effective burglar-warning systems. Their sense of territoriality and their big teeth and aggressive behavior toward those who enter their realms protect the owner’s property at low cost.

Dogs can often feel empathy – understanding how their humans are feeling and reacting sympathetically. Once, my daughter, Betsy, was sitting outside, depressed over the death of one of her AIDS clients in South Africa. Her dog, Tieze, saw her and brought her a dead rat he had found, a prize to him, and dropped the carcass in front of her. It was his way of trying to empathize with her pain.

Luna, on the other hand, can be warm and affectionate; yet, she can catch a bird and bring it into the house and play with it until it dies, feeling neither compassion nor empathy. The contrast always astounds me.

The human tendencies of our cat and dog pets probably say a great deal about us, their owners. Are we empathetic yet totally unaware of creating messes?

Sometimes. Some of us are neat and tidy; others of us are totally clueless when we track in dirt and create chaos, just like our pets.

Are we social creatures like dogs, or individualistic and self-centered like cats? Do we see ourselves as gods to be worshipped by the humans who live with us, or are slavish and loyal to our superiors, like our dogs?

Whatever you love about your animal, whatever you put up with in your pet, says a great deal more about you than it does about them.

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