An intellectual discourse on one of humanity’s longest-running debates
For all the progress humanity has made, despite all of our technological marvels and smartwatches and selfie sticks, there are some very basic conundrums that have plagued our species since the dawn of time: Why do bad things happen to good people? Can happiness exist without grief? What is love? Today, we venture once again into the murky, troubled waters of one of these legendary questions, endeavoring as many have before us, to determine: Which are better, cats or dogs?
The question is especially poignant in today’s world of divisive identity politics; last week, a cat took home the SPCA’s “hero dog” award for the first time, in a blatant appropriation of canine tradition. And just the other day I saw a friend’s dog eat the cat’s food from the cat dish like it was no big deal. “Arf,” the dog said casually, casting asunder the very laws of god and man. Staring into the abyss of a pet world gone insane, we at GOOD realized that “cat people” and “dog people” were once again headed toward an irreconcilable clash of cultures. Which would win out? It was time to put our sharpest minds on the case. We turned to two expert web rhetoricians with strong opinions on the matter, Senior Cat Correspondent Mark Hay and Heather Dockray, our Director of Canine Resources, to claw out the gritty details. The following are a pair of dueling essays, outlining their controversial findings.
Julie the dog
Meet Julie. Julie has a big heart, four crumbling teeth, and a passion for sniffing vaginas. For the past 10 years, Julie has served as my beloved dog and trusted confidante. I’ve loved her since the moment she walked into my house, asked for a pet, and then politely shat on the floor. Over the years, we’ve come to appreciate so many of the same things: sweet treats, the great indoors, sleeping while people are talking. Sure, Julie does seem to enjoy smelling other dogs’ butts from time to time, but I’m not here to pass judgment, nor can I account for my college years. Sometimes it can be difficult to express our love in a nation dominated by the elite cat caste. But might does not make right, and I am proud to say I love Julie both for who she is and whom she represents, as a darling drooling member of the true master-pet race:
Most of us know dogs as “man’s best friend,” but that branding is rooted in real history. Go to any sixth grade classroom and they’ll tell you that Ancient Egyptians idolized the cat. But that’s just insidious cat propaganda fed by the feline media: read between the lines and you’ll discover that dogs were responsible for guarding GODS in the afterlife, while the word cat, miu, simply translated into: “he or she that mews.” Outside of Egypt, some of Britain’s most powerful kings died with their beautiful young dogs buried (alive, whoops!) right next to them. In a recently released middle school book report (and confirmed by real sources, relax), dogs were revealed to have been domesticated tens of thousands of years before cats. Compared to felines, ancient man found dogs to be better hunters, stronger guards, and yes—more adorable companions.
But with the rise of the internet, experts agree that cats have usurped dog’s rightful crown/collar. Cats are the number one most watched YouTube channel. Cat videos are four times as likely to go viral as dog videos. How many times have you opened your computer to find yet another cat GIF, yet another cat meme, yet another actual cat sleeping on your computer because that’s what they do? Sigh. I can’t help but think that the digital era is responsible for the rebirth of the cat: a creature that, much like the internet-dwellers who ushered in its renaissance, prefers technology to humans, and loves nothing more than a selfish irrational rage. People might accuse me of catphobia, but that’s simply not true. I question cats’ dominance, not their basic legitimacy. Pardon my pun, but the facts are clear: we, my internet friends, are living in a Purriarchy. And it is time for dogs to revolt.
Of course, I can’t just argue for the superiority of dogs without backup, but thankfully, the evidence is vast and uncompromising. A recent study showed that dogs closely resemble human babies in their capacity for attachment. When a dog’s owner leaves, they respond in the same way a healthy baby responds—with a measurable degree of anxiety, only to be relieved when the mother/owner returns. While dogs genuinely care if you’re missing or dead, cats are mostly just waiting to eat you (upon your death, cats only wait 24 hours to snack on your bones). The story here isn’t about the kind of animal you want to pet (dogs dogs dogs DOGS). Many people run away from dogs out of fear. But are they afraid of them—or are they just afraid of commitment?
It may seem like hyperbolic speculation, but several new studies further confirm that dogs empathize with humans more than any other living animal. You heard those italics: it isn’t just that dogs miss their owners when they’re gone, it’s that they actually care what happens to them when they’re here. For one study, scientists had a group of humans cry and fake-cry in front of a group of dogs. Within seconds, the dogs came over and started licking everyone’s faces—their version of “There, there.” This happened both to humans they called owners and the people they knew as strangers. What compassion. Think of the number of times you’ve seen a stranger crying in a public place. Did you go over and lick their face? Did you?
Dogs also do more than nurture—they are some of the hardest working, lowest paid members of the American economy. While cats may dominate the entertainment industry, dogs take on jobs that most proud Americans would never stoop down to: they hunt for dead bodies, sniff crotches for drugs, and help the disabled. In 2007, a dog gave Debbie Parkhurst a modified Heimlich maneuver after she choked on an apple. Dogs, scientists argue, are community members who love nothing more than taking care of their pack. Cats, scientists argue, are not like that.
As I write this, I know I stand in a minority: the majority of pet owners, both in the United States and in the world, own cats. Sometimes it’s hard, living under the din of the Purriarchy, to hear the voices of dogs, begging for treats and barking for liberation. But I’m not asking anyone to hate cats—I’m just asking for them to like dogs way more. Dig deep past your GIFS and into your hearts to discover your inner dog. Reclaim your empathy, and rebuild your community. Dogs might love butts, but they also love everyone. We never saved dogs. They saved us.
A couple weeks back, I found myself sitting on a sunny park bench utterly unable to concentrate on my Kindle because I couldn’t stop locking eyes with a smiley, panting, copiously drooling pug tied up beside me. Like every pug, he looked goofy as hell—like someone transmogrified Marlon Brando into a tiny dog, leaving him bug-eyed and bemused. But for all his cheery dopiness, the pug—like most dogs, really—left me highly uneasy and less than charmed.
I’ve known since childhood that I was a cat person. They bring me comfort. I feel like I can really communicate with cats in a way that I just can’t with dogs. But I never understood why I was so anxious around canines. Until suddenly, staring down this pug, the reason hit me: dogs are lurid golems—weird, living symbols of man’s narcissism and hubris. And while I bear them no ill will for being humanity’s victims, I can’t get behind their slobbery brand of love and companionship. Because when I look at a dog, I see an eternal captive. A cat, on the other hand, is my peer.
Chip the cat
As I write this, I can already imagine the hate mail I’m going to get. My opinions won’t be popular if for no other reason than that cat people are a minority in America. In 2014, a study of college kids found that 60 percent of its subjects were explicitly dog lovers, while only 11 percent were cat fanciers, numbers bearing out previous surveys’ findings. Further polls suggest that more people hate cats (15 percent) than dogs (only 2 percent). Dog people love to paint themselves as more energetic and outgoing than neurotic, isolated cat people. So most anything I say is apt to be painted as the grumblings of a curmudgeon. Which is fair enough, because I am an anti-social sourpuss. But that doesn’t detract from the truth—cats are just better than dogs.
When people tell me what they love about dogs, it always comes back to loyalty. People think it’s great how bonded to humans dogs are—how they have the ability to read our emotions and seem to miss us when we’re gone. But when we stop to think about where those traits came from, it’s a pretty disturbing story. Because we made them what they are like Frankenstein’s monsters, warping their beings to our own egos.
It’s true that most people now agree humans didn’t go hunting for lupine companions in the first place. Instead, they approached us. But they approached us because we were basically eradicating them. We tolerated those that we didn’t kill because they suited our practical and emotional desires. And we bred them to suit our needs, breaking them over thousands of years until they became emotionally and evolutionarily dependent on us. At our very worst, we turned some of them into lumps of disease and pain for our own amusement. A dog’s love is the culmination of millennia of subjugation—a grand, cosmic Stockholm syndrome accented by the abuse we’ve trained them to tolerate.
Yet while modern dogs are creatures born of humanity’s most sickening collective solipsism, cats are a force to be reckoned with. They too approached us, but unlike dogs they were never truly domesticated. Rather, they domesticated us, training us to learn their sounds and seek their approval, making our inter-species relationship a transaction: You give me love and food, and I will keep your granary pest free and your blood pressure low. Right away, that puts us on a more equitable and appealing inter-species footing.
Cats don’t need your presence. They can survive alone happily for days or weeks, so long as they have food and clean kitty litter (unlike a dog who looks battered and abused by your absence—and probably is). For potential owners, that fierce independence is a huge selling point, to say nothing of cats’ relatively lower average cost of care, carbon pawprint, and longer life spans.
Some people see cats’ independence and their ability to manipulate us (while we can’t control them—“herding cats” is an idiom for a reason) as proof that they’re incapable of love. Cats are more than capable of love, but rather than giving it blindly, it has to be earned through mutual understanding and respect. And the satisfaction of earning and maintaining their affection is profoundly fulfilling.
Yes, my cat can live without me. That’s a good thing. And yes, there’s a good chance that when I die, my cat will recognize the uselessness of my flesh and eat my eyeballs. That’s because he’s a badass. He knows how to fend for himself and respects that my meat bag is useless sans soul. Meanwhile that dog sitting meekly by a grave awaiting your return is not sweet. It’s suffering species-level psychological trauma.
Let me be clear: I’ve said some harsh things about dogs. But I’m not among the 2 percent who hate them. I’ve met many dogs that I quite like (and many owners who, in spite of a harsh interspecies heritage, do truly love and respect their companions). But I look at them as a whole and I see the victims of humanity’s great vanity, fickle tastes, and haughty ambition.
Meanwhile, I look at cats and see still-wild animals that have managed to carve out a secure niche for themselves in the catastrophic anthropocene era. I see the “fuck you, humans” in their eyes, and love their spirit and wiles. I see loving cats as an exercise in respect for a type of love that doesn’t serve our own selfish interests and needs. I see it as a dance between species that, while vastly different in intelligence, can meet each other in partnership rather than servitude. And I think that probably plays a big part in why the same studies that tout dog lovers as gregarious and welcoming describe cat people as more open-minded, sensitive, and intelligent than your average hairy ape in shoes. At the very least, it’s why I’ll take my Maine Coon over that goddamn unnerving pug in the park any day.