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A "Cats vs. Dogs" Separatist Mentality Hurts Animal Welfare

We love our cats, but if we let that love create divisions, it undermines larger rescue efforts.

Catherine Holm  |  May 5th 2015


Sometimes it seems we humans love to focus on our differences rather than what we have in common. This can become painfully obvious among animal enthusiasts. I’ve been guilty of this myself. I used to feel, and say, that I really thought I understood cats better than dogs. That may be true. But I’ve also had occasion where a wise dog showed me a few things (more on that in a moment).

Many of us may tend to celebrate (over-celebrate?) our individuality, and we may not even be aware of it. I come from a pretty individualistic family (many of us are artists, writers, or very creative) and I don’t always play well on teams, even though I try. But I think there’s some virtue in looking for commonalities rather than differences in many situations — especially in the cat enthusiast or animal enthusiast world. I’ve learned a bit about this as animals have become a bigger part of my life. Let me explain.

Some of us have faced judgment from those who think it is “weird” to love cats. Owning several cats can be cause for added “concern” or judgment. I think this is starting to change, and the Internet probably has much to do with the growing acceptance of cats in our culture as truly valued animals, pets, and members of our families. That, along with awareness of rescue, trap-neuter-return, and pet overpopulation, is on the rise.

Norton and Zorro hang out.

We have no need to be ashamed of being crazy about cats. However, it is possible that we can become a little too strident. A wise person pointed out to me that proudly flying my “freak flag” or being a little too strident about my point of view can promote separatism and divisiveness. I thought about it and I realized that it might be true.

So, how can we continue to love cats, do good for cats, and feel the way we do, in a way that doesn’t encourage more sniping and separatism? The last thing we need in the animal welfare world (or just a world where we envision a happy, safe place for all pets) is an excuse for anyone to snipe. Cats need our help, and our love.

1. Look for those accidental moments

For purposes of this discussion, I’ll use examples that talk about cats vs. dogs.

It occurs to me that when I, or others in my world, have been able to transcend that cat person/dog person divide, it’s been quite accidental. For example, I clearly remember a friend visiting me and meeting my black cat Target for the first time. Target was the most sociable cat you ever met. He LOVED people, and was very demonstrative about showing that he wanted to connect with whoever crossed his path. The visiting friend was a huge dog lover and not all that into cats. But after meeting Target, he admitted out loud that he’d now seen a side of cats he didn’t know existed. He was amazed at Target’s sociability. We cat lovers know that many cats are very sociable, and that they just have their own unique way of showing this. Sometimes the best learning moments are purely spontaneous.

I write fiction, some of it with cats as main characters. My cat fantasy novel (The Great Purr) has cats as main characters. Believe it or not, that’s a huge leap for some readers, even in my family. (Not for me — I have NO trouble creating characters based on cats!) The highest compliment I’ve gotten (and this has happened more than once) is when I read and someone in the audience comes to me and says,” I don’t really even like cats, but I liked your story, and maybe I understand cats a bit better now.”

Recently, I had another surprising thing happen at a reading. I was reading from my cat-themed memoir — stories about the lessons cats teach us and how special they have been in my life. A woman walked up to me afterwards and told me that she had been hesitating about adopting another cat, as she was still grieving her last cat. But she told me that after my reading, she had changed her mind, and had been reminded of the special bond we share with our animals. She was ready to adopt.

We’re all human, we’re just at different places on the path through life. Sometimes, stories can unite us in surprising ways.

2. Look for the lessons from the species you’re not quite so familiar with

Again I’ll focus on the cat vs. dog scenario, just because it’s familiar and pretty prevalent. In my household, we’ve had several cats over the years. We’ve also had a total of four dogs. All the dogs are now deceased. I’ll admit that I think I understand cats a lot better than dogs. But these dogs really taught me a lot over time. I learned a lot particularly from Corona, who was the last living dog, and who came with us on our move across the country. I had a lot of time to bond with Corona as she became more of an indoor dog in Vermont. We walked often, something I loved, as did she. Just like many animal companions, Corona thrived with the depth of attention she was getting. I learned to appreciate her gentle personality, and the huge strides she’d made in her life (she came from abuse, and when we adopted her years ago, she cowered and was a lot less secure).

Pretty Corona — almost 18!

I learned to step out of my comfort zone, too! Some of this will sound silly, but although I pick up my cats and kiss them all the time, I could not imagine doing this with a dog. But when Corona became terminally ill (she lived a good life and was almost 18 years when she passed), I began to enjoy holding and hugging Corona. She loved it! This dog, who’d always seemed very businesslike and distracted to me (once she was able to get past her initial cowering) turned into a real tender sweetheart. I had learned to open my eyes to appreciating how a dog is, even though a dog can be different than a cat.

3. Focus on problems that span both worlds

These are the things that unify us all, instead of dividing us. Pet overpopulation, animal welfare, animal health — these issues are shared by cat lovers, dog lovers, and lovers of other animals. Focusing on what unifies us makes it easy to not get caught up in separatist behavior.

We can still love cats, of course. I will always feel that I understand cats a little better than other animals. There may always be those who criticize or find it strange that someone could love or help a cat. But we can promote appreciation and awareness of these amazing beings without facilitating strife or divisiveness on our end.

How do you use your love of animals to build bridges and help all animals? Tell us in the comments!

More by Catherine Holm:

About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr, the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.