Do Dogs Really Rule? Why Are Cats Seen as Second-Class Pets?

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I recently attended the annual BlogPaws pet bloggers’ conference. As it always has been — and I’ve attended all five — it was a great chance to learn, meet new people, and connect with old friends. One of the highlights of the conference was a keynote speech by renowned pet writer Steve Dale, who spoke about the state of pets in the U.S. Although the overall tone of his speech was positive, the one thing that struck me was his statement that cats are treated as second-rate pets.

His reasons for this assessment: Although there are far more cats than dogs in American homes, cats see veterinarians far less frequently, community cats are under attack by bird advocates, and far more cats than dogs are killed in shelters, among others reasons.

All the specialty pet stores in my area have dog names: Fetch, Planet Dog, Two Salty Dogs, Loyal Biscuit Co. Come on, people, if you’re going to start a specialty pet store, please acknowledge that cat caretakers are going to shop there, too! (For the record, my favorite local pet store, Fetch, just changed its name to Fish & Bone, which makes a lot more sense considering that half its inventory consists of cat stuff.)

Even at BlogPaws, there was strong anecdotal evidence of cats’ second-class “petizenry.” Our swag bags were overflowing with dog toys, treats, and food, but they contained only a few items that could even remotely be classified as cat-oriented. I imagine that at least a third of the bloggers who attend the conference write about cats — so hey, WTF, pet-product companies? You missed a huge opportunity!

People love to cuddle with their kitties, but I’m alarmed at the number of people who don’t seem to think their cats need regular vet checkups. If you can afford it, you should be doing it. Cats age much faster than people. Your 10-year-old cat is the equivalent of a 56-year-old personif she’s an indoor-only cat. However, if she goes outside, she’s closer to 90. Early detection and treatment of age-related illnesses like hyperthyroidism or renal insufficiency can add many more good-quality years to your furry friend’s life.

According to an oft-quoted, if old, report by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, only about 2 percent of cats who end up in shelters are returned to their owners. Why? A lot of this is for lack of ID. If a cat is microchipped and her guardian’s contact information with the microchip registry is current, that cat has an exponentially higher chance of going home again. But what about people who just don’t think to call shelters if their cat goes missing? If you don’t want to microchip, at least invest in a collar and a tag with your contact information.

And don’t even get me started about the war on community cats. I’ve already done plenty of ranting on that subject.

So, what can we do to help put cats in the spotlight as the wonderful, kind, and affectionate companions they are?

Spread the word. Take any opportunity you can to connect with the media and share your awesome sane-cat-person self. I was one of 60 or so Mainers who answered a reporter’s query about why Maine has the second-highest cat ownership rate in the U.S. To a person, everyone the reporter interviewed expressed him- or herself in a way that made me proud to be a cat lover.

My good friend and fellow cat blogger, Robin Olson, suggests that we replace the phrase “crazy cat lady” with “felina domina.” “Felina Domina is about friendship and support. Holding your friend’s hand when times get tough or helping your friend laugh after there have been too many tears,” she writes. “Realizing we are in this together, whatever ‘this’ may be. We’re glued together by our love for cats and we take great joy in that fact.”

Amen, Robin. Amen.

Cats aren’t the totally solitary, self-sufficient creatures we’ve been led to believe they are — and neither are the people who love them. We cat lovers are a community, and we stand together to help our beloved cats earn their rightful place in homes and hearts.

What do you think we should to do to help cats get equal petizenship rights? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice column, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.

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