Thursday, June 24, 2010

Meow, Woof, and Everything In Between

You know, I just can’t think about Arizona anymore. Did you see the story about that school mural? The fine city of Prescott, Arizona demanded that artists “lighten” the skin color of a Latino student depicted in a scene about riding bikes. Yes, it has now reached the point where the [white] people of Arizona don’t want to even see Latinos in public. Some may snicker, but I am beginning to suspect that Arizona’s elected officials arrived in town via hot-tub machine from 1882.

Believe it or not, I don’t like to spend all my days thinking about racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of institutional inequality. People on the political right often imagine that the contrary is true for people on the left. They should know that it is actually a real drag to have to constantly be addressing issues of unfairness. Believe me – I am a creative guy. I can think of other ways to occupy my time. I’d much rather be thinking about puppies! Or kittens!

Indeed, I really have been thinking of puppies and kittens. It has been about a year since I lost my beloved and loyal little cat. While no new pet could replace him, I am ready for another animal companion.

Sure, I have companionship from friends and even a gentleman caller from time to time. Let’s face it, though, animals give a type of friendship that humans really can’t muster. They are always loyal, honest, and dependable. They are also much easier to share a house with than a boyfriend. Cats might have a habit of crawling into the dishwasher, but you don’t have to argue with them about the right way to load it. Likewise, dogs might tear up you favorite slippers, but they won’t wear them without asking. Of course, unlike humans, cats and dogs might be tempted to feast on your remains should you die in the middle of the night. Well, unlike most humans at least.

The problem that I am facing is that I am uncertain which animal I want my new roommate to be. Normally when I am faced with this type of dilemma, I turn to the sacred texts of Diana of Themyscira. In this rare instance I found no useful instruction. We are told that Diana can communicate with the animals telepathically, but she rarely seems to keep a pet around. I guess being an international spy, Amazon warrior, and sometime dress-boutique owner keeps you too busy for animal companions. The exception seems to have been that wonky gorilla subplot that I never really understood.

I have long been on the record as being bi-animal. I grew up with dogs (mostly a long-lived terrier mix). As an adult, my faithful cat was the most stable living creature in my life. Anybody who claims that cats aren’t affectionate has clearly never lived with a cat. Or at least a cat that liked them.

Right now I am weighing which type of animal is best suited for my life. Dogs and cats each have their own unique advantages and disadvantages. As I am out driving, I do find myself slowing as my eye catches sight of a spry Airedale being walked by her owner. Previously the only thing that slowed my speed like that was hot shirtless male jogger.

Dogs are certainly more willing to devote themselves to you 100 percent of the way. Several of my friends also have dogs who could enjoy a play date. On days like this, when the sun is shining in Midwestern Funky Town, having a dog to walk sounds so pleasant. Canines are great as an active companion. They will go with you on rides, walks, jogs, and jewelry heists.

Then again, the sun shining in Midwestern Funky Town is a novelty. Taking a dog out to trudge through the frozen tundra twice a day sounds much less appealing. Not to mention that finding rentals that accept dogs can be nearly impossible. The landowner of my current cottage has said she would be willing for me to get a dog – for a price. And, let me tell you, her price suggests that she ain’t no dog lover.

Cats have lots of advantages over dogs. They are much more self reliant and don’t require as much hand holding, or, er, paw holding as dogs. One can take a long weekend and a cat will be able to tend to its own needs. Should I decide to rent an apartment in the future (and the shoveling of snow sometimes makes that seem like an attractive option), cats are much better suited to make that adjustment. Unlike dogs, cats purr. I could also name my new cat Pyewacket and live out my fantasy of being Kim Novak.

There is still quite a bit of time for me to decide between a cat or a dog. This summer will involve some lengthy travel for me. So, obviously, I don’t want to get an animal until I will be more permanently based in MFT. Once I am settled in the Fall, though, I will have much time to devote to a kitten or a pup as NERPoD will be totally in bed and I will be free from teaching thanks to the generosity of a research foundation funding NERPoD: The Sequel.

In the meantime, I have received plenty of input into which animal my friends think I should adopt. It seems that the people who surround me have a lot invested in the type of animal that their friends choose.

Maybe it is just human nature to try and convince other people to make the same decisions that we have made in our lives. Or maybe people feel that they will be disloyal to their own pets if they don’t act as an advocate. Whatever the case, I am a bit surprised by the depth of opinion. Forget the debate over health care. Never mind the divide between Republicans and Democrats. Evangelical Christians and Fundamentalist Muslims are the best of friends compared to what really divides the world. Dog people and cat people are totally nuts. The gangs from West Side Story should have been named the Kitty-Kats and the Poodles. When they face off, somebody is sure to lose a pint of blood.

To listen to dog or cat people, there is only a choice between happiness and misery. People who hate cats (who seem unfairly plentiful) put forward a barrage of arguments. They will say things like, “A cat will destroy your furniture” or “Cats just aren’t fun” or “Cats steal the breath of small children.”

Then again, never in all the places that I have lived have I met so many people who are fearful of dogs. I don’t mean indifferent, but actually terrified. They are some of the biggest dog detractors. They say things like, “Dogs bite people” or “When I think of dogs, I think of Nazis using them in concentration camps.” Apparently they missed those reruns of Lassie.

It is interesting that people have such strong feelings about cats and dogs. After all, it’s humans who engineered both of them to be our companion animals. Perhaps no other creature on earth has been more genetically manipulated by humans than dogs. Well, dogs and Gregor Mendel’s evil mutant bees. Over thousands of years, we have created particular dog breeds to do almost any task from herding, hunting, and guarding. No wonder people feel so attracted to dogs. We warped their DNA to appeal to us.

On the other hand, humans only ever asked one thing from cats: kill, kill, kill. As long as they ate their weight in rodents, humans were more than happy to have cats around. Some people suggest cats are only semi-domesticated as they really can live just fine without humans.

Despite what one might think, there are more pet cats in the United States than dogs. The tricky bit, though, is that there are more dog owners than cat owners. Cat people have a peculiar habit of not being able to stop at just one. Even my local animal shelter really pushes you to adopt two (or more) cats at a time. It’s funny that humans are less likely to give dogs, who are pack animals, another dog companion. Yet with cats, who are solitary creatures, we push them into little mini colonies.

None of this makes me any closer to a decision. Maybe I’ll listen to Farmer John on that Beekman show and end up with some goats.


squadratomagico said...

I'm a cat owner who also happens to like dogs, though I've never lived with one. But, must you decide on species in advance? Couldn't you go to a shelter, play with various puppies and kittens, and then repeat as necessary until you meet the one you'd like to bring in to your life? That's how I've always adopted my kitties, and I see no reason why you couldn't use the same approach, only with a broader purview of species.

Oh, and congrats on the Nerpod sequel grant!

Mel said...

I am, of course, totally poly-animal, but I'm really not a fan of Aireheads. I can tell you the downside to pretty much any breed, though, and all things considered, my top dog breeds are: hounds and hound mixes (Thanks to a childhood with bassets, I at least understand their quirks well), standard poodles, & french bulldogs (Every day with Tuck just makes me want to squeeeeee). My kitties have mostly been generic tabbies and mostly very sweet and affectionate, even if not all of them have been lap kitties.

Anyway, I'm always more than happy to talk puppies and kitties if you ever want a professional POV on the subject.

vuboq said...

Cats stealing the breath of small children seems like a selling point to me ...

Of course, I *heart* teh kittehs, but if I ever got a dog, I think I'd go with "cute mutt from the pound."

Oh, and congrats on the fellowship! You are buckets full of Awesome!

Rat said...

I have cats [generic moggies] and love dogs. Currently my mother's bullterrier is over for an extended visit; she gets along amazingly well with the youngest cat, is ignored/occasionally slapped by the lady of the house, and chases the panicky third fuzzbutt every once in a while. The only blood that's been shed within this group in the 3.5 years of the dog's life has been her own - Princess has majorly sharp claws.

I'm a huge fan of bull and terrier breeds - mainly bullterriers and working pits. They're dedicated, smart and very trainable with the right approach. Seeing them start figuring things out by themselves and working with their human is a great joy. Definitely not the dogs for everyone, though - they usually have well-developed drives that need channeling into something useful.

GayProf said...

Squadratomagico: That's an interesting idea. I had planned to go to the shelter and allow the animal to choose me, but had imagined I would have decided on a cat or dog first. Mostly I assumed that because of the preparations needed before their arrival (and the potential $ I must send to the landlord should the choice be a dog). I like your notion of being more fatalistic.

Mel: Beagles are also strong contenders for me. The problem with hounds, though, is that they are prone to follow their noses wherever, no?

If I opt for a cat, I'm sure it would be a simple domestic shorthair.

VUBOQ: Cats stealing the breath of small children seems like a selling point to me ... It seems to me those children were probably pulling on kitty's tail.

Rat: I adored my terrier growing up. It seems like they are not always so great with other dogs, though. Given one of the goals of getting a dog would be to have play dates with local friends, that could be a problem.

I am definitely a monogamous one animal owner. Whether a cat or dog, in the end, there can be only one.

Frank said...

First, YAY to NERPoD almost being put to bed and NERPoD: The Sequel pulling its weight so you can actually work on it!

Second, I kind of agree with squadratomagico: since you're not really decided what kind of animal to get, go to the shelter with an open mind and see what kitteh or puppeh speaks to you, telepathically.

Third, still, if you want my two cents, I think a cat would work better with your lifestyle.

tornwordo said...

It's not that I hate cats, it's that I match their indifference with indifference. I'm glad to hear that you got funding for more work. And where are you going this summer. Extensive travel? Do tell.

Roger Owen Green said...

"I don’t like to spend all my days thinking about racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of institutional inequality."

I hear ya.

Sydney said...

I so agree that I would rather think of puppies and kitties than oppression! Of course, the oppression doesn't go away when we cuddle our animal companions...

I grew up with both cats and dogs and love them both. I currently live with my son and a small tribe of cats. Why no dogs? Landlord issues and I, too live in the midwest. Subzero weather + multiple daily walks = no dogs for me.

If you end up with cats, though, you may want to consider 2 (despite your pet-monogamy). They really can play/sleep together and when I had a single cat, she did get lonely during the day. While the 4 I have is two too many (why does the universe keep dumping cats into my lap? Our most recent-an all black kitten who weighed less than 2 lbs. found shivering on a grate in January--no one claimed him or would adopt him despite my best efforts), two really is a nice cat number. I've never had two dogs at a time, so I can't speak to that.

And finally, congrats on the conclusion of NERPOD (isn't that a contradiction--never ending and all) and on the grant for NERPOD 2.

GayProf said...

Frank: I think you might be right about a cat fitting best with my life. Given that I do like to travel a bit and occasionally stay the night elsewhere, cats might be the best option.

Torn: I have not found cats to be indifferent to their owners, just visitors.

ROG: Seriously -- There are better ways to fill my days -- and a blog.

Sydney: Giving a cat some company is maybe the most convincing argument to me. But dogs also need company. Sometimes it seems like if you are going to walk one, why not walk two?

Nik said...

Get one of each. I have a cat and a dog. The dog gets companionship from the cat, the cat gets to attack the dog with impunity. I think orange cats and big black huskies make the best mix but perhaps I am prejudiced.

Tenured Radical said...

Walking a dog can be a drag, and cats are great. On the other hand, I suspect that a cute dog is as much a guy-magnet as a chick-magnet, and you will have a tough time attracting positive man-attention as you are doing the flaneur thing in MFT while peeling the yowling kitteh on a leash off your chest and shoulders.

I'm just saying. And double-yay on NERPOD.

Mel said...

Hounds are definitely slaves to the nose and can severely try one's patience, but they're also incredibly fun characters. Pretty much all of my pets as an adult have just happened. It's an occupational hazard.

dykewife said...

i like both cats and dogs, though i lean more to dogs. it doesn't help that i'm also allergic to cats.

each one has their pros and cons (claws that use that lovely new chair as a scratching post, having to go out on a freezing, rainy night for the evening constitutional).

were i to get a dog i would lean toward one that is closer to livestock. i love bernese mountain dogs. they're large, friendly and don't drool like some of the other bulky dogs. i also love great danes and the sight hounds like irish wolfhound and the saluki. i also like the giant schnauzer a whole lot, very regal animals. of course, the major draw back to the giant breeds is that they aren't long lived.

GayProf said...

Nik: One of each is probably a bit more than I can handle. I am quite partial to orange kitties...

Tenured Radical: If there is a hot shirtless male jogger with a dog, I have trouble keeping my car on the road.

Dykewife: In terms of large dogs, I have fantasies about an Egyptian Hound. Alas, their ears would like freeze and snap off during the winter.