Dogs Are From Mars, Cats Are From Venus

I tend to believe that - to borrow the title of one of our bathroom books - "dogs are better than cats." I know I risk a verbal clawing from the feline fraternity for this assertion, and that it won't help to add that I like cats and have almost always lived with at least one of them. But there it is.

One reason for my dog preference is the way cats know they are superior - I mean they just know it - while dogs never give such odorous comparisons a thought.

I have seen only one photo of the world-boggling encounter of presidential pets Socks and Buddy on the South Lawn, and have read just a few of the words of advice proffered by the pet pundits. But one thing seems obvious to me: Socks has no sense of humor. If he did, he would be falling about laughing, instead of arching his bristly back like a feisty dromedary. Can't he see that Buddy is just a clown?

The dog was "very agitated" and "barking" according to The [Glasgow] Herald, while Socks "stood his ground." But what this report misses is that "his ground" is precisely what Socks believes the South Lawn is. He is not a sharer, clearly.

Most of the pundits seem to think that it is the dog who needs training. That, I suspect, is because they know that dogs can be trained, while cats simply ignore any attempts to tell them what to do. Whoever heard of a cat attending classes?

I've been thinking about some of the experts' advice. One said that because dogs can think of only one thing at once (which seems to be largely true), the two animals should be fed simultaneously at different ends of a big room. The theory is that food takes precedence over anything. Hmm. Well, I'm not convinced. Before our present pup, we had, to put it mildly, a dedicated cat-chaser. Given a choice between catting and eating, there's no doubt in my mind which Wolf would have chosen.

Yet, oddly, the cat in the house didn't arouse this instinct at all. In fact, the two even slept back to back on the dog's bed. We could only conclude that Wolf had somehow convinced himself that Brambles was not a cat, but some unprecedented sort of puppy.

THE dog before Wolf, Tiny, simply got on well with the two cats we had in the house on the farm. No training was needed. They all coexisted rather cozily. The ginger tom, anyway, was so grateful for our enthusiastic encouragement (when he eventually crossed the line between wild farm cat to besottedly tame domestic one) that he just accepted the dog-in-residence as part of the rubbable furniture of the house. The dog unproblematically agreed. They were, if the president will excuse the word under the circumstances, good buddies.

The two cats would join Tiny and me as we took late-night walks over the fields, the curlews still crying above us in the black air. I have always been enchanted by cats that like to go for walks. It shows that now and then they are actually capable of a certain concession to doglike behavior, and are of course much the better for it in prejudiced eyes.

I must say, though, that for all their determination to join these moonlit rambles, they really didn't get it. A man and a dog step out, breathing the coolth, not wasting time, but striding over damp clods, ingeniously scaling stone stiles invisible to the eye, guessing at gate openings, bridging streams, and treading merrily in mud. Man and dog go out with a will and return home with pleasure.

But cats dawdle. When you call them, they take absolutely no notice. They don't like to get their fastidious feet in the mud or their flanks dew-drenched, and so ours would tightrope along the tops of the drystone walls, only dropping to the ground, like caterpillars down a stalk, when the wall broke off for an opening. Then they'd frisk up the other side again in a trice, and continue their endless delay tactics along the next stretch of wall-top.

Then, as often as not, the ginger cat would suddenly lose interest altogether. We would wait patiently, and then impatiently, and finally go home without him.

In the morning, I would have to return to the place where he had left us the night before. And he would be very near it, crouched in the grass, still pausing trancelike in his nightlong vigil for a hapless shrew. I'd pick him up like a bedraggled sock and carry him home. To which fond treatment he objected not a whit.

MY advice to the president: Take Socks and Buddy for walks round the grounds at night. Perhaps Socks will opt for a sleepover at some point en route. Then the First Man and Dog can head back home and have the place to themselves for the night. Take it from me, Socks will be quite happy about this. After all, he's only a silly old cat.

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