By Jeff Moravec
You may wonder (or you may not): What in the world compelled these Animal Tracks editors to devote such a large section of the magazine to this examination of “dog people” and “cat people”?
The idea actually came from an observation I made shortly after becoming editor, a little over a year ago. Rifling through the stacks of old issues, I noticed a clear bias for putting dogs on the cover.
In fact, the last six issues of Animal Tracks (published biannually) have had dogs on the cover. It’s been four years since a feline graced the front, and it’s only happened twice in the last seven years. Why would that be?
People respond better to dogs,” one colleague said. Well, maybe. Dogs do look like they’re smiling, at least a lot more than cats do. Then there’s that thing about dogs’ eyebrows. But then why is it that millions of us trade links to funny feline photos and thousands show up for cat video festivals? (I’ve never even heard of a dog video festival.) That’s pretty responsive, isn’t it?
In reality, dogs have been on the cover of Animal Tracks more often in large part because they make more news than cats do. Our last cover depicted the dogs from our Pine River seizure. The issue before was about the dogs that come to Animal Humane Society from Leech Lake Legacy (although we get cats from them as well). And so on.
Still, for whatever reason we put dogs on the cover, as someone with an affinity for cats I just felt our feline friends were not getting their due.
But I remained conflicted. I love dogs, too. And could we really ask our loyal readers to go six months without a really cute pup staring back at them from Animal Tracks?
No, we couldn’t. Or least we didn’t want to. So we solved the dilemma, not by putting both a cat and a dog together on the cover, but by giving them each their own cover. We also intentionally made each cover so darn cute that even if you do prefer one species over the other… you might just have second thoughts.
And so we’d have something to actually put between those covers, we decided to ask our friends and supporters, along with staff and volunteers, to tell us a few of their thoughts and opinions on cats and dogs.
We conducted an online survey early this year, soliciting input from AHS staff and volunteers and the public (through an invitation on our Facebook page). A total of 661 people responded, about half of them were members of the public.
We were happy to learn -- not that we were surprised -- that most of you like to think of yourselves as animal lovers first and foremost, even if you have a preference for a cat over a dog or a dog over a cat. (So if you need to alternate which of the two covers of this magazine face up on your coffee table, go ahead. We’ll understand.) Fewer than 20% of respondents placed themselves firmly in the dog camp or the cat camp, and further, more than 75% either had no preference between cats and dogs, or if they did have, they still liked them both.
What differences we might have, one respondent wrote, are more than outweighed by the similarities. “Dog people and cat people are both animal lovers and understand the bond and responsibilities that we have for animals,” the survey participant wrote.
Love is love no matter how you get or give it,” said another. “If some of us are cat people, and some are dog people, we will be able to rescue more of the homeless animals.”
When there is a preference, it’s more a matter of practicality than anything else, survey takers agreed.
“I’m a cat person because it is a practical choice for me. I can take better care of a cat or two than a dog or two,” a respondent commented. “I don’t have the time to exercise a dog as much as the dog might need. It is a decision based on the needs of the animal as much as any preference that I might have.”
“I feel the difference between dog people and cat people has more to do with their expectations of the animals,” said an AHS employee who took the survey. “If a person is expecting an animal that will just be there and require little work, they may gravitate towards a cat. If their expectations are for the animal to be with them and all over them and happy to do whatever they want them to do, they may gravitate towards a dog.”
Practicality can be defined in a many different ways, though. “We currently have a large dog,” another AHS employee wrote. “Our next pet will be a cat simply because I am tired of cleaning up the poop bombs in the yard and the dog slobber off of my windows. Cats are tidier in that sense and that may be why some may choose a cat over a dog.”
Not surprisingly, the difference in what it takes to care for a dog or a cat (bathroom habits and beyond) was a recurring theme in the survey. Less than 5% of respondents with a preference for dogs said they believe canines are easier to care for than felines, but nearly 87% of those with an affinity for felines said ease of care is a reason they gravitate toward cats.
Those who consider themselves dog people believe universally that dogs require more attention than cats, whether it is in direct care or otherwise. Only 1 of 290 who answered that question begged to differ. But a lot of cat fans (because they have more experience with the species, perhaps?) disagreed. Only 47.7% said they believe cats require less attention than dogs.
“I think cat people like to have the freedom of not being home at a certain time, or being able to leave for a day or two,” said one respondent. “Dog people have to schedule around going home to let the dogs out.”
“I think that dog people and cat people have different energy levels, not necessarily physical energy, but regarding how much activity they want in their lives,” one survey taker said. “Cats are less responsibility, but I think provide less companionship as well. Dog people love to be the center of their dog’s world, and cat people don’t want to have a pet with as much needs as a dog has.”
So, if it takes so much to work to care for a dog and give it the attention it needs, what could a canine possibly offer that makes the pooping and walking and slobbering all worthwhile?
It’s because dogs “feel more like a member of the family,” according to 71.1% of the dog people who took our survey. About 65% also said their belief that dogs are “more loyal” factors into their preference. Even 91.4% of those without a preference said they are convinced that dogs are “friendlier” than cats.
“I love cats,” one respondent said, “but I feel that dogs reciprocate that love more than cats do. When my family returns from a vacation, my dogs get so happy they could explode, whereas the cats would get passive aggressive and shun us for having ever left.”
Or, as another dog lover put it, “It seems like dogs care about me as much as I care about them. I feel like often a cat can take me or leave me.”
A dog’s ability to accompany its family outside the house was also a reason often cited for the appeal of canines. “I don’t care how much your cat is just like a dog,” said one respondent. “You cannot go hiking in the wilderness with your cat.”
There is a flip side to that, one cat lover wrote: “I would rather curl up on the couch with a cat in my lap than to go outside in -30 degree temperatures and walk a dog.”
Also, the reasons for not having a cat stated by those with a dog preference may be exactly the same reasons why cat owners love their kitties.
“With cats you have to work to have them love you,” wrote one respondent. “It’s somehow more rewarding that way, even though the unconditional love of dogs is nice, too.”
“You always know where you stand with cats,” said another. “You persuade cats… you order dogs.”
In the end, all of this is overthinking the subject, one survey taker told us. Our preference is simply determined “by what we grow up with.”
Or, as another said, “Just like foods that we eat, having a dog or cat as a family member is just a personal preference.”
That respondent’s final comment may be the most important, though: “I think that anyone who brings an animal into their lives for the right reasons is loving and giving and has a wonderful soul.”
“I’ve always maintained the thought ‘to each his own,’” another said. “The love is all the same, whether it is a cat or a dog. They all want to be loved and to love in return.”
We thought that was a perfect comment to sum up the subject. But then we saw this one:
“What about guinea pig people???”
Next time, perhaps ...
Who has the better personality, dogs or cats?
Ok, that’s sort of a ridiculous question, isn’t it?
Animals within any species – dogs, cats, or humans for that matter -- will have a wide variety of personalities. We’re not sure it’s any more accurate to say dogs have a particular personality than it is to say that people have a particular personality.
There are certain traits (behavioral and otherwise) that may be more common in dogs than in cats, and vice versa, and those sometimes fall under the broad category of personality. Some of us humans may prefer certain traits over others, which may in turn lead us to prefer as a pet – in general – a dog over a cat, or a cat over a dog.
That doesn’t make one “better” than the other. Different, yes. Better, no. But it also didn’t stop us from asking about personality in our survey.
“Personality” – or whatever you want to call it – did seem to be more important to those animal lovers who prefer dogs over cats. A total of 65.8% of survey respondents who prefer dogs said “dogs have better personalities.” It was the second most popular reason, after “dogs feel more like members of the family” (71.4%).
“I love how ‘human’ a dog can feel,” said one dog lover who took our survey. “I love a dog’s personality -- their ability to kind of know how you’re feeling.” Another said, “It’s more interesting and engaging to interact with dogs. They have more engaging personalities because they wear their emotions on their sleeve (on their paw?).”
Personality makes a difference to those who prefer cats as well, but just not as much. A total of 37.4% cited personality, but it was behind “cats are easier to care for” (86.5%) and “cats don’t require as much attention (47.7%).
“Cats don’t have a ‘better’ personality,” said one respondent, “just a personality that better fits my own.”
“I like cat personalities,” wrote another. “They are mysterious and fascinating.”
One survey taker did have a particularly interesting view on the whole question. “Cats’ personalities are more like a human than dogs,” she wrote, “because they aren’t just exasperatingly happy all the time.”
Yes, that was someone who prefers cats over dogs. Just in case you couldn’t tell.