Sunday, January 27, 2008

Dog or Cat?

Are you a cat person or a dog person? I believe this is one of the questions asked to plumb the souls of others (usually at bars). Others include, “What is your favorite color?” and the old ace in the hole, “What is your sign?” Personally, I have had better success asking the question, “Are you a god person or a tac person(dog and cat spelled backwards)?” It engenders more thought, and certainly more conversation.

The trouble with the dog person-cat person question is that it encourages stereotypes, which are convenient, but never edifying. Say dog person–what springs to mind? He (for the stereotype says he is often of the male persuasion) is hearty, loyal, and likes to have someone bring him his slippers, preferably carried in their mouth. A dog person is sort of like the description of those born in the year of the dog, found on Chinese restaurant placemats. Say cat person, and you see Maureen Dowd, stroking her Abyssinian, or maybe Dr. Evil and his wicked-eyed Persian in “Austin Powers–The Spy Who Shagged Me.” Stereotypes all, and as such, they diminish the complexity of us and our animal friends.

I live with both a dog and a cat–perhaps I should ask myself which one I love most. Is it Barney the ex-alley cat, who could be based upon Rotten Ralph, Jack Gantos’ self-indulgent feline? Is it Oona, the black Standard poodle, whose noble heart descends from the lineage of Steinbeck’s Charley, but whose perspicacity, through intervening generations of inbreeding, has diminished somewhat?

Unfortunate stories came to us from New Orleans, of people forced to leave their beloved pets behind in the wake of Katrina. Perhaps I should ask myself, if the Apocalyptic Express was chugging toward Santa Fe, and I had to leave one animal behind, which would it be? I would have to take Oona and leave Barney, but that is not a comment upon my love for him; rather it speaks to my faith in his well-honed survival skills. As the refugees pulled out, Barney would eye me accusingly with that look I get when I refuse him another helping of crunchy cat food. Then he would spring away, looking for a garbage can to ransack, with one last disdainful switch of his tail. On the other hand, Oona the love dog would stand there wondering where Momma was going, bewildered until disaster overtook her.

But apart from disastrous situations, I like to think I am non-discriminating when it comes to pets. Each animal has a unique personality that cannot be completely defined by its species, much like the quality of a book cannot be determined by its cover. While it is in our human nature to categorize and pigeon-hole, remember that there are always exceptions to our organizational systems, things that defy boundaries and exist in a liminal space between opposing poles. We must give all pets, books, and even people the benefit of a doubt as we embrace the complexities of taste and appreciation.


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