General Articles

Cats Are Better than Dogs

To felinophiles, the dog is cringing and servile. But cats! They bring the proud freedom of the jungle into your lap

DOROTHY SANGSTER May 15 1948
General Articles

Cats Are Better than Dogs

To felinophiles, the dog is cringing and servile. But cats! They bring the proud freedom of the jungle into your lap

DOROTHY SANGSTER May 15 1948

Cats Are Better than Dogs

DOROTHY SANGSTER

DOWNTOWN IN Toronto, not so very long ago, Salvation Army officials were unable to move Tabby, a gaunt old striped cat, from their back fence. Tabby’s story was this: She had been left to a near-penniless vagrant whose aged mother had bade him from her deathbed, “Whatever happens, take care of the cat.” In the months that followed, whenever he had five cents or 10 cents in his pocket, it had gone for a slice of juicy liver or a couple of plump kidneys for Tabby. And when at last there were no more nickels or dimes, he had taken her with him to the Army hostel, insisting that she be fed before he was.

Now he was dead, and Tabby mourned for him as if he had been the richest man in the world.

Yet—“Selfish creatures, cats!” is the popular opinion. “Don’t give a hoot for anyone,” say dog owners. “The world’s greatest spongers!” snapped Albert Payson Terhune of cats, a decade ago, and there is no reason to believe that the late and famous writer of dog stories ever changed his mind.

Felinophiles, or /x»opie who love cats, are not greatly worried about the misconceptions of felinophobes, people who hate cats, or even of aelurophobos people who have a morbid fear of the creatures. In their own firmly made up minds,

cats are just as faithful as dogs, just as smart as dogs, just as good as dogs. And twice as interesting.

“People who don’t like cats don’t understand cats,” say feline admirers. “They’re used to dogs who cringe when they’re hit, obey when they’re ordered, love their master whether or not he deserves it. Cats are different. Cats resent ill treatment; they seldom forget a person who has hurt them or neglected them. They can’t be forced to obey: they will do a thing in their own way, in their own good time. Cats are no flatterers and they accept orders and punishment with a noticeable lack of grace. And if they’re opportunists, as some people say, well, that just shows how smart they are! It’s a hard world.”

What is a cat? A census taker’s notes might say “Occupation, mouse catcher. Status, lodger.” A purely scientific definition is offered by the British biologist, St. George Mivart: “A cat is a monodelphous mammal of the order Carnivora, of the family Felidae, the most perfect embodiment of the idea of the beast of prey.”

The ordinary domestic cat is a member of a vast cat family; her wild relatives range from the lion to the lynx. There are cats from Burma with knots tied in their tails and cats with no tails at all from the Isle of Man. From Africa comes the Mombas cat, with short stiff hair like bristles; in Paraguay lives the Paraguay cat, only a quarter the size of cats anywhere Continued on page 56

To felinophiles, the dog is cringing and servile. But cats! They bring the proud freedom of the jungle into your lap

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else. South America also boasts a cat which never meows or cries, as our Canadian cats do.

Beyond these indisputable facts, all is speculation, for who knows the cat? What do you know of the stranger who even now stalks the jungle of your living room and condescends to settle down— for how long?—on the veld of your lap. “God made the cat so man could have the pleasure of caressing the tiger,” wrote Méry, over a century ago.

The house cat probably came from Egypt, where it was domesticated hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. Whether she came from Egypt or not, the cat found her true spiritual home there. The Egyptians prized and worshipped her, hung jewels around her neck, embalmed her lovingly after death.

Nowadays, cats are universal. In many remote parts of the world, cats are the family breadwinner, bringing home rabbits and other game to be cooked for supper. In laboratories, because their thinking apparatus so closely resembles that of a human being, cats are widely used for scientific experiments.

I low to Get a Cat

According to a cat lover who recently wrote a thick book on the subject there are six Ways to get a cat. You find it; it finds you; someone gives it to you; you beg it from the butcher (thus assuring that it is well-fed); your small child hauls it in from the street, shivering and dirty; or, if the worst comes to the worst, you go out and buy it.

Buying a cat is not as simple as it sounds. First of all, you must decide what kind of cat you want. Do you crave a beautiful long-haired Persian with a baby-doll expression and soft ways? Do you want a .Siamese, long and slinking? Are you crazy about Manx cats, tailless and comical, loping like a rabbit? Do any of the other kinds of pet cats—Abyssinians or Burmese or Blues—intrigue you? Or will you settle for a plain honest joe of a cat, in your favorite color?

Upon this decision will depend the price you will pay,ranging from25cents to the little girl down the street whose cat has just had kittens up to several hundred dollars for a purebred champion cat. In Canada, Persians sell somewhere between $35 and $60, with Siamese considerably more expensive.

A kitten when you buy it should be six or seven weeks old (no younger), its clean, coral-colored mouth should be filled with neat, spiked little white teeth, it should run around on steady legs and its bright eyes should regard the world with friendly curiosity. Be careful of a kitten which smells, for a smelly cat usually means a sick cat.

Now that you have your kitten, you take it home in a basket with a ventilated top, you move quietly and speak to it in a calm and pleasant voice, just as the books tell you to and a few months later, a gigantic question looms up in your mind.

What, exactly, have you got?

Maybe you’ve got a quiet cat, a creature which moves silent and stealthy through vour house, inspecting this object, rejecting that, tasting its dinner with unveiled cynicism and if its worst suspicions prove unjustified, eating the food with an enigmatic expression.

Maybe you’ve got yourself a talkative cat, one that interrupts any prolonged conversation of human beings.

sliding in between the legs of the talkers and meowing loudly and insistently.

But whether silent or talkative, it will be plain to you as the weeks wear on that your cat is an individual. Orders will get you nowhere and neither flattery nor punishment will avail to change a cat’s mind once it’s made up. It may cater to your whim that it do tricks, but only so long as it feels like it, and the tricks amuse it.

Feed the Brute

One cat obediently watched her mistress demonstrate how she wanted her to “sit up,” “shake paws,” “talk" and “roll over” but flatly refused to go through the motions herself. Throe years later, when the girl returned from boarding school, the cat sidled up to her and proceeded to go through the whole repertoire of tricks, one after the other.

Your cat is apt to have its own peculiar opinions on all manner of things. Take food.

Many cats are happy with liver every day of the week, with a kidney once in a blue moon for delightful variety. Other cats scorn liver and kidneys, prefer fish or a slice of rawbeef. Some cats love milk; others think milk is kitten stuff. I knew a cat that thrived on a diet of old Canadian cheese, fruit cake (it had to be the dark kind ) and omelets. That was what the family it lived with ate and it saw no reason to eat anything different just because it was a cat.

Don’t skimp on your cat’s dinner and expect it to live on rats. Rats are dirty animals and not fit food for any respectable cat. Mice, of course, are a different matter, and many cats relish them, swallowing the animal whole and spitting up the fur and whiskers later.

One of the most gruesome sights to the new cat owner is the cat torturing a mouse. Felinophiles explain that there is nothing to be shocked about; that the cat, as a beast of prey, is only acting according to instinct and that each mouse is a lesson in catching.

However, psychologist Z. Y. Kuo, author of “The Genesis of the Cat’s Response to the Rat,” differs. He says his experiments showed that cats don’t torture and eat mice by instinct, but simply because they have been taught by their mothers.

Cats In Love

Not so long after you buy a cat, the facts of life will become only too apparent to you. Whether your cat is an exquisite blue Persian, pampered and cushioned all day on a velvet chair, or a copper-eyed Siamese, or an amiable, happy-go-lucky Manx, come night, she stalks the back fence as if to the manner born. A cat’s interest in other cats comes early, at 10 or 12 months of age, usually occurs four times a year, and lasts for almost a decade.

If you cat is a male, his adulthood is accompanied by an offensive perfume (offensive to human beings; other cats apparently find it delightful). This perfume he will waft on the air whenever he wants to attract a female. Close observers of the night life of cats, however, say that he doesn’t need it —that among cats, 75% of the chasing is done by the females and that they care not a whit if the male be perfumed or not.

Anyway, your cat, if female, is undoubtedly on the way to motherhood by now. You will find her not a speck less independent than before. No need to attend the confinement of a cat with opiates and sterile cloths: she can take care of the trifling details herself. At the end of the eight-week gestation period, she picks herself a cosy spot and

calmly delivers her kittens. Some motherly cats have in the vicinity of 200 offspring in a lifetime; others conten themselves with a few dozen.

One of the strangest discoveries to the novice owner of purebred cats is the regularity with which the ordinary alley breed turns up in the offspring, no matter what aristocratic heritage one of the parents may possess. For instance no one is surprised when a common cat mated with another common cat results in common kittens. However, mate a common cat with an elegant Persian—the result is common kittens, with maybe one or two in the litter a bit fluffier than usual. The queerest fluke of all occurs when a Persian and a Siamese are mated, or a Siamese and a Manx, or a Manx and a Persian—in every case the offspring are ordinary, plain back-yard-variety kittens.

Although your cat will probably stop having kittens when she is eight or nine years old, she may live on for another 10 years after that providing that she keeps healthy. This is not as simple as it sounds, for a glossary of the possible accidents and illnesses of a cat includes internal and external parasites, skin diseases, swellings, stomach troubles, constipation, collector’s items (swallowed marbles, needles, etc., etc.), feline entiritis, fits, heat prostration, rabies, respiratory diseases, eye trouble, poisoning, snake-bites, dogbites, ratbites, broken bones, rickets, toothache and ailments of old age like heart trouble, kidney trouble, tumors and so on.

In Britain and Canada, but particularly the United States, the cat business is Big Business. Catteries produce for sale all manner of aristocratic beauties, from the strangely beautiful Siamese (currently in favor) to the pampered Persian to the daily more popular Burmese, Abyssinian and Manx. Prices for a pedigreed cat range from $25 to several hundred dollars. Champion cats can and have commanded prices ranging into four figures.

Cats on Parade

Heart and soul of the cat business is, of course, the cat show, where purple ribbons are won and lost and many a heart—feline and human both—is broken.

At a show, cats are entered in various classes—that is, long-haired (Persians), and short-haired (domestic, Manx, Royal Sacred Siamese, Burmese, Abyssinian, etc.). Requirements for an ordinary domestic cat are stringent: a wedge-shaped head, a body, not too long, a tail that should measure to the shoulder blades when turned back over the body. A domestic cat, to win honors, must be a solid color or else a tabby—that is, striped.

The number of points to be won in any one cat show d-epends on the number of cats participating and the total number of points needed to make a cat a champion is so high as to require that the animal compete in a number of different shows, one after the other, in a fairly short period of time. “Show time” for a Persian is over at five or six years of age and a Siamese is usually forced into retirement by younger cats at an even earlier age.

Some ambitious owners will go to great lengths to disguise and camouflage their show cats. A Canadian judge officiating at an American show not long ago relates how he blew into the fur of a snow-white Persian (blowing an animal’s fur apart is the customary method of seeking for skin blemishes) and promptly choked on half a pound of heavily scented talcum powder by which the cat’s owner had hoped to disguise the fact that the

animal was in reality a dirty cream color. Another judge blew into the belly fur of a jet-black tomcat and got a faceful of carbon powder!

Toronto, where most of Canada’s prize-winning cats make their homes (34 out of the 42 All-Canadian cats for 1948 come from there), boasts two important cat shows: The Canadian

National Exhibition show in August and the Royal Winter Fair in November. Sponsors of these two shows are two Toronto cat clubs: the Canadian National Cat Club and the Royal Canadian Cat Club. Canada’s third cat show this year was held in conjunction with the Pacific National Fair at Vancouver. The war, with its confusion, shortages, rationing and restrictions on imported animals, has temporarily spiked most of the other once-flourishing cat clubs in the Dominion, but plans are under way for new clubs at Ottawa, Montreal and Hamilton.

Cats in the News

All-Canadian Cats, determined on the basis of a mathematical system of compiling points won at cat shows, are entitled to add the initials “A-C” to their names and their owners are authorized to print the proud initials on their own personal stationery, if such is their desire.

The champion long-hair may be the aristocrat of cats but it’s still the ordinary back-yard cat who gets talked about in the papers.

Take the case of Scrammy, a cat who lived a few years back at the Standard Stock Exchange in Toronto. Every once in a while, newspapers carried a lurid story of how Scrammy was influencing the stock market by having kittens when gold was slated to go up. All sorts of private bids were made for the cat with the magic brain. All of them were turned aown. The offers persisting, Scrammy’s master finally revealed that Scrammy was a male. At this, the offers ceased.

Other cats have made news in Canada. Prunella, the St. Lawrence Market cat, licks stamps for fastidious clerks. Pussy Willow, radio commentator Claire Wallace’s cat, got his name by a vote of Wallace listeners.

Some cats are workers. In England, France and Austria cats have long had a place on government payrolls, for living in warehouses, ships, factories and other municipal buildings and catching mice or rats. Toronto’s Queen’s Park has had a ratter and the Toronto grain elevators have maintained cats on their payroll.

Most glamourous of the working cats, naturally, are found in Hollywood, where a photogenic puss that can act (and only one in 1,000 can) may earn as much as $125 a week.

They Know the Way Home

And then there are the unemployed and homeless cats, lean and hungry creatures who roam the streets and sniff at the ankles of strangers. Last year the Humane Society picked up 20.000 of such strays in Toronto alone. That more of these cats are not caught in the Society’s nets is due to the cat’s astonishing “muscle sense,” as Dr. Frances Herrick of Western Reserve University calls it, the mysterious something that enables a cat to find its way back to its home or its kittens. A cat from a small town in the States was stolen and taken 200 miles from its home town. Next day it boarded the only train that would be passing through its home town and when the proper station was called leaped off the platform onto the familiar ground.

Some people snarl when they hear such stories; they hate cats. Recently a group of aelurophobes organized themselves into the International Cat Society and pledged themselves to the restriction and eventual extinction of cats. According to the I.C.S., cats spread disease, smothered babies and ! killed songbirds.

A Chicago banker named Rockwell Sayre continued until fairly recently a one-man fight against cats. Obviously an aelurophobe of the first degree, Mr. Sayre, who referred to cats as “the ! vermin,” offered a dime for each corpse I brought to him and $100 to the man who would kill “the last nasty cat on earth.”

Nine Lives Stuff

Admirers of the cat point out that Mr. Sayre forgot to reckon with the feline’s traditional nine lives, its astonishing ingenuity and endurance. Kittens and cats have escaped fire, flood and famine and emerged unscathed. They have swallowed yards of twine, darning needles, marbles, buttons and fishbones and still lived.

In Milwaukee, a cat named Gabby went 200 turns around in an automatic washing machine which he happened to be inspecting from the inside when the current was turned on. Except for his feelings, he emerged unhiirt.

In a Detroit war plant, somebody shipped off a cat to Cairo by mistake in a crate containing a Diesel engine. The cat looked the situation over, decided that the grease on the engine looked interesting and arrived in Egypt days later in fine fettle, accompanied by four brand-new kittens!

Cat lovers can reel off stories like this at the twitch of a whisker. For instance, there was (lie cat that hunted starlings by riding the fields on the back of an innocent-looking cow and pouncing down on the astonished birds whenever its hunger got the better of it. And the cat that got wounded in an alley fight and promptly turned up at a doctor’s office three days running to have its paw bandaged. And in New York, someone found a hypnotic cat which could put people into trances.

Probably because of his stealthy ! walk and enigmatic stare, the cat has ! always been identified in folklore with superstition, black magic, witches and devils.

As early a book as the Torah says that the dust of a cremated cat who was the first, of a litter born to a cat who was in turn the first of a litter, put in one’s eyes, will enable one to see devils.

¡ And early Christians believed that a ] black cat on the grave of someone i newly dead meant that his soul was Í with the devil. Cats were tortured i during the infamous witches’ hunts of ' New England because they were sus! pected of being in league with the Evil ! One.

Nevertheless, and in spite of all these I suspicions and superstitions, cats have always been beloved. Dr. Johnson bought oysters for his cat, to the disgust of aelurophobe Boswell. Sir Walter Scott, Debussy, Dumas, Shelley, Swinburne, Wordsworth and Matthew Arnold loved cats, and Dickens had a cat who snuffed out his master’s candle when it was bedtime.

There is a legend that when a cat went to sleep on the sleeve of the great Mahomet and when the hour for prayer came round, Mahomet cut off his sleeve rather than disturb the animal.

But perhaps the greatest tribute of all to the cat’s glorious independence I is paid by the Cat Gazette, Bible of cat fanciers in America, which lists i hundreds of well-known names under ; the title, “Prominent People who are ! Owned by Famous Cats.” if