Dogs v. Cats
Are you a dog person or a cat person? At first, the question sounds innocuous—until you announce your allegiance, thus declaring yourself friend or foe.
To resolve the age-old spat over pet superiority, we called on cat lover Gina Barreca and dog devotee Gene Weingarten.
gina barreca is co-author (with Gene) of I’m with Stupid: One Man. One Woman. 10,000 Years of Misunderstanding Between the Sexes Cleared Right Up. She’s a professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of eight other books.
gene weingarten is a two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist for The Washington Post. He’s the author of four books, including The Fiddler in the Subway, Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs, and Me & Dog.
GENE: I have a theory about dogs and cats, and it’s a solid one. Dogs are William Shatner, and cats are Paris Hilton. Dogs know they’re goofy, and they embrace it. Cats want to be complimented all the time and told how beautiful they are. Who would you rather have around the house all day, William Shatner or Paris Hilton?
GINA: Dogs are more like Ben Stiller. They want to be funny, they want to be liked, they will pee on anything for fun. Cats are Paul Newman. Cats are cool. They don’t say, “I’m purring, I’m purring, I’m purring!” Dogs are like, “Are you feeling this? Are you feeling this?”
GENE: Cats are not cool. Cats are cold.
GINA: Cats are cold to you.
GENE: To my knowledge, cats are the only domestic animal whose kisses hurt. They actually have sandpaper tongues. So in those rare instances when they might express some sort of affection, they deliver it with pain.
GINA: First of all, that’s not how cats kiss. They don’t kiss the way dogs do. Nobody kisses the way dogs do. Cats rub.
GENE: To please themselves.
GINA: And that’s a problem? They greet me at the door. The little one is so happy she does jazz hands. She puts her paws in the air and does Bob Fosse moves.
GENE: Let me tell you the greatest trick I ever saw a cat do. A cat pooped in the toilet and then flushed. That’s an achievement. The other day I saw on a video the greatest trick a dog ever did. This dog was trained to be a service dog for an Army veteran who has PTSD. When this guy started screaming in the night, the dog’s job was to jump on the bed, lick him awake, jump off the bed, and turn on the light. There, I won the argument.
GINA: That’s not a trick, that’s a skill. It’s a great thing. And a cheap shot on your part. I mean, what am I going to say? It’s why we love our animals the way we do. They’re blank screens we project onto. You project great heart, great love onto your dog. I project a sense of humor onto my cat.
GENE: There’s one animal that has a sense of humor that I know of: goats. They’ll butt you in the butt until you fall on your face, and then they’ll literally stand there and laugh.
GINA: We were asked why I’m a cat lover and why you’re a dog lover. I’ve loved cats ever since I was a kid. You imprint early, and pets imprint on you. When you marry someone who hasn’t grown up with that animal, they have to go through a conversion experience. My husband, Michael, didn’t grow up with cats. Both of us had been previously married. He had two teenage sons, and I had a cat. At some point Michael said, “If we’re going to get serious, you should know that I’m allergic to cats.” I said, “You’re allergic to cats? You have two adolescents, and you’re telling me you’re allergic to cats? Are you out of your mind?” It was a quick conversion experience for Michael.
GENE: So you basically ordered him to live with hives?
GINA: We now have three cats. I’m the one who does the feeding, I do the litter box, I do the maintenance, and if we’re watching a movie in the evening, they will drape themselves on him. “Oh, Mr. Meyer”—they call him Mr. Meyer—“Mr. Meyer is sitting down!” I’m like, “Hey, I would like a cat. Hello?” Now, Gene Weingarten wouldn’t be able to stand being left out, because he would want to be the center of attention.
GENE: I’m afraid of sounding immodest, but the reason I’m a dog owner is that I’m a sensitive, feminist man.
GENE: I believe thoroughly in commitment in a relationship. Cats are for people who don’t like commitment. If you have a dog you are utterly committed to that relationship. You are out with that dog three or four times a day on walks. Someone once said that if Martians ever came down to Earth and watched as dogs were out on walks—as they pooped and humans walked behind them and put it in little bags—there would be no question in their minds as to which was the master race.
GENE: Here’s the biggest difference between the two species: A dog will die to protect you if somebody comes into your house to attack you. What will a cat do? A cat will hide.
GINA: Sure, a dog will lay down its life to protect you—unless somebody puts down a chicken wing. The dog will go, “Wait, chicken wing! The ax murderer gave me a chicken wing! I think him and me could be good friends!” Haven’t you seen those movies?
GENE: I will grant you that. Dogs are Dionysian. They are all about emotion and appetite.
GINA: Dogs are stupid.
GENE: I will grant you that as well. At the top of their heads, where humans have extra brains, dogs have a bone. My daughter, who’s a veterinarian, tells me it’s called the occipital crest. And what I realized after owning dogs for 40 years is that this bone is a knuckle. They’re knuckleheads. But I have a relatively smart dog, Murphy. Every time we go on a walk, she drags me to one house and checks the front lawn, because four years ago there was half a hot dog there. She checks during every walk just in case it should come back. This is dog intelligence, and it’s related to their appetite and their emotions.
GINA: Cats are smart. They know when people leave the house.
GENE: So do bacteria. That’s not high-level cognition.
GINA: You do not have to teach a cat to use the litter box. A cat will walk into a house and say, “Excuse me, do you know where the restroom is?” A dog will explode as a method of greeting.
GENE: That is a libel.
GINA: Your attitude toward dogs goes beyond the, shall we say, the normal. When you and I were on a book tour for I’m with Stupid, we were walking down a street in Philadelphia, and there was this huge bulldog tied up outside a restaurant. You went right up and kissed it on the mouth!
GENE: You said, “You haven’t tried to kiss me, and you just kissed a dog!”
GINA: And then you said, “It was a very attractive dog.”
GENE: It was a very attractive dog.
GINA: So naturally I felt much better.
And the winner is ...
You cast the deciding vote. Dogs or cats? Send us a tweet using #SouthwestMag, or email us at letters@SouthwestMag.com.
Originally published June 2015