Since reporters started working from home in large numbers, they’ve started adopting pets and inevitably writing about them. There, no problem. I have been working from home since the 1980s, and taking care of pets has long been a dominant passion of mine.
Over the years I have written columns and magazine articles on all the species and breeds I have taken care of: Beagles, Golden Retrievers, Labs, Bassets, Great Pyrenees, Fleckvieh Simmental cows and a number of horses. . Cats too, of course.
If you have cattle, you have cats. They come with the territory, for reasons that we will discuss later.
Indeed, I once started a dissertation called “Animal Passion”, basically a story of my marriage to pets. Just to give you an idea, years ago Diane complained that eight beagles, a lab, and a golden retriever were too many dogs to keep in town.
I agreed. So I told him to name four dogs to give away.
“You son of …,” she said. And that was the end of it.
My friend Randy the Redneck vet and I were breeding and training trial dogs in the field at the time, collecting ribbons and trophies. And what woman wouldn’t want a 3ft tall beagle trophy displayed in her living room? Well mine actually, but banishing his furry family members was beyond his ability.
Anyway, “Animal Passion” ran out after it appeared that at the rate I was going, the book would end longer than “Don Quixote”. The opening chapter on our first dog, a charismatic Collie / German Shepherd mix, appeared in the Oxford American Magazine. I’m quite proud of it. When I’m more than usually disgusted with politics, I sometimes think of going back to the project.
What has always amazed me is the number of people – even devoted pet owners – who simply don’t “catch” pets: they become fearful when another dog invites their dog to play. ; they complain that a cat taking a nap is “arrogant”, and so on. (Considering my considerable blind spots regarding our own species, maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Then there are those like New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo, first-time pet owner, who wonders if two 5-month-old kittens imagine that his magical ability to open a can of tuna makes him theirs. God.
Simple answers to cosmic questions: no.
However, all other things being equal, it can make you their very good friend. Cats don’t like abstract thinking very much. Are they then, asks Manjoo, as the 17th century French philosopher RenÃ© Descartes put it, simple âautomatons, essentially stupid machines that did not have the subjective experience of a conscious selfâ?
It was a prank like this that got us, a classmate and I, to entertain ourselves during the Introductory Philosophy class by inventing a baseball team made up of great thinkers: the impassive and hard-hitting John Locke first goal, the small Rennie Descartes agile in the second, etc.
âCompared to dogs, which have lived with humans for tens of thousands of years and evolved to read human body language to induce our affection,â the columnist continues, âcats are almost aliens in their non-anthropomorphizable distance. “.
Goodness. Look, first of all, dogs haven’t “evolved” in the ordinary sense of the word. Dog breeds are among the oldest products of human genetic engineering, selectively bred for centuries to perform important tasks, from tracking rabbits to detecting explosives.
But yes, almost all dogs can read humans better than many of us can understand them.
As for “non-anthropomorphic remoteness,” however, my cat Martin wakes me up most mornings by cuddling under my arm, tucking his head into my hand, and purring like an outboard motor. In fact, he waits for me to wake up, then goes into his routine. I think the rhythm of my breathing unsettles him.
I have never had a more affectionate or demonstrative pet of any kind. If Martin were less distant, there would be no life with him.
The dogs and I found Martin abandoned along a gravel path in the woods seven years ago. Someone had clearly dumped him. There was no way he could have done it on his own. We found her littermate Gigi in a tree a little further away.
About the size of my fist, he came running towards us – two Pyrenees and a German Shepherd – and screamed loudly for help. As a young kitten, he climbed on Diane like a tree and lay down on her head as long as she allowed.
We persuaded a friend to adopt Gigi. She lives in a barn and sleeps on cows. That’s how it all started, you know. When humans began to store grain for large animals, rodent infestations began.
And here are the cats: efficient little killers, pest control specialists who recognized a soft touch when they found one. This is what biologists call a symbiotic relationship. Nothing particularly mysterious about it.
Gene Lyons is a columnist for the Arkansas Times.
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