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AP Poll Bias … Against Cats

A skewed survey on pet favoritism finds cats coming up short in Americans' eyes despite there being 93 million lovely felines in the U.S.

by
Julia Szabo

Bio

January 12, 2010 - 12:00 am
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Other felines disprove an old myth — that cats only wake their owners when they want to eat — by performing heroic rescues. In North Carolina, a cat persistently meowed, awakening his owner and leading him downstairs to a screen door, where the man could see that the neighboring building, a four-unit condo, had gone up in flames. As a result of the cat’s early warning, three families were safely evacuated.

In Indiana, a cat saved her own family from carbon monoxide poisoning by meowing wildly until they got up out of bed. And in Michigan, a girl was saved from a sexual assault when her cat attacked the predator. Good kitty!

Perhaps cats look out for us because human and feline DNA have much in common; scientific study of the cat genome is leading to treatments for retinitis pigmentosa and AIDS, and has already resulted in effective smart drugs used to treat cancer.

“Cats rule, dogs drool” is a favorite refrain of cat lovers who dislike dogs, but speaking as an equal-opportunity animal lover who lives with both species, I vote against racing to the bottom. Instead, consider the position of a few famous people on the cat issue, then decide which camp you’d like to join.

Historically significant cat haters include Genghis Khan, Cardinal Richelieu, Napoleon, Hitler, and Mussolini. Now let’s move on to the cat lovers. Ailurophiles include Sir Winston Churchill, whose orange tabby, Jock, attended cabinet meetings. Cat-loving American leaders include Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and George W. Bush. Sir Isaac Newton is credited with inventing the kitty door-flap, so his cat could be at liberty to let himself out while the inventor was stuck indoors, engrossed in research. Another talented inventor, Leonardo da Vinci, opined that “the smallest feline is a masterpiece.”

Albert Schweitzer’s cat had a habit of falling asleep on his writing arm, so the Nobel Peace Prize winner taught himself to write prescriptions with his other hand, so as not to disturb the kitty. “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats,” Schweitzer wrote. Famous musical cat lovers include Frederic Chopin (whose pet inspired “The Cat Waltz”), Frank Zappa, Carly Simon, Nina Simone, and John Lennon.

Lennon was a client of the renowned New York psychic Frank Andrews, who once told me that “dogs are emotion; cats are the mind.” Andrews lives with a Border Collie, so he’s not suggesting dogs are dumb; he’s simply giving props to the feline vibe, and his insightful statement must be the reason I write most efficiently with one cat in my lap and another on the chair behind me.

Among the cat-loving literati are Samuel Johnson, whose cat Hodge inspired not only his owner (who fed him oysters), but also an amusing blog; Sir Walter Scott; Edgar Allan Poe; Charles Dickens; Mark Twain (who at one time had 11 pet cats); Ernest Hemingway; Hunter S. Thompson; M.F.K. Fisher; Clementine Paddleford; Julia Child; Julie Powell, the author who made a career of worshiping Julia Child; and Ron Rosenbaum, whose cat Stumpy was a media presence in his own right.

T.S. Eliot’s wonderful book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is the basis for a  long-running stage musical called Cats (its composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, is also a feline fancier). Poet and former NEA Chairman Dana Gioia adores cats; his book Interrogations at Noon includes the charming “Alley Cat Love Song.” Visual artists inspired by the mews include Manet, Renoir, Klimt, Warhol, and Cocteau, who observed, “I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.”

Loving cats is non-denominational; people of all faiths have made room in their hearts for these soulful, long-whiskered creatures. The prophet Mohammad loved cats; so did Pope Leo XII, whose cat Micette lived with him in the Vatican. The current pontiff, Benedict XVI, is such a cat lover that his authorized biography, a children’s book titled Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told by a Cat, was “authored” by Chico the cat (with help from Italian journalist Jeanne Perego)!

Philosophers also find cats captivating; they range from Michel de Montaigne (who wrote, “When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is not amusing herself with me more than I with her?”) to Eckhart Tolle. The latter doesn’t doesn’t disclose much personal information, but he revealed, in his best-selling book The Power of Now, that “I have lived with several Zen masters, all of them cats.” We all could use a live-in Zen master — or two — to keep us playfully, joyfully in the moment.

Please check out the feline talent at your local animal shelter and consider adopting today.

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Journalist and author Julia Szabo wrote the Pets column for the Sunday New York Post, for 11 years and now pens the "Living With Dogs" column for Dogster.com. Follow her on Twitter @PetReporter1. Photo credit: Daniel Reichert
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