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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

On the deceptively simple topic of pets, the mainstream media has a hard time getting it right. Exhibit A: The Associated Press has joined forces with Petside, the web presence of the pet-food giant IAMS, to produce idiotic polls, the results of which are disseminated as news on the AP wire. Except these “polls,” and the articles they spawn, are not really news — they’re examples of really shoddy, biased reporting.

According to the latest poll, 74 percent of people like dogs a lot, and only 41 percent like cats a lot. What’s more, the “poll” tells us, “fifteen percent of the adults questioned said they disliked cats a lot while the number who said they disliked dogs a lot was just 2 percent.”

It’s not clear what AP-Petside means by “a lot.” Where did they find these people? Because according to the Humane Society of the United States, which compiled data from the American Pet Products Manufacturing Association, there are approximately 77.5 million owned dogs in the United States and 93.6 million owned cats. Thirty-three percent of U.S. households own at least one cat. Surely those millions of owned cats are liked at least a little, or they wouldn’t be owned?

Another proof of just how much Americans love cats is the huge amount of cat litter sold in the United States. In ancient Egypt, cats were deified because they guarded precious granaries against marauding rodents; today, millions of ailurophiles (the ten-dollar word for cat lovers) give daily offerings to the divine feline by spilling tons of grain — in the form of corn or wheat cat litter!

What MSM outlets rarely consider is the sad plight of animals in shelters across our country. Fanning the flames of cat-hating is such a tired story. But the MSM apparently has no shame in spreading such damaging non-news, even with literally millions of sweet, loving cats behind bars at animal shelters across this country, creatures with already-slim chances of being adopted into forever homes due to the economic crisis. “Reporting” like this comes across as an acceptable form of bias — except, conveniently, cats can’t speak up and complain about being victims of media prejudice. But the AP-Petside poll really steps in doo-doo with this “analysis” of its “findings”:

Those most likely to dislike cats were blacks, Hispanics and married men. Men were a bit more likely than women to say they disliked cats.

Debi Romano, who runs the non-profit Save Kitty Foundation, is working on the humane removal of hundreds of stray cats that settled into crawl spaces at Ravenswood, a 31-building complex in New York City. The New York City Housing Authority wanted to seal up the crawl spaces, which would have trapped helpless kittens alive; Romano rightly believes that trap-neuter-return — collecting the cats in cages, then having them surgically sterilized and returning them to live in feral colonies — is the only effective way to cut down on the cat population. She’s applied for a grant that would help fund the T-N-R- plan, and her biggest supporters in the fight to save the kitties are the Ravenswood tenants — “90 percent of whom are black and Hispanic,” Romano says.

As for men disliking cats, a man named Bryan Kortis runs the influential non-profit Neighborhood Cats, which recently helped design a more efficient trap to help volunteer rescuers humanely gather stray cats for sterilization.

AP-Petside’s racial profiling is as inaccurate as it is appalling; cats and the great silent majority that love them certainly deserve better. Considering everything they do for us humans — lowering our blood pressure; helping us to live longer, healthier lives; providing love and loyalty, regardless of a person’s race or gender — certainly animals’ stories should be told with accuracy, not stereotyped generalizations.

One of the sages quoted in the AP article says: “Cats are all about cats but dogs are interested in pleasing their owners. Cats don’t care if they please you or not.” I can think of several instances of cats demonstrating a high level of care for humans. Just like dogs, cats can help miracles happen for people. Some cats are certified for pet-provided therapy, visiting hospitals and hospice care facilities to spread comfort and joy.

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.

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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