Their manifest destiny is to nourish the family of
man and, incidentally, to become calfskin shoes, pigskin gloves,
Angora sweaters, long woolen underwear, glue, fertilizer and other
products of man's invention. Furthermore, one is a little loss to
the world when one is considered chicken-hearted, as blankly stupid
as a cow, sheepish as a sheep, hoggish as a pig and lecherous as a
The horse has fared slightly better. He has been
held in high esteem because he is swift, durable and strong, and
because man looks so majestic riding him. He is also teachable and
obedient, two qualities man always has insisted on in animals who
wish to be his friends.
The horse, however, is passing from the scene. The
machine age has diminished his value as a work animal; his centuries
of service are commemorated solely in the horsepower rating given to
the vehicles which have supplanted him. Even riding is a declining
art, practiced nowadays almost exclusively by jockeys, cowboys and
Perhaps the horse's greatest failing has been his
size. His permanent place as one of man's pets was lost the day it
became clear he was too big to be a member of the household. Today
he enters only in one-pound packages, as dinner for dog and
relationship with dog
With the dog,
man seems to have made his peace early. Man
understands dog. He is comfortable with dog. He
appreciates dog's loyalty, courage, intelligence and -- again --
obedience; particularly obedience, for however sentimentally men and
dogs view their abiding friendship, it is not a relationship of
Dog is essentially a servant. His feelings toward
his master are comradely and his manner familiar; he enjoys the
master's affection and regard. But his place was fixed long ago when
man told him, "Don't call me. I'll call you." Furthermore, since man
always has had difficulty with foreign languages, the channels of
communication have been a one-way street. Dog has eagerly studied
man-talk, and man, in his wisdom, has patiently taught dog the terms
of his servitude -- "Sit," "Fetch," "Down, sir," "Stop that infernal
In accommodating himself to this design for living,
dog has, of course, surrendered his pride. This is evident in, if
not the cause of, such vulgarities as his graceless eating, loud
breathing, poor grooming, pungent aroma and appalling bathroom
habits, all of which characterize him as a good-natured
Dog's sacrifice of his self-respect, however, has
not gone unrewarded. Despite his slovenly nature, he has had the
discernment, the fine discrimination, to idolize man, and man, who
couldn't be more approving of the choice, has conferred nobility
upon the dog.
Under the warm sun of man's approval, dog's tribe
has flourished and increased, not only in number but variety. Ever
obliging, the dog has transformed his size, shape, color and
function until he is now available in 111 separate and distinct
breeds, each presumably an improvement over what went before and
each meeting some human standard of beauty or utility. Surely this
must approach the ultimate in co-operation.
What dog does not know, however, is that the noble
servant is hopelessly out of date. He has not existed since medieval
times, when young squires prepared for a career of knighthood by
acting as chore boys for the varsity. Today this avenue of
advancement is a blind alley. No matter how early he arrives for
work, or how diligently he tends the store, the dog will always be
an apprentice, never a man.
man's relationship with
The cat is different. She serves no one, knowingly
or willingly. Her one accomplishment -- the hunting of mice, rats
and other rodents -- is self-taught. The man does not live who can
claim to have trained a cat to perform a task
for human benefit. For their own convenience cats have learned
various small maneuvers, like opening doors, but they do not and
will not herd sheep, carry messages or run back to the ranch seeking
help for jammed-up cowboys. There are no police cats, no watchcats,
no sled cats.
The cat does not even come when she's called, unless
it suits her.
Stubborn independence in others often puts man's
nose out of joint, and it was at such moments that he probably began
comforting himself by maligning cat's character. She was sly,
treacherous, cruel; you could never tell what she was thinking; but
she sure looked as though she knew what people were thinking. From
here, of course, it was a short step to deciding that cats were the
companions of witches and suffocated babies by sucking their
Actually, if cats disliked people there would be no
more sense in associating with them than with tigers. The fact is
that on certain terms, largely unpredictable owing to the wide
variety of feline temperaments, it is quite possible to develop a
warm and lasting friendship.
This, too, may not be a relationship of equals --
the matter of who has the upper hand will always be in doubt -- but
it must be based on the free choice of the principals, on a
willingness to tolerate different social and cultural patterns, and
on an honest respect for each one's individuality. In this, the cat
will come more than halfway. Once a cat has established rapport with
you, she is anything but aloof -- dignified and with a strong sense
of privacy, yes; but withdrawn, disdainful, isolationist, no. She
will try very hard to teach you cat language, which is only fair and
proper since she understands considerable man-talk, even though she
is not often persuaded to heed it.
(Like humans, cats vary in talkativeness, so the
amount of conversation you have with one is not necessarily a
measure of your friendship. Some cats reply to human remarks simply
with expressive gestures -- a flick of the tail, a blink of the eyes
or sudden attention to a spot of fur which needs washing. It is
never quite clear what any of this means.)
Cats are also quite self-sufficient. You never have
to entertain them. This is not to say that they cannot be
entertained or that they themselves are not entertaining. It is just
that their errands are many and their schedules full. Admittedly,
many of a cat's waking hours are devoted to sleep, and a cat prowling
purposefully through tall grass is often simply looking for a warm,
safe place in the sun for a cat nap.
But they do not moon and mope, like dogs, for the
need of someone to do their thinking for them.
generally have a good sense of fun, although
they are too dignified to have a real sense of humor. And since they
are eminently practical, their games are all variations on the
skills and techniques of hunting. They will stalk, pounce upon and
wrestle furiously with a string pulled tantalizingly across the rug;
dance around a rolling marble and cuff it with their forepaws, as
though it were a mouse; or sit behind a door,
ready to slide a paw under it and snag any moving thing that comes
within reach from the other side.
In playing these games, cats will act the clown but
never the stooge. They enjoy being laughed with but can't abide
being laughed at, and will walk away stiff-legged if they are made
to feel ridiculous.
Cats are very conservative creatures. They like to
do things in their own way, within a familiar frame of reference.
Change often unsettles them, and no amount of human reassurance will
make them feel the least bit better about it. They often hate
traveling in cars or trains and will complain bitterly until the
trip has ended. They are suspicious of a new item in their diet or
of a familiar one prepared differently, or served up in a new dish
or in strange surroundings.
This often is interpreted as contrariness. And,
indeed, many of a cat's actions do seem quite
perverse. She will sit in forbidden chairs at almost every
opportunity, and depart immediately from any chair, or other perch,
on which she is put. She will sit and blink at human invitations to
come in or go out, and scratch at the door five minutes after you
have given up in disgust, asking to come in or go out.
What we are dealing with here is simply the cat's
monumental, stiff-necked resistance to anything that is not her own
idea. Occasionally she will seem to obey, but this is merely a happy
coincidence of your wishes and her intentions. Don't be encouraged.
Essentially, she bends her will to no one.
For man this is a quality both admirable and
exasperating. It requires courage and strength of character, yet it
can be wearing to cope with. If your exasperation outweighs your
admiration, there is no point in having a cat for a pet.
Go to: Chapter
1 Part 2: History