Essay

Animal Instinct

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There is a real bipartisan conflict threatening our country, both sides ruled by deep and unwavering loyalties. It won’t be resolved any time soon. It is the age-old war between cat people and dog people.

Admit it; which side are you on? It is a contentious issue on which identities are staked. I once asked a coworker if she was a cat person and, judging from the look of horror on her face, it was as if I accused her of being a Nazi sympathizer. That may seem an overstatement, but many devoted dog people suspect cats of being, at the very least, dangerous sociopaths.

Even cat lovers acknowledge that sinister quality in their feline friends. Earlier in the summer, I had lunch with a thoroughly unapologetic cat person. In the two years that I’ve known her, she has either fostered or adopted seven different cats. We sat on a bench in Washington Square Park, eating tacos and cooing after dogs that walked past. (Most cat people, in my experience, also like dogs. Dog people, on the other hand, can be downright militant in their anti-cat attitude.) My friend mentioned a new study which found a link between cat ownership and the onset of mental illness. I was incredulous. She called up the article and, sure enough, we learned that cats may carry a parasite which may be passed on to humans who may then develop schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, more likely if they grew up around cats.

This gave me pause (paws?). Our family dog, Mozart the beagle, is the only pet I’ve ever had, so by default I am a dog person. But I have crossed paths with many friends’ felines over the years, and had begun to fancy myself a nascent cat person. Especially in Manhattan in a sixth-floor walk-up, dog ownership is cruel, if not impossible. Adopting a cat would be far easier, quieter, and would require no additional stair climbing. But what about this remote yet evidently real risk of slowly becoming a crazy cat lady? And, more importantly, would this make me a traitor to dogs everywhere? What about my own dog, who would growl at any cat who stepped paw inside the house? Would he be disappointed by my treachery—you know, if he had the capacity to understand human emotion?

Mozart turned thirteen last week, in human years. Every visit home I see he is a little slower and a little fatter, though he still always greets me by rolling to his side to signal belly rub readiness, tail wagging. Several dogs in my extended network have died recently, those of my friends, coworkers, and brother-in-law. With each sad announcement, my thoughts eventually settle on Mozart. I worry about his last days, and whether I’ll make it home in time to be with him.

No matter my future pet-owning plans, seeing his goofy face light up when I open the door has cemented my allegiance to the canine clan. I declare myself a dog person, fur-ever.

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