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Distracted by the abstract

I got into conversation yesterday with a chap who declared himself a fervent dog lover. His enthusiasm for dogs was apparently only equaled by his dislike of cats. He had lived with both cats and dogs and could not see the point of cats, but a dog was your mate he opined. Then he said that the main reason he couldn't take to cats was that they only attached to humans to get food, and would be just as happy to be fed by somebody else.
That made me think hard, because although I would say Buddy loves me, I know very well that when I go on vacation and my Mom moves in to look after him he exhibits no signs of pining; he eats well, he goes on walks with his usual eagerness, and he generally gets on with his routine. He did once destroy a fairly robust Kong while I was away, which I put down to being a little anxious, but that is the sum total of his reaction to me being away. When I get back he gives me a rapturous, full-on Labrador welcome, but as long as he has a caretaker who will give and receive affection, and meet his other needs he is happy. So by my dog-loving, cat-disliking new friend's reasoning, Buddy is no better -or worse - than a cat.
Then this chap moved on to expound his theory that dogs are not capable of abstract thought. I objected that I have seen evidence that both of our dogs plan ahead and develop strategies to deal with certain situations that to me involve abstract thought, and the linking of ideas together and some awareness of cause and effect. My new friend assured me that I was wrong, and that planning is not abstract thought. I countered that it was not concrete either, and soon he moved on to share the benefit of his experience and authority with some other lucky person. (Please note that last part was typed with a keyboard dripping with sarcasm.)
I stand by my assertion that our dogs are capable of planning ahead. For example we recently bought Buddy a new bed, because at night time Star had started taking his big bed as her own, leaving him, as a thoroughly nice dog, with no option but to curl up as tightly as he could on her much smaller bed. He was clearly not happy with this arrangement though, and eventually took to coming and nudging us in bed to make us instruct Star to return to her own bed. We didn't much relish these night time disturbances, so we bought a new bed for Buddy and gave Star his old bed that she seemed to like. However, Star preferred the new bed, and started to take that as hers. This worked out better for Buddy because at least he had his old bed to lie on, but he had his heart set on that new bed.
As I said, he is a thoroughly nice dog so direct conflict was out, so he had to develop a new tactic. The dogs' routine last thing at night is dinner, toilet break in the garden, then collars removed and off to bed. Although previously Buddy has gone directly to the kitchen for his last thing at night treat, he has now developed the habit of racing off to the bedroom to claim the bigger bed. Touchingly, he relies on the fact that I will take pity on him and deliver his treat to him in the bedroom. Star has not yet developed a counter strategy to reclaim the bed, but that may well happen.
As for the question of comparing a cat and a dog's loyalty and how connected it is to food, I know that there are some breeds of dog who will pine away for their owners. My mother's GSD went off his food, and almost off his legs, when my mother left him with me, and actually I am very happy that my cheerful Lab copes so well with our infrequent separations so well. I do suspect that most cats would adapt better than most dogs to a change in ownership, but perhaps there are some felines who pine. For me the crux of the loyalty issue hinges on the nature of the animals themselves; a dog is a pack animal and if you are part of his pack he will stand shoulder to faithful shoulder with you should the need arise. By contrast cats are solitary and when the chips are down they look after number one; they do no scurry to their person to protect or be protected, they hurtle behind the sofa until they deem it safe to reappear.
The fact that they behave in this way is the result of our interaction and interference with them. When we allied with the dog, we wanted a partner, a guardian, a bed-warmer, an early-warning system, and of course a companion. When it came to the cat I can't help but think that in some ways they got a raw deal; we did not seek to transform them into a best friend, because that position was already filled by the dog. Is it any wonder that the cat is a bit offhand and aloof with us about it even to this day?
Take care,
Julie x


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