The internet of today has four basic building blocks:
(1) memes with dogs wearing Christmas sweaters and such;
(2) videos of cats knocking objects off counters;
(3) recruiting posters for the Empire that reddit fanboys spent waaay too much time drawing; and
(4) videos of Alex Jones ripping his shirt off as he screams about Hillary and Mueller and the Illuminati meeting in the basement of a pizzeria to put chemicals in our water to turn our free American frogs COMPLETELY LIBERAL AND IRREVERSIBLY GAY.
I want to talk about the dog and cat part, because reddit will get bored with Empire recruiting posters and Alex Jones is now broadcasting his insane rants and brain pill pitches exclusively to MySpace or whatever.
Rare puppers and kittehs are forever, though.
Why is that?
The first deals with how the furballs are alike, and the other two are because of how different they are.
Reason Number 1) Dogs and cats completely own the sweet spot of adorable and skilled
As a father, I know why toddlers are so entertaining.
Human babies are adorable but unskilled. They don’t do much.
Teenagers have the opposite deal: adult-like skills, yet they generally try hard to be tough and cool instead of adorable.
Toddlers, though, are illegally cute while doing and saying surprisingly funny things all day.
It’s the same with dogs and cats: forever child-like and cute, but skilled enough to surprise us, get into mischief and be entertaining.
Plus, dogs and cats are so common and intertwined in our lives that there will never be a shortage of photos, gifs, memes and videos with them, especially dogs and cats PLAYING WITH TODDLERS, which is just adorbs cubed and so unfair that it’s cheating.
Reason Number 2) Cats are cute balls of fur, claws and pure evil
Yes, they cuddle us. When they feel like it.
Mostly, though, cats only do what cats want, which is typically (a) laying around to conserve their energy so they can get to the real business of (b) sneaking up to attack other life forms, (c) knocking every object that’s not nailed down from your dining room table and kitchen counter and (d) randomly whacking owners or other cats in the face, just because.
Having owned cats, I believe deep in my soul that cats are pissed off by the fact they’re not remotely big enough to kill us. Not that they WANT to murder-death-kill us. Their inability just gives them existential angst.
So yeah, turn on a camera when a cat isn’t napping and you’re guaranteed to catch them being little vandals, if not felonious rogues.
Reason Number 3) Dogs are loyal, lovable goofballs
A big reason dogs are vastly different from cats is they’re pack animals and therefore can actually be domesticated, not just tamed like cats. Dogs actually have social manners.
You can tame just about anything, if you raise it from birth and it imprints on you. Cats, bears, cougars, whatever. (No, not sharks, worms or trees. Come on. Let’s just talk mammals.)
But animals you tame will never truly be domesticated like dogs, goats, horses, cows and other pack animals. Check out GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL by Jared Diamond. He’s explains the heck out of this in an interesting, world-altering way. Seriously. Wouldn’t have modern civilization without domesticated plants and animals.
What makes dogs internet gold is their pure joy, their ability to be trained and how hard they work to be loyal and useful.
Dogs understand they’re part of the family, the park, and that means contributing. Doing their part. Protecting the pups and toddlers. Guarding the pack’s territory. Helping out.
Their mischief tends to be misdemeanor level versus the felonies committed by cats.
Sometimes, I look at our Hound of the Baskervilles and marvel at the fact there’s a jet-black wolfbeast sitting there, 100 pounds of muscle and teeth just waiting for the latest orders from me, who he treats like some kind of all-powerful wizard he’s thrilled to be a sidekick for–and that he takes his job of guarding the house seriously enough that I have no doubt he’d take a bullet for me or the fam. That’s loyalty. The silly dog went right after a bear one morning in our backyard. Except I don’t think he sees that as silly, but as his duty, just like he knows we take care of his food, control the lights and temperature and make the big metal horses come alive or go to sleep according to our whim.
The videos of dogs that hit me in the feels the hardest are when they’re overcome with happiness and tippy taps–or diligently trying to copy and please us.
For that, I have to go with Team Dog, despite having owned cats for longer. Because loyalty and love wins out.
If you’ve owned dogs and served cats, as I have, watching them closely can give you a peek inside their noggins.
There’s a great book by Jared Diamond—GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL—that drops serious knowledge about the kittehs and doggos, and yes, that book is all about the rise and fall of civilizations around the world, so why would he bother with house pets?
(1) Diamond says you can figure out which civilizations struggled and which turned into mighty empires with a simple trick: count how many plants and animals they could domesticate.
(2) That’s because you can’t have permanent villages and cities, much less an empire, if you’re stuck roaming around as hunter-gatherer. Tough life, carrying everything that you own, especially without a horse to haul it around. You have to be able to grow wheat and herds of goats and such to settle down and have villages, then cities, then science and tiny supercomputers that allow a single human to send Candy Crush spam to all of their Facebook friends.
(3) The only animals that can truly be domesticated are ones that naturally travel in packs or herds, because only those animals understand how to be social. In other words, animals with some natural manners. Other animals might be sort of tamed, but never truly domesticated.
(4) Doggos live in packs and are totes social.
(5) Cats are solitary hunters and brutal killers. Seriously. Yes, even the ones that look like this:
Back when The Discovery channel did science instead of reality shows about pawn shops and such, there was a Top 10 Predators episode. You had the great white shark, polar bears, lions, tigers, Kevin Spacey, you know, the usual suspects.
Number 1? House cats. Even if well fed, they’ll run around killing scads of birds, mice and whatever else they can, just for fun. They are furry little Sith Lords.
So why are puppers and doggos so different?
I’ve watched our Hound of the Baskervilles from when he was about one year old and have gotten a good look inside his head.
Mystery Number 1: Why do dogs HATE the mailman?
This seems to be such a cliché, an urban legend. The kind of thing that could get traced back to an off-hand line on I LOVE LUCY that just took off in pop culture and never died off.
Except there are good reasons for dogs to hate mail carriers and delivery folks.
Since we live on a dead-end road with few neighbors, there are two distinct types of people driving by: folks who live here and visitors.
The Hound doesn’t bark once when he hears the cars of people who live here. Doesn’t even look up—he knows the sound of each engine, though he’ll head for the door to greet family members when he hears their car start up the hill.
Random visitors might get barked at, but to him, they heed that warning and keep on driving past to their destination. They don’t stop at our house or show back up again tomorrow.
Delivery folks do.
To the dog, the FedEx folks show up all the time and the post office people come by every flipping day, ignoring all his barked warnings.
Even worse: the mailman is the only person to stop at the corner of our property for a long time. I believe, deep in my soul, the Hound thinks the mailman is peeing on our mailbox. Because that’s what a dog would do: mark territory.
It doesn’t matter who’s wearing the uniform and driving the delivery truck. To doggos, those are the colors of an invading army, and each person wearing them and stopping at the mailbox is sending a clear message: “Your home is now my territory, and so are the homes of all your neighbors and friends. Your warning barks don’t frighten me. I’ll be back tomorrow to pee on the mailbox and claim your home as mine. Do something about it, tough guy.”
Mystery Number 2: What do dogs think of cats?
Back when we had three cats, the Hound couldn’t figure them out.
He understood the rules: don’t go upstairs, don’t go in the dining room and stay off the couches. We trained him to do things and when he did them, he got rewarded with treats or affection. That’s the system.
Cats don’t listen. They don’t care about your stupid rules or wishes.
To help train the doggo, we have him sit in another room when food goes in his bowl. And it might be a few minutes before we tell him OK, go eat. He sits at attention, no problem. It’s like he’s in the army. He enjoys clear rules and learning new tricks.
There’s no way any of our cats would ever sit and wait for food, not even if you offered them treats and love.
Quite the opposite. Whenever they were hungry, they made sure you knew it. Joy the White (kinda like Gandalf the Grey but after fighting that demon thing) would go further. If she was pissed off, she’d make it literal by stalking into the room to glare at you while she peed in a corner, just to show she was upset about her food bowl being empty or some such thing.
To the Hound, the cats were unpredictable and immature little furballs with no brains or social skills.
If he saw one of them breaking the rules, like walking into the dining room, he’d police them, gently nosing them back into the kitchen. Trying to get them in line. It wasn’t aggressive, like he was the boss. It was incredulous. “Are you crazy? Don’t offend the Tall Wizards Who Control Light and Dark, because we have a good thing going here: warm house, soft beds, fresh food and their protection. Why are you trying to screw that up?”
This isn’t a question of brains. Cats are plenty intelligent and with a lot of effort, some people have trained them. With zero effort, you can watch them do clever things and get into all kinds of trouble. Like experimenting with gravity.
Dogs are pack animals and wired differently. Puppers simply don’t understand why the Tiny Furballs with Needle Claws have no social manners and refuse to learn things from the Tall Wizards, especially when the reward for learning things is yummies and love.
Mystery Number 3: The on-off Switch of Guard Dogginess
The Hound sees it as his job to (a) alert us when strangers or delivery people are outside, and (b) to guard the door.
This is fine normally. When we have a lot of people over, though, it can be a hassle and a mystery–because once people are in the kitchen or dining room, there might be 15 people there he doesn’t know, and he won’t bark at a single one. his tail and happily gets petted all night.
A similar thing happens the Hound hits the kennel: the kennel owners always let dogs out into a fenced area separated from the main run. Every time, the new dog goes to the fence to touch noses with all the other dogs, then they let that new dog into the main area with tiny terriers and Great Danes, with zero problems. They all play together.
Except none of that works when the dog can still see their owner. They’ll bark at the other dogs and do not get along. The Switch of Guard Dogginess going from OFF to ON. Back on duty.
I took this idea home and started putting the Hound in the library when guests push the doorbell. Mystery solved: if people are at the door, he’s on duty. Once people are past the foyer and in the kitchen or dining room, I let him out and everything’s great.
In his doggy brain, he’s thinking something like this: “Clearly, the Tall Wizards let all these people deep inside to our most sacred room, where we store all the food. So they’re friends. Friends who brought us MORE food as tribute. I have never smelled so many good things! Our pack is popular, which means our territory and power is growing. The mailman dares not challenge us now.”
For serious dog knowledge, here’s some pretty good stuff on dog body language.
Joy will never read this, because she skipped school all of her 18 years and the authorities never caught her for truancy. SHE WAS TOO FAST. But I wanted to write it, to have something about her that lasts, even if it’s simply floating on the interwebs.
Joy was always different.
When our son was born, the other two cats fled in terror and stayed in the basement for a month.
Joy stood guard, like a dog, and hissed at people who got too close while he was sleeping. She’d patrol outside his bedroom door, even when it was closed.
Strangers also made our other cats hide. But they were catnip to Joy, who’d walk right up to meow hello and meet everybody.
She was a good a noble cat, always playful, happy to cuddle, and only a smidge bitey if you tried to give her a bath.
I’ve had dogs, cats, salamanders, a snapping turtle and a spider as pets. Joy is one of my favorites.
So we have to put her down today, since she’s got pancreatic cancer. It’s time. She can’t walk much or take care of herself anymore.
There’s an old saying that every kid should have a dog or a cat. That pets are good for kids. They don’t judge you. If you’ve had an epically bad day, and open the front door to see a dog who’s insanely happy to see you, it can’t help to make you feel better.
Put a dog in every office and stress levels would drop like a rock. Joy was the same way.
Pets are good for kids for another reason: they teach you about life. How to take care of a kitten or puppy, how to train them, clean up their accidents, feed them regularly, take them on walks and to the vet. It’s almost training to be a mom or dad.
And finally, having pets teaches you how to let a loved one go when they die.
That’s an important part. Everybody needs to learn how to handle death, how to grieve. I’ve buried a lot of pets and lost a lot of grandparents and relatives. It’s never easy. But you learn to treasure each hour of every day, even it’s just sitting on a couch discovering fun new BBC shows with a cat purring on your tummy.
Thank you, Joy—you mattered, and you’ll be missed.