A Friend Is a Friend

by Jonah Goldberg

I had a busy morning so I feared that by the time I could get around to dealing with the outrage polluting the pages of the inestimable Wall Street Journal it would be too late. But, as if to compound my horror, there’s nary a peep of protest here at National Review or elsewhere as far as I can tell.

I am referring of course to Peter Mandel’s cat-propaganda in today’s edition of that great newspaper.

Under the ludicrous headline: “Cats Are Actually Man’s Best Friend,” Mandel goes on to say many nice things about cats while questioning the masculinity of men who profess to like dogs more. He writes, in part:

Compared with felines, canines have been man’s domestics roughly twice as long. A cat craves meat and knows how to prowl and to strike in order to obtain it more than any snarling Shepherd or Husky. In fact, unlike a dog, a feline will die if you try to make it a vegetarian.

I understand that there are men out there who’d just as soon grill chunks of fennel as a lamb chop. But even when we obsess over carrots or cilantro, we still harbor images of ourselves as just a little bit feral—able to build a fire and, in a pinch, trap some emergency food.

As a middle-aged guy who’s lived with tigers while his friends have kept wolves, I understand a down-under-the-fur predator truth. Men and cats are a natural match.

Ever watch animals when workmen are on the job either inside your house or in your yard? A dog will bark vapidly or present himself for a scratch. But keep an eye on your cat. He’ll monitor the operation, stalking every nut and bolt. He’ll stretch out a claw—thwack—for wayward strands of wire. He is a born mechanic.

And so on. It’s all amusing and even literary. It’s certainly good cat spin. But in a piece purporting to make the case that cats are man’s best friends, there’s nary a word about how cats are, you know, friends, never mind best friends.

The case for dogs as man’s best friend makes itself (though I offered my own version in the pages of National Review 12 years ago). Dogs help us hunt. Dogs protect our homes. Dogs help us herd. They help us fight wars. Dogs greet us when we come home with a joy cats are simply incapable of under any circumstances. Dogs split off from wolves and became a distinct species by allying themselves with mankind. We are joined at the hip. “Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends,” observed Alexander Pope.

The old joke about how to tell who really loves you, your wife or your dog comes to mind. Lock them both in the trunk of your car for an hour and see which one is happy to see you when you let them out. A cat, in such an experiment, would be happy to be out, but wouldn’t send any happiness or gratitude in your direction.

Let’s see a cat greet a returning soldier like this. Or this. Or this:

 

Now here’s a cat welcoming home a soldier:

 

 

Oh and another thing. Mandel writes:

In fact, if you talk to plumbers or electricians or tree surgeons, you’ll discover an interesting thing. They all have feline colonies at home. Five cats, sometimes. Even 10. My wife will go as far as to argue that it’s because these men are secure enough in the physical aspects of manhood that they don’t need to pretend. Why should a carpenter or roofer care to concoct an epic dislike for something small and fuzzy if they can out-arm-wrestle just about anyone in town?

Rather than ascribing high masculine self-esteem to certain professions (are the above soldiers somehow insecure in their manhood? Or deficient in their womanhood?), maybe the reason electricians and plumbers have a lot of cats (data, please!), it’s that they have jobs that make it difficult to attend to the needs of dogs. I actually like cats (there are two in my house, the good cat and my wife’s cat), but one of the main reasons to have cats over dogs is they require so much less from us. Dogs require time and responsibility; cats are more like mobile interior design.

Oh and one last thing. I understand that writers aren’t accountable for the headlines of their articles (believe me), but the choice of headline is a particular affront because today is – wait for it – National Dog Day! For Pete’s Fido’s sake!

Where is the outrage?