The Corner

Cats V. Dogs: The Eternal Debate

Okay, I know that Kathryn and Rich don’t like long debates about cats and dogs around here, partly out of some bourgeois nod to professionalism and the weightier issues of the day and partly out of their own deep biases against man’s best friend. Nevertheless, Mr. Hood’s post from last night needs to be responded to (Apolitical observation indeed!). His argument seems to be encapsulated in this article. A few scattershot points.

1.Let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that it is true that cats were of some utility to humans as guards of granaries and the like. Perhaps they were even more useful than dogs in some crass utilitarian sense (“greater practical value” in the coldly calculating words of Mr. Hood) in the days before dog breeding was perfected to make dogs vastly more efficient and enthusiastic vermin-slayers than cats. But, it must be noted that cats, as opposed to dogs, care not a whit about actually helping humans. They are useful in the way guard geese, canaries in coal mines, and sharks with fricking lasers on their heads are useful — as unwitting accomplices in human progress (or villainy). Dogs meanwhile, are our allies and comrades in the eternal struggle to muddle through this mortal coil (as I argued here).

Hood opines: “Dogs may be friendlier, but cats have been more useful.” Uh huh, Mr. Hood. And pray tell Mr. Hood: Who, exactly, would you prefer to have in your foxhole? The noble hound or the mercenary-yet-languid cat? Do you sleep better (no doubt having nodded-off reading Jack London’s exciting tales of man and cat alone in the wilderness) knowing your cat has watchful eyes on the neighborhood or because your vigilant canine is on the job? How many blind people do you see walking the streets with their seeing-eye cats? Does your heart palpitate when you see drug-sniffing cats at the airport? For surely, your sobriety is in doubt for you to say such things.

2. By way of illustration: Dogs have been allies in war for thousands of years. For a relevant example:

Dogs have served in the U.S. military during every modern war—World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, in Bosnia, and in Afghanistan—as trackers, scouts, sentries, and messengers; as attack dogs, mine detection dogs, and rescue dogs.

The dogs are credited with saving thousands of American lives and great acts of heroism. Some military analysts estimate as many as 10,000 U.S. and allied lives were saved during the Vietnam War alone. But although there are several small memorials around the country dedicated to dogs that served in the military, there is no national memorial honoring their service.

Cats, meanwhile, have a less sterling record of combat:

The earliest examples of cats being used in warfare dates back to the Ancient Egypt during a war against Persia. The Persians, fully aware of the reverence that Egyptians paid to their felines, rounded up as many cats as they could find and set them loose on the battlefield. When the Egyptians were faced with either harming the cats or surrendering, they chose the latter…

The most creative way to use a cat as a weapon happened in World War II. The United States’ OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the CIA) needed a way to guide bombs to sink German ships. Somebody hit upon the inspiration that since cats have such a strong disdain of getting wet and always land on their feet that if you attached a cat to a bomb and drop it in the vicinity of a ship, the cat’s instinct to avoid the water would force it to guide the bomb to the enemy’s deck. It is unclear how the cat was supposed to actually guide a bomb attached to it as it fell from the sky but the plan never got past the testing stages since the cats had a bad habit of becoming unconscious mid-drop.

Not to be outdone by its predecessor, the CIA also attempted to use cats but this time as a bugging device during the Cold War. Although a disaster as a guided bomb, the CIA thought that a cat would make the perfect covert listening device in a project known as Operation Acoustic Kitty. They attempted to surgically alter the cat by placing a bugging device inside him and running an antenna through its tail. The project took five years and $15 million dollars before the first field test hit a slight snag when the bugged kitty was released near a Russian compound in Washington and was immediately hit by a car while crossing the street. The project was ended soon after.

3. While not quite a myth, it is something of an exaggeration that cats are extremely competent or useful ratters. Once sated on the flesh of vermin, the typical cat takes little to no interest in dispatching any more rodents, preferring instead to spend the remainder of the day digesting in the warm sun. Dogs, meanwhile, are some of the greatest ratters in the world. The terrier in particular can mount enormous numbers of kills, all to please his master, not his belly.

An example close to home: my father-in-law once bought a supposedly champion cat to get rid of mice in his supermarket. Very soon, the cat had chosen to empty the seafood case instead. This was around the same time my in-law’s family dog, Snowball, physically prevented my father-in-law from pulling the Lincoln town car out of the garage for fear the car might hit one of the kids playing in the driveway. Snowball put his body between the car and the girl and stood his ground saying to the metallic beast: Ye shall not pass. The lesson was lost on no one.

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