Feline Ambassadors Meet to ‘Purrk’ Up Cats

By all accounts, you’d think Americans have a love affair with cats. They are indeed ‘man’s best friends.’ According to the newly published American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, cats now outnumber dogs at 82 million cats vs. 71 million dogs.

However, the truth about cats is appalling. Cats are the Rodney Dangerfield of pets; They get no respect.

There’s no scientific study to substantiate the following statement, but after nearly 15 years of writing this column, I firmly believe Americans love dogs more than cats. Unless you’ve personally experienced a negative canine encounter " even if you’ve never had a dog " odds are you like dogs. People like dogs. Cats are all together another animal. I believe people either love ‘em or they hate ‘em.

Startling data demonstrates we just don’t feel the same about cats as we do dogs. Cats don’t visit the veterinarian as often as dogs. According to the AVMA Survey, the average dog sees a vet 1.5 times a year. Cat vet visits have fallen to less than one trip to the vet a year. There’s no question, without seeing the patient, veterinarians can’t detect illness. Making maters worse, cats hide illness, so millions of cats often aren’t seeing a veterinarian until they are already profoundly ill. Bottom line, a significant number of cats suffer prolonged disease or even die before they need to because they’re missing out on routine veterinary care. Even once they’ve made it to the vet, we’re likely unwilling to spend as much on cat care as we do for our canines.

Most local and regional shelter groups agree more cats land in animal shelters than dogs. Bad behavior is the principal reason pets are given up to shelters by owners. According to a survey conducted by the National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy of pets relinquished to shelters for behavior issues, 27 percent were dogs, and 35 percent were cats (the remaining percent did not specify).

Of course, cats are no more poorly behaved than dogs. So why do cats land in shelters for behavior problems more often than dogs? Are cat behavior problems more challenging to deal with than dog issues? Is there more available help for bad doggies compared to poorly behaved kitties? Or are cats simply less valued? No one really knows these answers. But it’s clear that cats don’t share the same status as their canine cousins.

Here’s still another example. Of the lost or stolen animals entering shelters, 15 to 30 percent of dogs are reclaimed by their loving families, according to the Humane Society of the United States. However, a meager five percent of cats are ever reclaimed. Is this because people tend not to microchip or use ID tags for cats? Or because cats aren’t ‘worth’ claiming?

When animals are abused, cats are more likely to suffer. There’s no national registry for animal abuse cases, and most communities don’t track this data. Anne Marie Lucas, ASPCA supervisor of special investigations and a regular on Animal Planet’s Animal Precinct, sees abuse daily. “Most people on the street will tell you, overall, more cats are abused than dogs. Even more (cases) go unreported (in cats) than in dogs. Perhaps this is because cats are easier to abuse.”

Rarely are dogs dumped outside to fend for themselves. However, cats are given the boot frequently, tossed onto the street to deal with life on their own. As a result, stray and feral cats are a challenging problem. There may be as many or close to as many feral and stray cats as owned cats in America, according to Alley Cat Allies. Of course, the quality of life for strays and feral cats isn’t so great. Unaltered cats have been literally multiplying the problem for generations. Strays and feral cats are a public health risk. And, when these homeless cats are a nuisance to home owners and kill song birds, they create a public relations problem for themselves.

On The Tonight Show, Jay Leno – in a pre-Christmas monologue last year said, “We let the cat eat the tinsel right off the tree; it’s what we call recycling.” The “joke” actually got a laugh, perhaps, in part, because of the bad PR rap which allows popular culture to denigrate cats as they never would dogs.

In the movie Jungle to Jungle with Tim Allen, a child uses a blow gun to shoot and kill a Himalayan " a scene that is supposed to be funny.

I argue Leno never would have made that same joke about puppies, because he knows he never would have gotten a laugh. In fact, his audience would have been offended. Movie audiences similarly wouldn’t tolerate watching a family dog being shot with a blow gun just for kicks.

There’s a cultural disparity, and cats are on the short end of the branch. The American Association of Feline Practitioners and Pfizer Animal Health co-sponsored the CATalyst Summit to examine why cats are second class citizens. Among organizations represented, February 5 and 6 in Palm Springs, CA, were the American Animal Hospital Association, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, American Humane Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, Cornell Feline Health Center, Morris Animal Foundation and Winn Feline Foundation.

I participated and spoke at the CATalyst Summit and will report the outcome and the progress on this issue throughout the year. Clearly millions of people adore cats, but many despise them. For the sake of all cats, we need to rectify the problem, because cats don’t really have eight other lives to live.


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