I don’t know if you guys have heard about this app yet, but recently I signed up for Nextdoor.com. It’s a private social network for the people in your neighborhood where you can post breaking local news events, like upcoming yard sales and block parties.
Well, apart from some recent episodes of vandalism, it turns out the most interesting thing going on in our jet-setting neighborhood involves a woman who’s getting ready to move and wants to know if anyone owns the cat she’s been feeding for the past eight months. She’s considering bringing the sweet kitty with her, but doesn’t want to steal anyone’s pet.
This seemed reasonable enough to me, but apparently not all of our neighbors feel the same way. This poor woman keeps getting accused of trying to rob some family’s beloved kitty, a family that undoubtedly includes a bunch of kids who will miss said kitty terribly.
But that’s not all. Our neighbors have moved past insulting the woman to generalized cat character assassination. “Cats aren’t loyal at all,” for example, or “they don’t love you, they just want the best food.”
Hmm. You’d think anyone who hates cats this much would be patting the lady on the back for removing one from the neighborhood, but I guess she can’t win.
Once again, I’m surprised by how many people hate cats and how much they want to tell everyone about it… like it’s a badge of honor, a certificate of purity from any suspicious cat-appreciating tendencies.
I find it baffling, partly because I’m a cat person. I don’t dislike dogs and have owned a few dogs that I’ve loved as much as any cat, but if, say, there were a random cat and dog in the middle of the street, I’d probably approach the kitty first.
But it’s also baffling because even if I did hate dogs, I’d never run around talking about how much they suck. You get the sense that hating on dogs isn’t as socially acceptable as hating on cats and I’m wondering why that is.
So I decided to type some cat phrases into Google to see how Google finished them, like a casual sociological study on the most common associations people have with cats. On the one hand, it’s not very scientific (we don’t know who typed what), but on the other, we can find out what people (English speakers, at least) are most likely to type into Google when they think no one else is watching, which could provide more nakedly honest answers than asking them directly.
I started with “Cats are.” This is what I got:
Weird. I had no idea how to interpret “cats are liquid,” but a quick search revealed tons of photos of cats filling the shapes of their containers. Like this:
So that explains that.
Still, “cats are jerks” was the number one hit. I’m guessing the cats being better than dogs idea came from cat people, which isn’t particularly helpful in this case.
I tried the reverse:
Well, dogs being better than cats and being the best came up first. Nothing about them being jerks or aliens or anything negative, and there’s even bizarre positive manga slang about dogs being “moe.”
This seems to confirm the idea that dogs have a better reputation, but doesn’t explain why. I decided to try something different:
So according to the internet, cats are cute but weird. How about the reverse?
It’s impossible to tell whether the searchers actually think dogs are better than cats or if they want to find out why other people do. After all, if you think dogs are better, you presumably have your reasons. Still, there’s nothing negative about dogs in the first several hits, unlike the cat search.
I decided to try “I hate cats.” This was the first image that came up:
On the other hand, when you put in “I hate dogs,” you get:
That’s right, you get Cat Hitler. CAT HITLER, everyone.
According to the Google public, any cat who hates dogs is apparently a Nazi, despite the glaring logical flaws involved in likening rational fears toward larger animals that could kill you to the megalomaniacal goals of a genocidal sociopath. Seems fair, right?
So far, my google efforts were confirming that people do, indeed, think more highly of dogs but couldn’t explain why… apart from the idea that cats are weird aliens who would make believable Nazi dictators. I decided to get more specific with “I hate cats because…”
And the top reason was because they kill birds.
Does this seems right to you? While it’s true that cats kill birds, I didn’t realize we had such an enormous community of bird lovers within the population.
I don’t know about you, but the bird thing feels more like a rationalization of pre-existing biases than the root cause of all the cat hatred. Fear of cats goes way back in our culture… I find it hard to believe all the medieval and Salem witch hunts associated cats with Satanism and Black Magic due to their bird-eating tendencies.
While it’s true that cats wreak holy terror on small mammals, this can also be a good tendency. They eat rodents, for example, which have threatened humans with stored grain demolition and bubonic plagues for centuries.
Plus, we don’t seem to hate lions, and those are just cats taken to the next level.
I’m just not buying the bird explanation, unless you happen to be a bird aficionado. I mean, dogs kill people sometimes, and surely that should matter to the average person more than the fate of wild birds. You never read news articles about cat owners being liable for their pets attacking small children.
My curiosity frustrated, I decided to call it a day.
But this isn’t over. I’m gonna figure out a more satisfying explanation of our culture’s irrational hatred of cats, yet. Even of it takes me more than an afternoon.