Cats Climb Their Way to the Top of Today's Pet Popularity Poll

Susan Christian is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

While many bachelors still doggedly prefer dogs, in recent years cats have clawed their way to the top of the popularity contest. Apartment living makes self-contained cats today's pet of choice.

"Just 20 years ago, there were twice as many dogs as cats in the United States," said Tom McLaughlin, executive vice president of the Western World Pet Supply Assn., headquartered in South Pasadena. "Now there are 54 million cats and 52 million dogs.

"With so many people moving into condominiums and with our fast-paced life style, pet owners of both sexes are discovering the advantages that cats offer," McLaughlin added.

"A cat doesn't need a back yard, it doesn't need to be taken on walks. You can leave a cat alone over the weekend with a litter pan and a self-feeding device, and it will be fine. You couldn't possibly do that with a dog--it would yap its head off."

Donald Meyer of Tustin is one dog devotee who let an unfamiliar pet roll into his home on tiny cats' feet.

"I grew up in a house with two brothers, at least two dogs at all times, no sisters and no cats," the 33-year-old financial consultant wrote to Single Life. "Cats were never a part of my (consciousness). I thought I couldn't relate to them. My girlfriends' cats always seemed too small and too snobby for my liking.

"Then when I bought my condominium 5 years ago, I started longing for the presence of a pet. I thought it would be cruel to keep a dog cooped up in such small quarters, so I went to the animal shelter and brought home a yellow tabby I named Roscoe. Roscoe and I have become great buddies. He's given me an appreciation of cats."

Even so, Meyer said in an interview, his loyalties still point in the canine direction. After all, it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

"I plan to buy a house in the next couple of years, and with it, two big dogs of some sort," Meyer said. "They'll have the run of the back yard, and Roscoe will have the run of the house.

"In some ways, I've found Roscoe more fun than dogs. I get a kick out of trying to figure out what's on his devious mind. But I miss having a pet that will run along the beach with you and lick your face when you've had a rough day.

"Now that I've had Roscoe, I'll probably always own a cat, but I look forward to the day that I can have dogs too."

Linda Lewis, editorial director of the Irvine-based magazines "Cat Fancy" and "Dog Fancy," sees "a shift in the perceptions surrounding cat ownership."

"There used to be a stigma attached to a man owning a cat," she said. "It was not a macho thing to do. But today, more and more single men, as well as married couples, are getting cats."

Of course, many men remain dyed-in-the-fur dog fans who scoff at the idea of settling for anything less. "You may as well own a hamster as own a cat--they're equally affectionate," said Bruce, 37, who enjoys the companionship of a "mostly collie mutt."

"My ex-wife had a cat, and I tolerated it by ignoring it," said the Garden Grove salesman. "I looked after my dog, she looked after her cat--that was our agreement. I would never on my own free will go out and get a cat. As far as I'm concerned, dogs are the only real pets."

McLaughlin suggested that such long-held stereotypes should be reversed: Women are the ones who may be more cut out for dogs, and men for cats.

"This is just the Tom McLaughlin theory," he allowed. "But women have always been in the role of caretaker in our society, and dogs are dependent animals. Cats, on the other hand, are much more independent than dogs and don't need constant attention, so it would seem that men would find cats the more compatible pet."

Defying the McLaughlin theory, Christine Mys of Costa Mesa has a pair of kitties.

"Yes, I fit the classic stereotype of the single woman who shares an apartment with my two feline roommates," Mys, 36, wrote.

"When I first started dating (my boyfriend) Karl, he didn't know very much about cats. But because he is a very gentle person--and probably realized he wouldn't get on my good side otherwise--he has learned to understand that cats have feelings too.

"A few years back, I had a marriage proposal from a wonderful British man who wanted me to move to Europe, minus the cats. Needless to say, I'm still here. I also dated a man who was extremely allergic to cats--it was a 'me or the cats' situation. The cats won, paws down. We're all the happier for it."

In an interview, Mys said that she "grew up" with her cat, Sylvester, who adopted her 16 years ago. "I've used him as a barometer for the men I've dated," she said with a laugh. "He can sense whether someone is OK or not. If someone is a cat hater, Sylvester will walk straight over to him just to bug him."

Sylvester, a large, longhaired tabby, has become "very slow and docile" in his old age. "He used to weigh 22 pounds, but now he's down to a mere 18 pounds," Mys said. She rescued her second cat, Bilanky, from an animal shelter 4 years ago.

A former boyfriend once insisted that Mys keep her cats out of doors and out of sight--which explains why he is a former boyfriend. "He told me it would have to be an awfully big house to have enough space for him to live with two cats," she recalled. "So I decided to give him all the space he'd ever need.

"My cats are my surrogate children. I would no more let a cat wander the neighborhood than I would a 4-year-old child."

Her current boyfriend, Karl Kramer, knew better than to make the same mistake. Though he considers himself a "dog person," he has seen the light about cats, thanks to Sylvester and Bilanky.

"It took us a while to get used to each other, but now (Mys' cats) are nice to me because I give good neck rubs," said Kramer, an auditor in Long Beach. "Dogs are more fun to play with, but cats are easier to take care of."

Mys speculated that men who hate cats "are the same kind of men who hate women."

"They are attracted to women, but they don't like them," she said. "Independence and intelligence in women makes them uncomfortable. They want the kind of woman they can dominate."

Eight years ago, cat owner Martha Strapac married a man who, like Kramer, had little prior experience with "the opposite pet."

"My husband believes that women have cats just so that they will have someone to baby talk," the 42-year-old Huntington Beach technical writer complained in a letter to Single Life. "Maybe it's true; perhaps (her cat) is a substitute for a child."

However, Strapac elaborated in an interview, "to me, a pet is a pet--it's not a child."

"When we got married, my husband and I decided against having children. He already had two children, and I've gotten a lot of reward from them. It has surprised me how little I have missed having my own children, because I grew up assuming that I would.

"I have seen women who look at their pets as child substitutes, though I've never done that," Strapac said. "But when I was single, my cat did give me something to care about, so that I didn't get wrapped up in my loneliness."

Jeff Case, 32, a welder in Los Alamitos, proclaims his green wing macaw, Lucifer, "the perfect pet."

"A macaw makes a great roommate--it talks to you, it keeps you entertained," Case said. "After a lousy date, it's good to find my little Lucifer waiting for me. Women may stand you up, but a parrot will always be there for you.

"Still, women are more fun to kiss."

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