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My Pet World: Join the campaign to debunk tired stereotypes about cats

Cats have an image problem.

“They’ve gotten a bad rap with so many stereotypes which simply aren’t true,” says Julie White, PetSmart director of grants, programs and field initiatives.

Here’s a big part of the problem: Cats are more often relinquished to shelters than dogs and are less often adopted, which adds up to more cats being euthanized compared with dogs. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, about 649,000 animals who enter shelters annually as strays are returned to their owners. Of those, 542,000 are dogs and only 100,000 are cats.

Could it be that cats actually have less value than dogs? According to the American Veterinary Medical Assn., cats are actually more popular than dogs. The U.S. is home to about 74 million pet cats but only about 70 million dogs.

Despite this, cats are taken to a veterinarian far less often than dogs for routine care, according to the veterinary association. And, overall, pet owners aren’t willing to spend as much on cat healthcare as on dog healthcare.

“And at least a part of that has to do with those stereotypes people have about cats, which we plan to debunk,” White says.

To celebrate the ASPCA’s Adopt a Shelter Cat Month, PetSmart Charities is asking people to take selfies with their cats, then upload the images to petsmartcharities.org. Participants can also post pictures on Instragram or Twitter using the hashtag MeowOUT.

“We want to show in pictures the variety of cats and cat owners,” White said. “This isn’t just about little old cat ladies; it’s fashion designers, truck drivers, young single people. Everyone has cats.”

Actress Mayim Bialik, a cat parent, pet adoption advocate and star of “The Big Bang Theory” on CBS, will help judge the cat selfie photo contest. Five winners and their cats will be featured in PetSmart Charities promotional materials. The contest runs through July 3, with winners announced Aug. 3.

So what issues do people have with cats? Earlier this year, PetSmart conducted a nationwide survey of just over 1,000 participants to better understand how people feel about cats and their owners. Respondents cited friends and family who own cats as their most common sources of information about cats (74%).

Another growing source of information is the media. The reality is that Garfield’s day has passed. Today’s celebrity cats are Internet stars. More than a third of survey respondents said they also get some information about cats from Internet videos or social media. More than half of cat owners polled said they talk about their cat(s) or share cat videos.

While cat owners, in particular, noted that cats are “intelligent,” “loving,” “cuddly” and “attractive,” many survey respondents were quick to describe cats as “moody,” “stubborn,” “aloof” and “grouchy.”

No surprise, the survey showed that negative stereotypes also affect perceptions of cat owners and cat lovers. Most pervasive is the “cat lady.” Nearly half (49%) of survey participants still buy into the idea that most cat lovers are female, often spinsters, and that their homes are crawling with felines.

Clearly, that’s untrue. According to the veterinary association, most cats live with families. The average number of cats is 2.1 per home compared with 1.6 dogs.

Things are looking up — 61% of those surveyed indicate stereotypes about cat owners are not valid. In fact, 78% said they would like to have a cat as a pet.

So why aren’t more cats adopted?

“We’re working on that, but by showing that stereotypes aren’t true, it’s a good start,” White says.

If you have at least one cat, demonstrate your cat pride with a selfie. When all is said and done, the best PR campaign for cats may be carried out by cats themselves, whether they’re Internet celebrities or our own four-legged pals.

STEVE DALE hosts the nationally syndicated “Steve Dale’s Pet World” and “The Pet Minute” and is a contributing editor to USA Weekend. Send questions to petworld@stevedale.tv. Include your name, city and state or visit stevedalepetworld.com.


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