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On Cats And Dogs Post by :350-Warrior Category :Essays Author :A. G. Gardiner Date :October 2011 Read :3184

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On Cats And Dogs

A friend of mine calling to see me the other day and observing my faithful Airedale--"Quilp" by name--whose tail was in a state of violent emotion at the prospect of a walk, remarked that when the new taxes came in I should have to pay a guinea for the privilege of keeping that dog. I said I hoped that Mr. McKenna would do nothing so foolish. In fact, I said, I am sure he will do nothing so foolish. I know him well, and I have always found him a sensible man. Let him, said I, tax us all fairly according to our incomes, but why should he interfere with the way in which we spend the money that he leaves us? Why should he deny the friendship of that most friendly animal the dog to a poor man and make it the exclusive possession of the well-to-do?

The emotion of Quilp's tail kept pace with the fervour of my remarks. He knew that he was the subject of the conversation, and his large brown eyes gleamed with intelligence, and his expressive eyebrows were eloquent of self-pity and appeal. He was satisfied that whatever the issue I was on his side, and at half a hint he would have given my friend a taste of the rough side of his tongue. But he is a well-mannered brute, and knows how to restrain his feelings in company.

What would be the result of your high tax? I continued with passion. It would be a blow at the democracy of dogs. It would reduce the whole of dogdom to a pampered class of degenerates. Is there anything more odious than the spectacle of a fat woman in furs nursing a lap dog in furs, too? It is as degrading to the noble family of dogs as a footman in gold buttons and gold braid is to the human family. But it is just these degenerates whom a high tax would protect. Honest fellows like Quilp here (more triumphant tail flourishes), dogs that love you like a brother, that will run for you, carry for you, bark for you, whose candour is so transparent and whose faithfulness has been the theme of countless poets--dogs like these would be taxed out of existence.

Now cats, I continued--(at the thrilling word Quilp became tense with excitement), cats are another affair. Personally I don't care two pence if Mr. McKenna taxes them a guinea a whisker. There is only one moment in the life of a cat that is tolerable, and that is when it is not a cat but a kitten. Who was the Frenchman who said that women ought to be born at seventeen and die at thirty? Cats ought to die when they cease to be kittens and become cats.

Cats, said my friend coldly, are the spiritual superiors of dogs. The dog is a flunkey, a serf, an underling, a creature that is eternally watching its master. Look at Quilp at this moment. What a spectacle of servility. You don't see cats making themselves the slaves of men. They like to be stroked, but they have no affection for the hand that strokes them. They are not parasites, but independent souls, going their own way, living their own lives, indifferent to applause, calling no man master. That is why the French consider them so superior to dogs.

I do not care what the French think, I said with warmth.

But they are our Allies, said my friend severely. The Germans, on the other hand, prefer dogs. I hope you are not a pro-German.

On the cat-and-dog issue I am, and I don't care who knows it, I said recklessly. And I hate these attempts to drag in prejudice. Moreover, I would beg you to observe that it was a great Frenchman, none other than Pascal, who paid the highest of all tributes to the dog. "The more I see of men," he said, "the better I like dogs." I challenge you to produce from any French source such an encomium on the cat.

No, I continued, the dog is a generous, warmhearted, chivalrous fellow, who will play with you, mourn for you, or die for you. Why, literature is full of his heroism. Who has climbed Helvellyn without being haunted by that shepherd's dog that inspired Scott and Byron? Or the Pass of St. Bernard without remembering the faithful hounds of the great monastery? But the cat is a secret and alien creature, selfish and mysterious, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. See her purring on the hearth-rug in front of the fire, and she seems the picture of innocence and guileless content. All a blind, my dear fellow, all a blind. Wait till night comes. Then where is demure Mistress Puss? Is she at home keeping vigil with the good dog Tray? No, the house may be in blazes or ransacked by burglars for all she cares. She is out on the tiles and in back gardens pursuing her unholy ritual--that strange ritual that seems so Oriental, so sinister, so full of devilish purpose. I can understand the old association of witchcraft with cats. The sight of cats almost makes me believe in witchcraft, in spite of myself. I can believe anything about a cat. She is heartless and mercenary. Her name has become the synonym of everything that is mean, spiteful, and vicious. "An old cat" is the unkindest thing you can say about a woman.

But the dog wears his heart on his sleeve. His life is as open as the day. He has his indecorums, but he has no secrets. You may see the worst of him at a glance, but the best of him is inexhaustible. A cat is as remote from your life as a lizard, but a dog is as intimate as your own thoughts or your own shadow, and his loyalty is one of the consolations of a disloyal world. You remember that remark of Charles Reade's: "He was only a man, but he was as faithful as a dog." It was the highest tribute he could pay to his hero--that he was as faithful as a dog. And think of his services--see him drawing his cart in Belgium, rounding up the sheep into the fold on the Yorkshire fells, tending the cattle by the highway, warning off the night prowler from the lonely homestead, always alert, always obedient, always the friend of man, be he never so friendless.... Shall we go for a walk?

At the joyous word Quilp leapt on me with a frenzied demonstration. "Good dog," I said. "If Mr. McKenna puts a guinea tax on you I'll never say a good word for him again."


(The end)
A. G. Gardiner's essay: On Cats And Dogs

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