Cats vs dogs: Barks and hisses as-old argument goes on
Paula Gracey: From my very first pet as a child, Speedy the tortoise, I've always been an animal lover. I've had tropical fish, terrapins, a budgie called Clive and two fluffy rabbits, Bullet and Lady, but I'd never been owned by a cat until I was adopted in the summer of 2012, by the most fabulous feline friend in the world, a beautiful cream tabby stray.
He'd been living in a neighbour's window box and, being a childminder, she couldn't keep him. Looking at his cute, imploring face the day he came into our back garden, looking for a proper home, I simply couldn't turn him away.
It was during the London Olympics of 2012 and we wanted to give him a sporty type name in keeping with the mood at the time. Usain didn't seem quite right and Jessica would never do, so we settled on the sort of athletic Mr Bojangles, because he does as the song says and jumps so high. Now he just answers to BJ.
We took him to the vet for a MOT and all his shots, and though he'd only been with us a few days, I was still dreading finding out that he'd been microchipped and might have to go back to wherever he'd come from. Not finding any, we had one inserted and he was well and truly mine, but I knew that already.
He's a very social cat and extremely vocal - which is probably why someone threw him out at the tender age of six months old.
I no longer have to talk to myself as I potter around the house; I talk to him and he talks back.
You can actually hear him coming from the top of the garden as he announces his return from patrol. Wherever I am, Mr Bojangles wants to be - all the nonsense I kept hearing about cats being aloof doesn't apply to my little furry friend.
I like dogs, too, but it would be unfair to leave a pooch alone all day while I'm out working. Dogs are more high maintenance. Cats can content themselves, mostly asleep, until we get home.
Then he becomes my shadow. He follows me up the garden when I'm pruning roses, he follows me out to the utility room to supervise the washing and he knows every word I am saying. If I say "Crunchies?" he runs to the cupboard where the treats live; "a wee drink?" and he dashes into the bathroom and jumps in the tub so I can turn on the tap for him. Mr Bojangles prefers running water to still, a legacy from his living rough - and he knows what he likes.
As soon as hubby or I come in the front door, he runs to greet us and then struts back and forth from one to the other for the best back scratch, then jumps onto the hall table so we can bump heads as all good friends do.
Trying to work on a laptop has become a little more testing, I have to say, as Mr Bojangles isn't a fan of technology and would rather I paid it less attention and more to him.
He basically sits on the keyboard and nearly had me ordering 147 pairs of jeans in a recent spot of online shopping.
When I'm feeling a bit under the weather he just seems to know. When I recently had back surgery, he never left my side. He slept on the bed with me, snuggled in behind my knees, or curled into my side and looked after me the whole time.
He does the same if I have a cold, or my occasional migraines - he just knows.
I'm sure people get that from their dogs, too, but to win the trust and devotion of a supposedly selfish and unresponsive species just melts my heart.
Mind you, when he has to go to the vet for his annual booster jab, or when he gets beaten up by some passing stray or other, it's a whole different ball game.
Trying to get him into his cat box is an art in itself. He gets to know the tactics I employ to entice him, so I have to change every time.
Last time we went for his booster, the vet let go of him for one second and he made a run for it and dashed into a store room out the back, with me and the vet in after him.
We had to perform a pincer movement from each side to grab him down from one of the shelves - never a dull moment.
The only downside is missing him so much when I go on a week's holiday.
He is extremely well looked after by my neighbour, Gillian, in whose window box he formerly resided and I actually phone him every day from holiday and can't wait to get back to him. I fret more than he does.
Fionola Meredith: I have never been a cat person. Cats are too snooty, too scratchy, too stand-offish for my taste. Dogs are a different story. While a cat may deign to acknowledge your arrival home with a barely raised eyebrow, a dog will leap into your arms as though you’ve been separated for months.
This applies whether you’ve been out all day at work or merely nipped around to the shop for a pint of milk: the full state of delighted, shining-eyed, waggy-tailed welcome is just the same.
That’s why I’m not surprised that a recent survey found that cat-owning households in the UK are in decline. A dog is your friend for life. No matter how noisy, or smelly, or disobedient it is, a dog will never be anything but loyal and true, attached to its owner with a devotion that can be overwhelming at times.
Cats can be affectionate, too, I know, but deep down, they’re always looking out for number one. And that’s not you.
Dogs are hard work, mind. They require attention in a way that a cat will never demand of you. My liver-spotted dalmatian dog, Rudi, has got me into trouble on numerous occasions.
For instance, he seems to have got it into his head that anything lying on the ground is fair game. Frisbees, footballs, hats — on one dreadful occasion a man’s elegant grey overcoat — have all been snatched up by Rudi’s eager jaws. I can’t take him near a park in summertime. I’ve compensated more people for stolen buns and burritos than I care to remember.
Then there’s his predilection for rolling in muck. Anything foul, mulchy, decayed or disgusting. Rudi can scent noxious substances from a distance of a hundred yards, it seems, and before you can stop him, there he is, getting clabbered, all four legs waving blissfully in the air.
Rudi is naughty at home, too. I regularly find letters lying in the hall, partially chewed — though Rudi’s bad habit of shredding stuff comes in handy at election-time, when all those unwanted political party leaflets start arriving through the letter-box.
Perhaps we should have realised that Rudi was going to be a handful right from the start, when he emerged from his puppy pen, strolled into the sunshine and immediately started nibbling a nearby electric fence.
But all this counts for nothing compared to the love, joy and fun that our dog brings to our lives. His affection for each member of the family knows no bounds.
What’s more, having a dog keeps you fit. They require exercise, lots of it, and there’s nothing like a pleading-eyed hound, begging for a walk, to get you up off the sofa and into the fresh air. While you’re out there, you’re more likely to end up talking to people you meet, especially other dog-owners, so there’s a sociable side to it, too.
And dogs themselves, unlike cats, are pretty friendly creatures. Rudi loves meeting up with my parents’ dalmatian, Rico, for some recreational fighting over who owns the rights to a particularly desirable bone. The sight (and sound) of two fully-grown spotted idiots wrestling on the floor like puppies is hilarious and infuriating in equal measure.
My dog costs me a lot in food, vets bills and — on occasion — damage-limitation payments to people whose picnics he has devoured. I curse him to high heaven when I’ve got the Marigolds on, yet again, to shampoo him after he’s had another roll in cow manure. But I don’t begrudge any of it, because he’s so dear to me. My favourite part of the day is when we curl up for a snooze together on the sofa. Breathing in the scent of warm dalmatian fur is better than for your nerves than Prozac.
Of course, you can cuddle your cat, too.
Even take it for a walk, if you’re so inclined. But don’t tell me a cat will light up your life like a dog will.
Gemma Garrett (34) is a model, presenter and make-up artist who lives in Belfast.
She says: I have two British bulldogs, Buddy and Stella. I got Buddy five years ago — I had always loved the breed and knew they were misunderstood.
People tend to think they’re quite vicious, but they’re really not. The popstar Pink had one and she’s one of my favourite singers.
I got Stella a year later to keep Buddy company — I work strange hours and I thought it wouldn’t be fair for Buddy to be on his own all the time.
People used to tell me that their pets were part of the family and I thought it was a cliche, but now Buddy and Stella really are like family to me. They’re more than just animals, they’re very much a commitment.
I’m against people who take it in to their heads to get a dog all of a sudden. It’s something people really need to consider before they do it.
Buddy and Stella are very naughty, so people aren’t very keen to look after them if I go away for a couple of days.
Between them they’ve eaten four TV remote controls, a couple of pairs of Louboutin shoes and a Chanel handbag. The bag was the worst thing, I had to just leave the house after that one because I was so cross. But I wouldn’t give Buddy and Stella up for the world — they bring so much more joy to me than they do destruction.
I love animals and I wouldn’t rule out getting a cat some day.”
Frank Mitchell (52) lives in Belfast with his wife Helena and his daughter Laura (23). He presents the Frank Mitchell phone-in each weekday on U105. He says: My two dogs, one called Jack and one called Jiggs, are both fox terriers. Before Jack, I had Zip and before Zip I had Zoe — also fox terriers.
Zoe died when we were staying with my sister in Dublin. She managed to go out the back garden gate and walk under the Dart train. That was one of my saddest days.
Zip replaced Zoe, but she took ill and had to be put down. That was an equally sad day.
I remember taking her to the vet and talking to her before she was given the injection — she always seemed to be smiling right up until the end. It was heartbreaking.
Jack and Jiggs have come next and my mother looks after them both during the day. Jack has made up for the loss of Zoe and Zip as he’s such a character. He can read my mind and has a real sense of awareness of everything that’s going on with me.
I don’t mind cats. There’s a ginger cat in my neighbourhood that comes to me like clockwork for a stroke and a treat. I like to see cats about the place — they’re very soothing creatures.”
Leanne McDowell (19) is the 2015 Miss Northern Ireland and lives in Newtownabbey.
She says: You know, I never really thought of myself as a cat person until Tigger arrived, particularly as we had a Bishon Frise when I was growing up. Then one day Tigger arrived at the back door.
We fed her and she’s been part of the family ever since.
She’s a tortoiseshell, so she’s every colour under the sun. We’re not really sure where she came from, but a local family’s cat had kittens before they moved away and she might have been one of that litter.
To be fair, although she’s a cat Tigger certainly acts like a dog. She’ll wait by the door for me coming home and run to greet me.
She’s very sociable, too — you can’t sit down in the living room without her coming to sit with you. She’s more of a housecat though. She doesn’t like going outside.
After my year as Miss Northern Ireland, I’ll be going back to university, so it will be a while before I settle down but when I do I want to get more cats — and dogs, too.”
Danny Kinahan (58) is Ulster Unionist MP for South Antrim and lives at Castle Upton in Templepatrick with his wife, Anna, and their children, Eliza (22), Tara (21), Hugo (19) and Mia (17). He says: We have two Labradors at the moment — Ollie is a golden labrador, who is very old and very fat. His son is a black lab called Odo.
We have a very big house, so we tend to have big dogs — I’ve always loved them. We’ve also had two Great Danes and a Giant Schnauzer.
I love animals, so there have also been horses, ponies and even a ferret. That was a pet for my daughter who was supposed to look after it, but I ended up doing it. It was lovely and charming, but it stank.
If you put any animal in front of me I’ll talk to it so I’ll happily talk to a cat, but I’m not really a cat person and probably wouldn’t get one.
Walking the dogs is probably one of my greatest joys and it’s very sociable. I meet a lot of people when I’m out walking the dogs.
I don’t think we’ll get smaller dogs as I get older.
They’ll just get fatter as I walk less.”