Henry Salt Archive

Henry Salt (1853-1939) was the author of the Life of Henry David Thoreau, Animals Rights and A Plea for Vegetarianism which inspired Gandhi for follow a vegetarian diet.

Good Word for the Cat

The Animals' Friend, Pre-1897

The comparisons which are sometimes drawn between the merits of the cat and the dog, as if we could only bestow a limited friendship on one or the other of them, are (to me) very odious; especially as the contrast seems usually designed to depreciate the merits of the less favoured cat. But why can we not appreciate both? Or, if we must feel a partiality for either, can we not see that it is but a personal, individual preference, and not an absolute one? On this understanding, I would say a good word for the much maligned, ill-used cat.

How well we know all the stock phrases by which the cat is disparaged! The cat, forsooth, love places and not people. The cat cares only for her own comfort, and is not sufficiently grateful for kindness bestowed on her, whereas the dog is man's faithful friend and follower. The real difference, I take it, between cat and dog is this: The dog has become a wholly artificial and civilized animal, having been for centuries bred to man’s order, and formed to meet his wants. He is a visible embodiment of gratitude and friendship, a flattering, tail-wagging testimony to the exceeding goodness and nobility of the human race. The cat, on the other hand, is less plastic and compliant, there being a feral element in her nature which has not lent itself so readily to the shaping hand of man. She is more obstinate, more independent, more self-centred. But that the cat does offer her friendship to those who possess the key of sympathy, who shall doubt? Even to propound such a question is laughable to any one who has ever really known a cat. Indeed, as Pierre Loti says, in his wonderful “Book of Pity and of Death,” there is a “supreme confidence,” in the way in which a cat will entrust her life and welfare to the human companion whom she loves.

The question, therefore, of preference for cat or dog simply resolves itself into this: Which sort of friendship do you prefer — the faithful, grateful, obsequious attachment of the dog, or the less accessible, less demonstrative, but not less genuine affection of the cat? Where both are true and valuable, it is no more than a matter of individual taste and choice. For my own part, I like the aloofness, the fastidious waywardness of the cat; and I think that the friendship which needs some effort for the making of it is, perhaps, better worth having than that which is offered almost ready made.

As to the statement, sometimes made by dog lovers, that the cat, being by nature a wilder animal, does not stand in such need of human protection against cruelty, it seems too absurd to call for serious refutation. I remember a countryman remarking to me, “They say a cat’s not an animal, but vermin”; and I believe this view to a great extent underlies the common and widespread ill-treatment of cats. The real truth is more nearly expressed in the words of De Quincey, that “The groans and screams of this poor persecuted race, if gathered into some great echoing hall of horrors, would appeal to the heart of the stoniest of our race.”

Henry S. Salt