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Dog, cat or neither
January 17, 2011 5:28 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I want to get a pet. I've always considered myself a dog person, my wife's open to think about a cat, but I wonder if we're really pet people at all.

First, our demographics: Middle-aged (well, I'm mid-fifties, wife is late forties), no kids or grandkids. We own a home with a fenced yard.

We had a pug for 14 years, and while we were definitely attached to the dog, there were times that it was pretty inconvenient. Like when we'd be out for the day we'd always be aware that we'd have to be back home in reasonable time to feed the dog or let her out. If we went on vacation we'd always board her at a quality kennel, but the odds were pretty good that she'd get stressed out and come home with some digestive problems.

That dog died 6 years ago, and we're thinking it would be nice to have a pet around the house again. We considered another pug, but have decided that a dog that's a little more laid back would be better. We stumbled upon our local greyhound rescue organization, and we really like what we see so far. While you might expect otherwise, retired racers are really mellow animals, and their owners use phrases like "couch potatoes" to describe them. The other side of the coin is that they are a larger breed, and require the same level of commitment to be there for them as any other dog.

The other possibility is a cat. My wife lived around cats as a kid, though she never had one of her own. I've never had one, nor have I found them terribly endearing. You could say I'm a dog person. In terms of practicality, though, we think that a cat might fit our lifestyle better. Because they tend to be very independent, if need be you can leave them alone for the day with food, water and a clean litter box and they wouldn't be the worse for wear. From what we know, there really is no "training" a cat. The big unknown is if we (okay, mostly I) could live with a cat's personality.

Of course the third option is no pet at all. While we really like the companionship of a pet, we understand the responsibility, and sometimes wonder if we should just remain petless.

The bottom line for me is can a dog person really learn to like cats, or should we just start naming our dust bunnies?
posted by Sir Cholmondeley to Pets & Animals (37 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It seems to me that you have an idea in your head of an across-the-board personality for all cats. Sure, the stereotype is that cats are aloof creatures, but there really are some hardcore lovebugs out there. If/when you go to your shelter, make sure to tell the people what you're looking for. If you want an affectionate cat, say so. They'll know which animals would fit your needs.

You could always look into fostering a cat to see if you'd enjoy living with one.
posted by litnerd at 5:33 AM on January 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

My cat thinks she's a dog. She waits by the door every night for us to come home. She would eat like a labrador given the chance. Nine times out of ten she'll choose to be in the room we are in.

In summary: not all cats are independent or aloof. Depending on what age you get them they can be trained to do some things. They just don't tend to enjoy performing on demand.

Disclaimer. I like dogs, but I'm an unashamed cat lover
posted by MuffinMan at 5:42 AM on January 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you truly want a cat that's ok without you for extended periods, get two, preferably either an adult pair who need to be adopted together or littermates. this recent post has a lot of anecdotal backup for the idea.
posted by lemniskate at 5:57 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

You'd be a good candidate for an adult cat whose personality has already developed. Some are moderately trainable, though I'm not sure exactly what you would want one to do (are we talking "fetch" or "stay off the nice furniture"?) I don't think kittens are much more trainable than young adults. They have no attention span.

Like others said--there are all kinds of cats. If you like cuddling, there are cats who cuddle. If you like playful cats, you can have my insanely active tabby who is attacking my slippers right now. My friend has one that fetches, etc. etc.

Cats are SO much easier to deal with than dogs if you want to maintain some personal freedom, though they are still a commitment. Now that I travel sometimes, I have a regular cat sitter who takes care of him (cats don't like to be boarded, though some tolerate it). She only has to come once a day to scoop the litter and then he's good. When I only travel for 48 hours, I just give him a ton of food and water and he's fine with it.

So, go to an animal shelter, meet some cats and see what you think.
posted by parkerjackson at 5:57 AM on January 17, 2011

It really depends on which part of a cat's personality you're unsure you would like. It sounds like to me since you've never lived with a cat and since you label yourself a dog person -- you think you would automatically dislike cats.

Dogs are like children and cats are like teenagers I think. Dogs require a lot of attention and reassurance while cats only need those some of the time. Other times they want you to leave them alone and let them sleep on the back of the sofa.

You: Wake up!
Dog: Awake! *tail wag* Hi! Are we going outside? Are we getting food? Playtime?!
Cat: *looks at you like you're crazy* Dad, I was sleeping!

I love litnerd's idea of fostering. It's a great idea and will give you some perspective on cats as well as help an animal in need.

Also, don't get a kitten. Get a cat that's maybe 1-2 years old. You will avoid the whole crazy kitten phase where they gets themselves stuck in holes in the ceiling in the basement.
posted by royalsong at 6:01 AM on January 17, 2011

The bottom line for me is can a dog person really learn to like cats

Yes it happens all the time. You could try to get a large breed, intelligent cat like a Maine Coon - they can be big and cuddly and fun like a dog, but like all cats they are also independent and low-hassle.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:02 AM on January 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

A dog person can totally learn to love cats. My husband is a dog person, complete with cat allergies, but came to love one of my cats within 3 months of living with her.

Of course, I don't see how anyone could NOT love cats; but then, I'm a cat person, complete with dog allergies, lol.

In my experience, male cats have about a 60% greater tendency to take on 'dog characteristics' (in your face, begging for attention, co-dependent love-me love-me love-me) -- so you might have better luck making the jump with a male cat. Kitten season begins in March and runs through October, so to the local animal shelter and see if they have any single male cats you can foster. Even better, if you're feeling very generous, foster a litter (orphaned, or if you foster the mom as well, she'll do all the heavy lifting!) and then keep the one (or two ;o) that you can't part with -- you'll save some lives and get the pick of the litter. Get them fixed before their hormones kick in (2.5-5 months).

Seriously, I loved cats as a kid, but after fostering 100+, I just love them more than ever.
posted by MeiraV at 6:06 AM on January 17, 2011

Try a male Maine Coon (cat). They are large and really don't like jumping on things. They are anything but aloof- they want to be in the room with you. They will do silly things just to make you laugh. Mine enjoys talking to me, watching crime dramas, running away with board game pieces, playing fetch (yes, really), playing soccer, and taking a single bite out of heavy weighted paper. He's larger than some dogs, and is a big ball of goofy love. While he isn't a "pick me up and cuddle me" kind of cat, when I am sitting, he will always come and sit next to me.
posted by haplesschild at 6:06 AM on January 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Cat person here.

Yes, cats' personalities vary widely. What aspect of a cat's personality are you worried about? Knowing that would really help us advise.

I have two. One is a total slut for attention: she lives for tummy rubs and back scratches. She greets me like a dog when I come home, and follows me to bed every night. She's as extroverted as they come.

The other cat is kind of paranoid and neurotic, and tends to observe things from a safe distance—but she can be totally warm and affectionate when she wants to. She's my computer buddy; I have a cozy little cat bed on my desk beside the keyboard, and she curls up in there while I computate on the Intergoogles. It makes me feel like Dr. Claw.

Cats are definitely easier to take care of than dogs, as you note. Give 'em a clean litterbox and full bowls of food and water, and they'll be fine for days.

Yes, getting a 1- or 2-year-old cat is a good idea, especially if you're unsure about cats. Kittens are a handful. A brain-meltingly adorable handful—but yeah, they're needy and fragile and need to be rescued at least once a day.

Training a cat? Depends on what kind of training you have in mind. They practically litter-train themselves. You CAN train them to: stay off of counters and furniture; adapt to varied sleeping arrangements; perform simple tricks (such as standing on command); poop in the toilet. You CANNOT train them to: sit and stay (they go where they please, when they please); walk on a leash (well, I've seen it once, but I think the cat and the owner were both insane).
posted by ixohoxi at 6:23 AM on January 17, 2011

+1 to what ixohoxi said.

I love my two cats, and it's a lot easier to go on a trip for four days with cats than it would be with a dog. Be careful the breed you choose though, Siamese never stop talking. NEVER.

posted by zombieApoc at 6:35 AM on January 17, 2011 [7 favorites]

I grew up with a dog and never had a cat until I was in my mid-twenties. I still have her, she's an Exotic Shorthair (read: Persian with shorthair). I was afraid I wouldn't like a cat's personality, but she is incredibly sweet--definitely can be aloof--but inserts herself into most of the things anyone is doing in the house. She actually lives with 2 pugs now and has become friends with them right away (Persians have barely any aggressive tendencies). But she is easier, the pugs need to be taken out, fed, etc -- she pretty much does her own thing if you keep the litter box clean and the food bowl filled.

She's at the door every night with the dogs when we come home and is the first one up with us in the morning. So she's definitely a companion. I've trained her to stay off the counters... when I'm home. I honestly believe she does whatever she wants when I'm not here. Just my experience. Oh and I think fostering a cat is a good idea, to see how you like having one around.
posted by jdl at 6:47 AM on January 17, 2011

Even if they're only part siamese, they never stop talking. I must say "no" to mine at least fifty times a day. ("No" just being the default answer to whatever she's talking about.. I am assuming that 9 times out of 10 she wants something.)
posted by royalsong at 6:49 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not a pet person, but I know some very charming, snuggly, playful cats. One of my friends is a kitten picking genius, and both her current cats are delightful (a Siamese and a Bengal). They're more fun than a lot of dogs I know. So I say, don't assume that there is a cat personality - be picky about the personality of the cat you get.

But like I say, I'm not a pet person. I'm not interested in taking on the responsibility. So I think that's a perfectly fine choice too.
posted by mskyle at 7:12 AM on January 17, 2011

FWIW I hate cats. I am a dog person through and through and I love my dog to a point I probably need to see a therapist about. However, I accidentally owned a cat around 15 years ago (rescue from a parking lot) who was just an ace little cat. She came when I called, waited at the door for me, liked to sit on my feet, slept with me, and was the general cat pain in the ass that makes them endearing if you happen to like cats.

I am therefore nthing the suggestions that you adopt an adult cat from a solid fostering and placement service who's personality is a known quantity. Exceptional cats make great companions.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:21 AM on January 17, 2011

I have four cats (2 boys, 2 girls) and 100% of them are snugglers who want nothing more than for us to sit the heck down and provide them a lap, and if all four could be on one person at the same time? All the better. They're not littermates and their ages span from 17 down to 4. The youngest one fetches, like a dog (although she's more consistent than a lot of dogs I know). We didn't teach her that and she's the second cat we've had who does it. We have one cat who "kills" socks every day and brings us the "corpses", one who sits and cries in the bay window seat when he sees our daughter coming home off the school bus (he loves her SO MUCH), and one who would really just be happy in a baby sling all day (we keep meaning to try it...).

What I'm saying is, if you get a kitten, don't ignore it. Play with it, carry it around, talk to it. That's what we've done with all the various kitties we've had over the years and they've all turned out to be loving, give-me-attention-now, lap cats.

We've learned that we can leave our four for up to three days with no outside intervention. We just leave them clean litterboxes, lots of food and water, and they're fine. Any longer than that and we get a neighborhood kid to come in and scoop the boxes and fill the food bowls.
posted by cooker girl at 7:23 AM on January 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a dog person. We have two cats. Love 'em like children.
posted by notsnot at 7:32 AM on January 17, 2011

I've never had a dog, but adult cats are pretty easy pets. As you say, you can definitely leave them alone for the day (or even a weekend) if you put out plenty of food, water and a litter tray. And you can leave cats alone for a week if you get someone to pop by in the mornings to put out more food and water, give them a quick cuddle, and clean the litter tray. (The cats are never too happy about it when you get back though - prepare for sulking!)

In my experience, if you give cats plenty of affection then they'll give you lots back. We rescued our current cat (at about six months old) from the horrible man next door—who mistreated her, didn't even bother naming her, and threatened to drown her if we didn't take her—and for the first couple of years I couldn't stand the creature. She bit, couldn't stand being stroked or picked up, and would jump on your head in the middle of the night. (Terrifying way to wake up!) But with plenty of love and attention, she gradually got more pleasant. She's now ten, and you couldn't ask for a more affectionate cat. She sleeps on my bed, she will flat-out sprint to come and sit on my lap when I sit down, and purrs like a steam train when someone strokes her. And it's not just her - all our cats tend to turn out the same way.

So really, I think you get back what you put in. If you treat a cat as something you can stroke occasionally and leave food out for, then it probably will be independent and aloof and not enrich your life much. But if you give a cat plenty of love and play with it occasionally—especially while it's young—then it'll be a wonderful pet, easily as good as any dog.
posted by badmoonrising at 7:34 AM on January 17, 2011

Asking if a dog person can like a cat is like asking if someone with sisters would like having a brother.

You'll find cats you like, and dogs you like. There will also be the opposite.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:45 AM on January 17, 2011

Cats can be hit or miss. (I've lived with a number of different friends and roommates' cats over the past few years.) The thing I've discovered/realized is that some cats wake people up at night for no apparent reason (there is food out) in a way that dogs don't seem to. If the owners close their bedroom door, the cat will meow and scratch at the door until they open it, and meow and paw at them. One cat owner literally said to me: I have had no dreams for two years, because the cat always interrupts my sleep before it gets to that stage. If you have a large enough house, perhaps in the worst of circumstances you could at least lock the cat a specific room at night, if your cat does this, but it seems like an experience that would make me feel trapped. I know I was pretty grouchy after a month of cat-sitting for such a cat.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:51 AM on January 17, 2011

Nthing all the posts that there are plenty of cats that show dog-like affection and interactivity, Maine Coons being a well-known breed for this.

Older cats can be good adoptees because they may have more of a developed personality, and you'll have a sense of what you're getting. Although, as other posters have noted, even older cats that have been poorly treated can really come out of their shell if you bring them home nad give lots of love and food.

However, if you wanted to put in the effort, you could also adopt two kittens. Kittens take a lot of work at first (almost puppy-level work), but that calms down after the first year or so.

Some kitten drawbacks are: insane energy, propensity to destroy your belongings, propensity to jump on your face at 3am, astonishing amounts of production in the cat box.

Some kitten pluses are: if you get two they'll keep each other occupied in the most amusing way, and if you are the person socializing them you'll have a big effect on their personalities. My most dog-like cat is a shelter kitten, and we just cuddled the crap out of him from day one. So even now, though he's a bit of a hidey-cat with strangers, he constantly wants to be around us and play and cuddle and snooze up against us. And both cats come running down the stairs when I get home, which is awesome.

Which is a long way of saying that, in my experience, if you adopt kittens and really focus on socializing them well in the first couple of years, they'll generally be friendly and social and cuddly.
posted by lillygog at 7:55 AM on January 17, 2011

I need to start by saying that my life revolves around retired racing greyhounds. I have 3 of my own, I foster them, I volunteer for the rescue organization, etc. But a dog is a huge commitment. I always have to go straight home after work to feed mine and let them out, or arrange for someone else to do it. I hire a dog walker to come every day at 1pm. I can't stay out all night without pre-planning care for the dogs. I have to hire a house sitter when I go out of town. (I used to use a kennel but that was much more expensive.)

For me that's fine, because I'd rather be with my dogs than be anywhere else most of the time. But, and you've had a dog so you know, they aren't for everyone.

The simpler side of me wishes she had stuck with cats. The 3 cats I've had have been incredibly low maintenance. (I seem to have a knack for choosing mellow animals; all my dogs and the one cat I picked out don't have an annoying bone in their bodies. I can't take credit for the other 2 easygoing cats, though one of them has become very annoying since his sister passed away, but I can't fault him for that because they lived their whole lives together.)

I advocate shelters. Go to the shelter and try on all the cats. See which one feels right. (Actually take them out of their cages and hold them and let them climb on you and stuff.) Pick an affectionate one. Then you get to have a low maintenance animal to keep you and your wife company, but not have so many responsibilities. Cats are SO easy. Sometimes I barely see a cat for an entire day. (But they're always affectionate when I sit down on the sofa, and when I get in bed at night.) Dogs always need something. (Well, greyhounds DO sleep at least 18 hours a day, but when I'm working during the week it's like: get up, feed dogs, let dogs out, get ready for work, let dogs out, go to work, come home, let dogs out, feed dogs, let dogs out, do whatever for a few hours, let dogs out, sleep. Repeat. Death, taxes and dogs.) If you're not sure you want to deal with that, you probably don't. (Although one dog is easier than three dogs.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 7:56 AM on January 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you don't like digestive problems in dogs then a greyhound would not be enjoyable for you.

While they're laid back in general, they're also very sensitive and any sort of emotional upset tends to go straight to their tummies. I loved my now deceased grey dearly, but ten years of coming home once a month or so to a house that reeked like an open sewer until I cleaned up a grotesque mess and an unhappy dog was not one of the reasons.
posted by winna at 8:01 AM on January 17, 2011

I just placed a foster kitty who would be there, on the bed, almost every morning, with a ball of paper wanting to play fetch. Over and over and over. He's going to be huge, and want to play fetch all the time. When the adopters visited him the first time, I mentioned that he was like having a dog and cat in one pet, and one of them said "perfect". I think they're going to be very happy together.

And cats are very trainable, especially if you get one who trusts and likes people. I think a lot of cats, say, thirty years ago (at least where I grew up) spent a lot of time largely ignored, outside, or scolded -- also loved and petted, but it only takes a few incidents to convince some creatures that they are in a hostile environment. Anyway, the cats I've met in my adult life are mostly very trainable if you take the time.

How are people not all over this (short and effective) book? Clicker training for cats.
posted by amtho at 8:21 AM on January 17, 2011

I'm yet another dog-lover turned cat-evangelist. Our little cats are fab. Also echoing those who say to get two - they really do keep each other amused and are more amusing in pairs.

Perhaps it might be useful for you to think about what you particularly like about dogs to decide if a cat is right for you. If you like long walks, slobbery kisses, and wrestling with dogs, then I'm not sure cats are right for you. But, if you're more interested in having love and affection, someone running to the door to see you when you get home from work, a nice, soft cuddle on the sofa, and some funny WTF moments, I would really recommend kitties.

You get many of the nicenesses of dogs, plus happy purring.
posted by brambory at 8:42 AM on January 17, 2011

Seconding what winna said above. A good friend of mine has a rescued greyhound. I stayed with her for three weeks this summer, and the ensuing upheaval in the dog's routine was enough to upset his stomach on several occasions.

They are really, really wonderful dogs though, and as soon as I have the space, I'm going to rescue one of my own.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:45 AM on January 17, 2011

Oh, I definitely think that you could love a cat. They all have different personalities. I would suggest perhaps fostering one to see how things go.

My cat enjoys spending time with us at night on the couch. She is not a lap cat but she will curl up with one paw touching either me or my husband. She enjoys sleeping next to me in bed and purring in my ear. She is pretty low-maintenance; you scoop poop and make sure she has food and she's good to go.

Cats don't require a lot of training. They instinctively use the litter box. If they start to scratch up something, put a scratching post there and then gradually move the scratching post to your desired location. You can train them to stay off counters and such when you're there, as well.
posted by Ostara at 8:56 AM on January 17, 2011

I haven't had these digestive problems in my greyhounds or in my foster greyhounds. But they can be sensitive in other ways, too. Some are outgoing, some are balls of nerves; they're individuals, like all dogs.
posted by iguanapolitico at 9:10 AM on January 17, 2011

Cats would fit your requirements so much better than dogs. Plenty of good advice above so I won't bang on too much other than to say that cats can be very affectionate, are very easy to look after and, as long as you keep them in reach of food and water, quite undemanding. They'd be especially happy given access to your yard (and, inevitably, beyond) - I don't hold with keeping cats indoors, but I know some do.

Get two from a shelter. Kittens are adorable and will tend to bond with you more easily than an older cat might. They're a bit more work at first (and messier...) but that passes quickly and they're such fun you won't mind the brief period of clean-ups and food splattering at all. Really!
posted by Decani at 9:15 AM on January 17, 2011

What about an aviary with a few birds or a fishpond? These have a fair amount of habit maintenance, but don't demand attention "right now" so are good alternates for people who like to remain flexible and not have to plan around pets. Bird feeders can also be great fun and very low maintenance.
posted by meepmeow at 10:00 AM on January 17, 2011

oops, habit should be habitat
posted by meepmeow at 10:01 AM on January 17, 2011

Two cats are easier than one.

Siamese cats tend be somewhat dog-like in personality, in my experience. I had one who played fetch.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:13 AM on January 17, 2011

What about a Bombay? It's a cross between a dog, a cat, and a monkey. You can teach them to fetch and you will never be able to read a newspaper in peace again.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:27 AM on January 17, 2011

Seconding the idea of a pet bird. They can provide companionship and song, display interesting behaviors (nesting, laying eggs), and respond to you (sing, chirp when you call to them or laugh, etc) but are typically more independent (don't require your affection or need to be taken out for a walk) and require less maintenance than a cat or dog. The exceptions are parrots, which are such social creatures that they really need a LOT of human interaction to keep them mentally stimulated and healthy.
posted by scrambles at 1:12 PM on January 17, 2011

Just an additional breed suggestion, if you decide to go the cat route: a Manx! Apparently they're known as a "dog cat," and I'd have to agree. We got our guy from a shelter, and he's a people-cat who loves everyone even strangers, loves fetching (straws, pls), and is just an awesome little cat. Apparently these characteristics are common with Manxes, but he's our first so YMMV (although we joke that we'll now be those creepy people who only ever adopt Manxes.) We often leave him alone for 2-3 nights with a clean litter box and plenty of food/water, and have been happy with a cat sitter coming by every other day if it's any longer. I'd never suggest buying from a breeder, and we just happened across our guy at the Humane Society, but here are some Manx rescue resources or you can search by breed on Petfinder (it makes you put in a location for any results, so that's for San Francisco, where I am.) Happy pet-hunting!
posted by wuzandfuzz at 2:31 PM on January 17, 2011

retired racers are really mellow animals

A friend of mine had a rescued whippet - they're like greyhounds but smaller. amazing dog, total couch potato, very snuggly. She never had trouble getting people to take care of him when she went out of town, it was such an easygoing dog people were happy to help.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:20 PM on January 17, 2011

I'm a total cat person - I even moved my cat from Australia to the Netherlands at great expense - and I think they're a great option. I also have a very 'doglike' cat. He's quite playful, runs to the door when we come home, loves cuddling on the couch, behaves in compellingly weird ways, and has a few annoying habits, like waking us up and his batshit obsession with food, but all pets are going to be a little weird. The best thing about cats is they really can be left alone during the day, and they're totally fine with it. We've asked people to house sit when we go away, but back in Australia I'd just ask a friend to drop by once a day if I was away for a while and my little dude was fine with it.

Adult cats have a much harder time finding a home than kittens, and two cats take up as much space/effort/expense as one, so if you find a pair of grown cats who you love I think it'd be a great option.
posted by nerdfish at 3:42 AM on January 18, 2011

Plus cats, even kittens, come housetrained. I brought my cat home as a 10 week old kitten, and within the first hour he found the litter tray himself, used it, then went back to being adorable. This is a HUGE BONUS. Yeah, litter trays suck, but (with rare exceptions) cats will always, always use them.
posted by nerdfish at 3:44 AM on January 18, 2011

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