Now lockdown measures are gradually easing you’ll have noticed the parks are literally littered with playful pups being debuted by joyful new owners enjoying state-mandated walkies.
More spare time and flexible hours WFH have accelerated pet projects. Adoption homes report a similar uptick in enquiries for cats, also. It is well and truly kitten season.
Indeed the RSPCA animal charity says it had almost a third more users for its Find A Pet section online, after more than a million people looked at it between March 1 and April 19.
But some age-old debates have not been flattened. Do cats or dogs make the better pandemic pals? Two partisan writers investigate.
Samuel Fishwick, cat person
Cats are superior, and anyone who insists otherwise is either wrong or a dog. The common garden or house cat is the quintessential lockdown spirit animal: they pass a lot of time indoors, enjoy long, luxurious naps to make the hours evaporate, and have an appropriate curiosity for the truly mundane (for them it’s balls of wool, for you it’s crochet, so basically also balls of wool). Top cats will snuggle into any nook or cranny, employing the “if I fits, I sits” rule. They occasionally leave for a state-mandated prowl.
Dogs are said to resemble their owners; owners should learn to be more like their cats. American writer Joyce Carol Oates once said her cat Cherie had “a subtlety that doesn’t bark its meaning”, a more elegant way of saying that inscrutability is part of the charm. Writing in The New Yorker, Ariel Levy too argued that the aloofness of cats is instructive. “Cats teach you the truth about intimacy: you can never know what is in the mind of another being,” she said. The critic Anthony Lane added that they are commensal domesticates — which means they choose to live with humans, but they can revert back to feral state. These are all good tests to keep you on your toes. But your cat will also adore you, albeit from odd angles and usually a vertiginous height advantage (leering down from the top of your cupboard, for instance). My own perspective is that of someone converted wholly from dog truther to cat person by the joys of custody. I didn’t want one, my partner did. We adopted a black tomcat from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, rechristened him Hiccup, and have treasured him ever since. Like all of the best people he’s an incredibly odd fellow, as well as an eccentric alarm clock. Functionally, he also does an excellent line in pest control.
But don’t just take my word for it. Woody Pyke, 28, who owns the Level Six cafe atop Peckham Levels, says that adopting Junior, an eight-week-old rescue kitten, black with white patches on his chin and paws, just two weeks into lockdown from a vet friend, has been a welcome distraction from the stress of keeping his business afloat. “It’s fantastic because you’re building a relationship with an animal that relies on you,” he says. Junior has taken to sitting beneath the kitchen table as Pyke and his housemates play darts. “He mews softly as the darts whizz over,” he explains. “It sounds like he’s singing.”
Francesca Main, 39, an editor, says she and her husband viewed lockdown as the perfect time to carefully integrate a new kitten, Millie, with their toddler, reasoning that they could pay both closer attention. “This wouldn’t have happened otherwise, so it’s nice to have something joyful in the positives column against the cancelled plans, missed friends and disappointments of the last few weeks,” she says, as her daughter waddles past trailing a string, closely followed by a small tabby kitten. You have to see it to be it, they say. I say be more cat.
Katie Strick, dog zealot
We can thank the World Health Organisation; in a roundabout way, WHO let the dogs out. During lockdown shelters have been under pressure, and home working has given new owners the time to settle four-legged wards in properly.
Camberwell reception teacher Lucie Berry, 28, who adopted her King Charles Cavalier puppy, Wilf, from charity Many Tears Rescue last month, is one of thousands on this much-better bandwagon: dogs are more loyal, loving and they’re actually willing to show off for your friends. Plus, they won’t sit on your laptop keyboard as you try and rattle off an article.
After meeting the 10-week-old puppy with a heart murmur and an overbite over Zoom, Berry picked him up as soon as she could. “He’s been a real pick-me-up at a time when lockdown has got me feeling pretty low,” says Berry, who lives alone and has been making her reception students’ days by having Wilf on her lap for virtual storytime every afternoon. And really, you would too. In a popularity contest, dogs win hands and paws down. When world leaders are in need of a boost in the polls they turn to dogs, not cats — Boris Johnson has Dilyn, Barack Obama had Sunny and Bo. I’ve never seen Larry on the campaign trail.
Isabel Ruthven, 28, a teacher from Peckham, agrees. Her new miniature dachshund puppy, Gherkin, has given her something to focus on outside of work, and a reason to get up and active every morning at a time it would be easy to become lazy and insular. “It’s nice having to think about her first.”
A study by pet food brand tails.com found 99.7 per cent of dog owners say having a dog during lockdown has improved their mental well-being, while 66 per cent of men likened theirs to a “four-legged therapist”. You can tell me cats can do the same job. But you’re barking up the wrong tree.