Tsunami Reveals The Truth About Cats And Dogs

As footage from the tragedy in Japan includes a dog devoted to his injured pal, it's worth remembering that dogs are much better than cats.
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As footage from the tragedy in Japan includes a dog devoted to his injured pal, it's worth remembering that dogs are much better than cats.

The year was 1993. Jurassic Park had recently reawakened my passion for splashy Hollywood blockbusters, and so there I was, sitting in a multiplex in Sheffield, enduring Sly Stallone's comeback epic Cliffhanger. OK, it's not such a bad movie. But I was suffering from a combination of the least convincing 'outside broadcast' since the moon landing, and the ear-bashing effects of a new Dolby system, that made me feel as though I was sat between Brian Blessed and Ian Paisley having a heated debate about Republicanism.

Once I'd acclimatised to the extraordinary volume levels, I began to enjoy the film, as John Lithgow's band of bad guys chopped, shot and slashed their way through the supporting cast. The audience chuckled along with the mindless brutality, becoming particularly enlivened when Stallone managed to lift one villain over his head and impale him on a low-hanging stalactite.

And then, suddenly, the mood in the cinema changed. Because one of the cold-blooded killers had shot at a cute little bunny which had carelessly picked up a tracking device. As bullets tore through the snow, the entire audience gasped. We're happy to watch ocular surgery performed with an icicle, but we draw the line at seeing someone shoot a wabbit.

Obviously wise to our animal-loving sensibilities, director Renny Harlin thoughtfully inserted a cut-away that showed Bugs had narrowly escaped evisceration. The relief was palpable. And I realised that, as a species, we're able to sit through untold violence against our fellow man, but can't bear to see animals suffer.

This thought was brought back to me this week, in light of the coverage of the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The human cost of the disaster is still far from clear, so the media have had to settle for battering our senses with shot after shot of flooded towns, smashed homes, and grey limbs poking up out of the wreckage.

This morning I watched with a vague air of disgust as one BBC Breakfast presenter asked a correspondent in the field to estimate how many children might have been orphaned. In some ways, this may be a valid question, but it was the hungriness of her tone, that made her sound like Kirstie Alley watching a KFC employee fill a bargain bucket - "Yeah, that's right, you gonna throw another drumstick in there? Mama likes that..."

After seeing this footage of these two devoted friends, I went home and gave Calvin and Hobbes some extra love. If you're a dog owner, I suggest you do the same. And if you're a cat owner, just watch your back.

Maybe we've just got disaster fatigue. The scale of devastation is simply too great to comprehend, so we look for statistics to help us fathom its true meaning. And ultimately, with no tangible numbers to contextualise our outrage, we find resonance in a story about animals instead. It allows us the catharsis of emotional engagement, without the fear that we're exploiting real human misery.

One story that went viral in the last 48 hours was about a pair of dogs discovered in the aftermath of the tsunami - one seemingly healthy, and the other badly injured. The footage, taken from a Japanese broadcast, appears to show the healthy dog fiercely guarding his ailing friend, and refusing to allow rescue workers to come close. The news coverage was quick to anthropomorphise the dog's actions, spinning a yarn that this modern day Greyfriars Bobby was determined not to leave his comrade's side.

Oh, fuck it. It's no good. I wanted to be cynical, and say that the dog's gestures could just as easily be read as "Back off guys, this is lunch". But as the owner of two dogs, I know only too well how loving and protective they can be.

I've taken part in countless debates between cat people and dog people, and I've yet to hear a convincing argument in favour of felines. To put it simply, when disaster comes knocking, there's only one animal that's gonna stick around. Why else do you think you've never seen a homeless person with a cat?

Imagine the worst day of your life. You come home late, it's raining. There's been a tube strike, so you had to walk most of the way. Your company is downsizing, so today you found out you were put on four weeks' notice. As you let yourself inside the house, you see a note from your other half pinned to wall - "I'm sorry, it's not working. I'm leaving you. Don't try to call."

The dog comes bounding down the hall, just delighted that you're home. Dogs can pick up on human emotion, so he wags his tail and licks you, as if to say "Don't worry, at least we've got each other." The cat, on the other hand, is looking at you as if you were responsible for Speed 2. And with a shrug of its bony shoulders, it tells you that one of the neighbours just got back from the fishmongers, so don't wait up.

So far, there have been no stories emerging from Japan about any heroic cats caught up in the disaster. Probably because they just had time to shit in their owners' shoe before leaping out the window to safety. If a dog's love is unconditional, then a cat's comes with a pre-nup.

After seeing this footage of these two devoted friends, I went home and gave Calvin and Hobbes some extra love. If you're a dog owner, I suggest you do the same. And if you're a cat owner, just watch your back.

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