My name is JJ. When my hosts are feeling literate and snooty, they tell people JJ stands for James Joyce, maybe because I wander around the house in the middle of the night, shouting non sequiturs like a roaming drunk in the streets of Dublin. But at more lowbrow times, like when I’m lying legs-up on my back, staring at the ceiling and taking up 2/3 of a sofa cushion with my blubbery body, they say JJ is short for “Jiggles.” (By the way, I’m open to negotiations for an official JALT Journal mascot position.)
Amateur sociologists who do their research via the weekend TV talk shows like to stand around the water cooler at work on Monday and declare that there are two types of people in the world: dog people and cat people. For you cats out there it might help you to understand sweeping generalizations like these by imagining that there are, say, two types of cats in the world—those that like wet food and those that like dry food—when of course we know that there are as many cat food preferences in the world as there are prickly parts on a cat’s tongue. In the dog/cat preferers debate, for example, you can immediately see at least two glaring omissions: (1) people who prefer cats with Olympic sprinting ambitions (I train in the hallway three or four times a day, with no advance notice), and (2) people who prefer dogs that think they’re pelicans (you may laugh, but have you ever seen how most dogs behave in water?). Please don’t take what I say as advocating or dismissing anyone’s particular pet fixation; I’m just saying that these either/or issues are more complicated than most humans think.
Maybe another example will highlight my argument. Ask any dog lover “What kind of dog do you like?” and they’ll rattle off a short list (if you’re lucky) of particular breeds they favor: collies, Labradors, Finnish spitzes, Rhodesian ridgebacks, yadda-yadda-yadda. In short, they’re content with mere categories of dogs. Ask a cat lover the same question about felines, however, and they will find it difficult to describe in just a few words their Koncept of the Konsummate Kitty. Characteristics may come to mind—cuddly, friendly, frisky, cute—but simply naming a breed is, in the case of cats, no more helpful than naming the number of legs it has.
The reason is that we are individuals. We don’t fit into stereotypes about breeding or trainability. We are aware—and downright proud—of our identities and free will. Dogs and their trainers who are into behavioral conditioning are scary, if you ask me. There’s something ominous and un-animal-like (maybe the word is inanimate?) about a pet that will jump up and perform a trick every time its master calls. As Pepper Big-Face, my old kotatsu buddy, used to say: “Shake hands? Yeah, I’ll shake hands. Just as soon as I’ve scratched around in my litter box for a few minutes.”
Obviously no one is just a dog person, or just a cat person—or just a dog-and-cat person, for that matter (sometimes called bi-petual). Some people don’t like animals at all, if you can believe that, and spend their free time doing other things like collecting 18th century French bedpans. But if you’re into diversity, individual freedom, personal hygiene, and eyes that glow in the dark (and if you’re not into big ugly cow bones with slobber all over them), then I’d say there’s a good chance you’re into cats as well.
(Old Grammarians is not responsible for the guest opinions expressed in this column. We welcome contrasting points of view, but please refrain from making them known to us.)