• Rick Scheflen

Dog or Cat Person: Which one are you?


If I were to collapse suddenly and be found dead on the street, someone looking for a form of identification on my body would likely find a pant pocket stuffed with dog treats. This person might be surprised to learn later that I don’t even have a dog.


I have always loved dogs, having grown up with two wonderful “mixed” breed males who slept at the foot of my bed. But right now, Linda and I are pet-less, so I have to get my dog fix from those I meet in the neighborhood or on our long rambling walks. Over the past year, I have become popular and am typically greeted by dogs with much more enthusiasm that I elicit from my grandchildren. Just the sound of the zipper opening on my cargo pants brings these canines to rapt attention, sometimes with their cold noses pressed against my pocket.


I guess you could say I am a “dog person.” I have found over the years that people tend to fall into two distinct groups: Dog People or Cat People. Ask anyone where they are on this issue and you’re likely to get a quick, definitive answer. Mostly, I’ve learned, this preference has to do with what kind of animal they grew up with. If they had a cat when they were little, they just love cats!


That said, these days I find myself to be an anomaly. I love both dogs and cats. Cats came into my life when my daughter, about five at the time and not long after we lost our beloved Springer Spaniel, expressed an interest in having a cat. My mother-in-law, Marge, jumped to the task, finding a breeder and taking me along for the ride when she went to choose the perfect feline.


Snuggles, as my daughter named her, was a Himalayan, a breed that I didn’t quite “get” at the time. At first, her flat face seemed very odd to me. Weren’t cats supposed to have pointy snouts? But in time, I got used to the look. Snuggles became a much-loved member of our family and, true to her name, she submitted to much snuggling, curling up in our laps as we watched TV and burrowing under the pillows in our bed. She was so docile and trusting that I could stretch her out on her back over the entire length of my arm and she didn’t make a move. Over time, as often happens with any pet, her name evolved: Snuggles became Snuggy, then Snugglebuggle, then Buggy and eventually just “Bug.”


In time, of course, we got another cat – hey, if one cat is good, two are even better, right? Missy was also a Himalayan, pure white and although friendly, not quite as snuggly as Snuggles. She was more aloof and would disappear into different parts of the house without warning, resulting in our having to look under beds and into closets to make sure she had not gotten out of the house. And we didn’t dare to try to turn her upside down.


That was years ago. My daughter, now grown with children of her own, seemed to transition back into a dog person, mostly, I suspect, because her husband is allergic to cat dander. Her family is now on its second dog, Zoey, who goes crazy when I pull up out front. I would like to think she just loves me, but I know that a pocket full of dog treats might have something to do with her rousing reception.


Once you have learned to love cats, I believe, you can never go back. On walks with Linda, I love coming upon cats sitting on the porch of a home or just milling around in the front yard. Mostly they will not come to me, for which I can’t blame them – who the heck is this guy? – but occasionally one will saunter over and rub against my leg and submit to a quick head scratch. And that’s without getting a treat of some kind. Take note, neighborhood dogs!


Some years ago, I was taking a short walk around the block on a cool autumn night when I spied a cat walking toward me, the light from the street lamp reflecting in its eyes. To my surprise, when I called to him, he hustled toward me and threaded his body between my legs. He looked cold and thin and hungry. I remembered, with delight, that I happened to have a can of tuna in my coat pocket. (I was on the Atkins diet and always carried some protein with me, just in case.) Sitting down next to this unfamiliar cat on the curb and using the light from my iPhone, I popped off the pull-tab lid and laid the feast before him. My new feline friend devoured the contents, purring like a V-8 engine. As he was finishing up, a car approached, slowing to a crawl and then a stop. As the driver’s window lowered, I could see that the occupants were my friend and his wife. “Look, honey,” John called out. “It’s the Cat Whisperer.” We have had many a laugh about that.


My mother, Carolyn, had always been a Dog Person. She had grown up with hunting dogs in Southern Georgia (they slept outside), and had lived with three dogs – Bullets, Rebel, and Yankee – over the years in our home in Pennsauken. When my father died, in 1993, she continued to live in the house alone for almost 25 years. For a while, she enjoyed the company of a fourth dog, Charlie (also my father’s name), when her grandson was no longer able to take care of him. He was a big, friendly Golden Retriever, who would not leave her side, lending much comfort to her in her old age.


By the time she reached her nineties, Charlie, too, was gone and she was very lonely in the old house by herself. But then something amazing happened: she became a Cat Person.


A feral cat, whom she named “Stripey,” took up residence in the neighborhood. We could easily recognize her, as she limped and was polydactyl, with six toes

on her front paws. When Stripey had a litter of kittens under a bush on the side yard, my sister Barbara found good homes for all of them and had Stripey examined and spayed by a local veterinarian. Stripey continued to hang around, arriving each morning and each evening at the front door, waiting to be fed. “Is that darned cat here again?” my mother would say. “I just fed you! Oh, all right, give me a minute.”


Though she was almost blind by then, my mother would make her way to the kitchen to prepare a meal for Stripey. Sometimes it was store-bought food, but often she would heat up some leftover chicken for her as a special treat. Mom liked to complain about Stripey, but we all recognized that it was the highlight of her day to kneel down at the front door to slip the food bowl out onto the front porch and, if she was lucky, get to run a hand across Stripey’s back before she backed away. This went on for years.


When my mother passed away, my sister and I worried about what would become of Stripey. We sold the house to a “flipper,” named Nelson, and we talked him into feeding the cat every day while renovations were taking place. We dropped off bags of cat food on the front porch every few weeks.


When the house was finished, Nelson sold it to a Hispanic couple, Raphael and Veronica. I got up my courage and knocked on the door. Veronica invited me in and I told her about Stripey. Though she did not speak much English, she got the gist of the story and promised that she would continue to feed her. Barb and I continued to take food over, but eventually she told me that wasn’t necessary; she (and her granddaughter) considered Stripey to be part of the family.


This past winter – a good four years after my mother’s passing – I got a text message from Veronica. “I take care of her!” it said. Included in the text were two photos of Stripey enjoying a bowl of cat food, nestled in the “igloo” which my sister’s husband Ray had put in the backyard to keep Stripey safe and warm.


It seems, to Stripey’s good fortune, that Veronica was a Cat Person.



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