Cats are in, dogs are out, men are nowhere

By the year 2020, most British women will be single. The popularity of domestic cats is rising unstoppably. These findings from Social Trends, the government's annual statistical snapshot of contemporary habits, prompted a memorable and alarming headline in Thursday's Times: "Cats To Replace Husbands".

Will anyone notice? Like many husbands, cats are creatures of habit who expect dinner to be ready when they return from their daily exertions - and then, having gorged themselves, depart for a night on the tiles. After carousing until the small hours, they reappear in a dishevelled state, with no word of apology or explanation.

They are also maddeningly promiscuous in their affections. One of Britain's most devoted ailurophiles, publisher Carmen Callil, was so distressed when her cat moved in with the neighbours a couple of years ago that she transferred her allegiance to dogs.

According to Social Trends she is swimming against the tide. Cats overtook dogs as the nation's favourite pet in 1993, and by 1995 they had established a commanding ascendancy - 7 million felines, 6.6 million canines.

Social Trends attributes the historic reversal to "changes in lifestyle and household structures over the past decade or so". Since cats are easier to care for than dogs, they naturally appeal to busy professional types who live alone. As Britain is becoming a nation of "solo households", the feline supremacy seems unchallengeable.

All very true, no doubt; but not the whole story. Throughout the 1980s the numbers of both dogs and cats climbed steadily, with the pooches keeping their adorable wet noses just in front. In 1991, quite suddenly, the canine total began to plummet. If this declining popularity merely reflects a gradual change in "lifestyle and household structures", why did it happen so abruptly? And why then?

It is tempting to point out that the 1991 plunge occurred soon after the equally precipitous downfall of Margaret Thatcher. Most dictators - from Napoleon to Hitler - have been cat-haters who admired dogs for their unquestioning obedience. (Nicolae Ceausescu once demolished a hospital in Bucharest because a stray cat in a corridor had bitten his beloved dog, Colonel Corbu, on the nose). Eternally unbiddable, the cat has ever symbolised freedom. Could it be that, having thrown off the chains of Thatcherism, many Britons celebrated by trading in the family Borzoi for a Burmese kitten?

There is a more obvious explanation. In the early months of 1991, the media worked themselves into a panic over "killer dogs" - pit bulls, rottweilers, even alsatians - which were said to be roaming the country attacking tiny tots. The Government duly rushed a Dangerous Dogs Act through Parliament just before the summer recess.

At the same time, parents were increasingly worrying about toxocara canis - the disease which can blind children who happen to touch a piece of dog faeces while playing in the garden. Even the most innocuous little spaniel had become a menace. Is it any wonder a pet dog suddenly seemed as appealing as a mad cow?

Having solved that little mystery, we can now turn to a pet-problem that has so far escaped notice. Social Trends shows a steady reduction in the number of British budgerigars, from 2 million in the 1980s to a mere 1.4 million today. What has become of the missing budgies? Perhaps the ever-growing cat population, licking its collective lips, might know. I have seen the future - and it purrs.

The writer edits 'The Vintage Book of Cats', pounds 7.99 in paperback

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
news
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Sport
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers



£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Director / Operations Director

£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an incredible opportunity for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'