Cats can be labelled ‘pussies’ no longer. Not after the heroism of Tara, a tabby who fearlessly flung herself at a dog that was attacking a four-year-old.
She saved little Jeremy from getting seriously hurt, putting her own life at risk - a feat that captured hearts, minds and five million views on YouTube.
If this was a dog, the footage wouldn’t have made the news. Rampant speciesism in the mainstream media means that while dogs are known for their loyalty and intelligence, cats are characterised as haughty harbingers of disease. It is not fair: felines are brave, beautiful, majestic creatures.
Sailors used to think cats could predict the weather, with legends claiming a cat’s sneeze meant rain. If your feline got frisky wind was on the way. There’s a whisker of truth in this – cats have super-sensitive ears (and 64 ear muscles in total) and detect atmospheric pressure changes before humans.
The miraculous powers of cats have been proven in other areas too. Their purrs, if within a range of 20-140 Hertz, can lower stress, promote bone strength and help healing.
In the battle between cats and dogs, there are also some very practical reasons for choosing a feline domestic companion. They are fastidious cleaners, with experts estimating they spend around 15 per cent of their time grooming (they enjoy it too: for them fur licking is like kitty spa time).
They are cheaper than dogs and are more independent, allowing you to leave the house and make a living. They won’t maul your house guests with slobber, you don’t have to walk them in the rain and they live longer. They don’t smell as bad and are generally less noisy.
This sound approach to pet-choosing will chime very well with your new pet – but I wouldn’t want to sell them on purely practical terms. Hero cat Tara first met her family in the park five years ago.
She followed them home and took to sleeping in baby Jeremy’s cot with him when he was born. They have a special bond, and have been inseparable ever since.
I too grew up with a pet cat, a Siamese bluepoint called Oscar. His meows, which sounded like a sheep’s bleat crossed with an old man’s snore, echo through my childhood memories, and I can also remember his terrible breath (he was an old man cat) which smelled like rotten meat.
He had his good points too, though. Oscar used to play fetch with pieces of tinfoil, sleep on our beds and stride confidently through parties, his prehensile tail curling seductively round legs as he went.
Our extrovert cat lived to the ripe old age of twenty, but in his twilight years used to get cold and shivery, so my mum would slice up her leggings into tubes and slide them onto his skinny body. She cried for days when he meowed his last, his skinny grey body and glassy blue eyes all stiff and lifeless in his basket.
Whenever Oscar is brought up now, a misty look comes over her face and she gravely intones: “That cat was a prince.” She is not alone in thinking such things about felines; live with one and you will soon appreciate why they were once worshipped as deities.
I wouldn’t want to pitch cats against dogs too aggressively. However, you might be right in assuming that your cat understands you. The cognitive part of a cat’s brain has 300 million neurons, compared with a dog’s 160 million.
In addition, cats and humans have almost identical sections of the brain that control emotion. The way they communicate is more sophisticated too. Cats make more than 100 different sounds – dogs can only manage a pitiful ten.
Both animals make wonderful companions, each to their own and all that. But for me, contentment comes much quicker with a warm cat purring on your lap.