Sunday, January 25, 2015

Response to Joseph Stromberg and his article "What research says about cats: they're selfish, unfeeling, environmentally harmful creatures"

Dear Mr. Stromberg,

In response to your article about cats being, “selfish, unfeeling, environmentally harmful creatures” I feel the need to provide some perspective that your essay lacks.

Your first point compares cats to dogs in an attempt to demonstrate how cats do not show affection and do not form attachment to humans, at least not the same way dogs do. It certainly is true that cats and dogs show affection differently. I often tell people that if they suffer from any sort of insecurity they should get a dog and not a cat. A dog will always provide instant affection on demand at all times and all places. Cats on the other hand, are the more subtle animal. They demonstrate affection and attachment on their own terms. There are times when a cat seeks attention and there are times when the cat prefers solitude. This does not mean their affection is not genuine, even if it is demonstrated differently than dogs or even human infants.

As I write this, one of my own cats is pawing at my leg, looking up at me, and making direct eye contact. I know what she wants: physical contact. I reach down and give her a little scratch on the head, then go back to my writing. Here again is the paw on my leg. More head rubs which she clearly enjoys and then back to my writing. And again more pawing at my leg, and so on, and so on. If she is particularly insistent the only thing that satisfies her is when I pick her up and park her on the table just between my chest and the laptop keyboard. She will sit there, curled in a warm ball, for up to a half hour while I write. Mind you breakfast was served an hour ago so she is not seeking food.


There are many other examples I could mention such as my cats gathering near when I’m upset, vocally crying and watching out the window as I drive away in the morning, and greeting me at the door when I come home at night. Of course these are all subjective, and we really have no way to “measure” genuine affection. What I can tell you is that I am the author of a popular series of cat videos on YouTube, and I receive daily contact from my fans who express affection for their own cats the same way that I demonstrate affection for mine in the videos. My videos have been viewed over 17 million times. I’ve received tens of thousands of comments directly on the videos or through other social media where people from all over the world express love for their own cats. That love is real.

Your next point attacks cats for their environmental destruction. It is true that free-roaming domesticated cats do kill birds and small mammals in their local area. For fun. Well, so do some humans. And let’s be real here, the vast majority of harm that comes to birds, animals, fish, and so many other parts of the planet is due to human activity. Every strip mall, every McDonalds, every industrial beef operation, every new car, every cell phone, and every item purchased at Walmart represents environmental destruction in the long run that is incomprehensible to the average person. Overall, the destruction caused by domesticated cats is a tiny drop in the bucket compared the wrath of human greed. If you really want to help out animals around the planet perhaps you shouldn’t upgrade your cell phone when the next shiny new model is released. Cats in the wild are only doing what their natural instinct compels them to do. You can change your behavior, they cannot.

Finally you report on the devastating effects of a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that can be found in cats. According to your report, the parasite can cause “altered behavior, neuroticism, schizophrenia, lower reflexes, traffic accidents, and suicide.” The same wikipedia article where you pulled this information also reports that the parasite is present in many other types of animals including pigs, lambs, and birds, as well as contaminated water, unwashed fruits and vegetables, and dirt. In fact the biggest risk factor to humans is consuming undercooked meat. You did give undercooked meat a passing mention but pegged most of the blame squarely on cats. If you really want to warn people about Toxoplasma gondii you might urge them to get their burger “well done” instead of “rare” next time they go out for dinner, but instead you chose to spread sensational nonsense about cats.

Further research on the topic indicates that people with a poor immune system (cancer or AIDS patients) are most vulnerable to the parasite but the vast majority of infected people clear the disease with little or no symptoms. Your same wikipedia article concludes the following: “Numerous studies have shown living in a household with a cat is not a significant risk factor for T. gondii infection, though living with several kittens has some significance”. This means that adult cats normally develop a strong immune response to the parasite and present no risk to humans, while young cats may pose a small risk for a short time before they develop an immune response. Overall, I would suggest the best way to avoid the peril of Toxoplasma gondii is education and the presentation of relevant and accurate information, something that is lacking in your poorly written essay.

I understand that your article might be “all in good fun” to some degree, and certainly a good-natured “dogs vs. cats” debate will continue. But your article and others like it can do real harm. Cats experience a disproportionate amount of suffering by hateful people who would torture or kill them for fun. Your article is clearly biased, lacks perspective, and only adds to the ignorance of people who would harm cats. If you lack the sophistication to appreciate the subtle ways in which cats express affection, it is unlikely that I will change your mind. You probably just won’t ever like cats. However some perspective and intellectual honesty would be welcome in your otherwise slanted and sensationalist writing.

Paul Klusman

19 comments:

  1. Well said, Paul. My beautiful 2 year old Maine Coon cat, Chloe, clearly loves me, as I love her. She chooses to spend time with me, jumping up on my lap and snuggling with me. She purrs, paws at my hair and face, and loves the attention I give her. She will stay with me, content and warm. She puts her paws on my arm and even keeps them on there, as I knit, lifting my arm up and down, her paws stay with me. She cuddles up to me at night, a paw on my leg, staying with me all night. I adore this cat and my other cat, Kira, and all the other cats that came before them. They are all individuals with varying ways of showing affection and they have all held my heart. Cats are simply wonderful. I also love my 2 dogs and the dogs that came before them. They are very different creatures from cats. I feel honored to love and be loved by both.

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  2. Thank you Paul. These writers need to realize that bad "research" hurts everyone.

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  3. Well said! The writer needs to learn his facts before presenting it as what "research" shows

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  4. Thanks, Paul. That article had me seething, but I figured any response from me would be dismissed as the ravings of a crazy cat lady, while you, as an engineer, have a certain amount of credibility... Dogs and cats do show affection differently, but that doesn't make kitty loving any less valid.

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  5. As one of "those guys who have all those cats" I thank Paul for defending our furry little angels from such a carelessly and biased article. :)

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  6. Just read the Stromberg article. Rubbish. If cats only rub and purr for food my cat must be the eternal optimist. She is always on my husband and he is NOT the one who feeds her!

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  7. As a vet and passionate cat lover, I would also like to add that while cats can carry toxoplasma, it takes more than 24 hours for the oocysts to mature in the feces to the point where they become infectious. Therefore, if the litter box is cleaned every day, chances of infection are minimal. Love your videos and your rescue efforts. Keep up the great work!

    Sandy

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  8. Comparing cats to dogs is like comparing apples to oranges. They are different species. I am a cat person. I have an emotional attachment to my 8 cats, and each is different. They respond differently to me than they do to my wife, and vice versa. Thank you for responding to the article. I couldn't have said it any better.

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  9. Thank you for an outstanding response to a smear campaign article against cats

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  10. A resounding Yes! Excellent response, Paul Klusman.

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  11. I have to echo what rush said above, cats and dogs are two completely different species. We have to remember that dogs are pack animals and so they behave according to pack rules while cats are pride animals and therefore act in accordance with pride behavior. As human we tend to anthropomorphize our pets, giving them positive and negative attributes that aren't really there.

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  12. I would imagine the best way to avoid Toxoplasma is to wash your hands after you clean the litterbox.

    And as for affection? My Nicky sleeps on my pillow, cries when I go out, jumps in the lap of a stranger in the house and when I sit at the computer he curls up next to me. I describe him as a dog that purrs and uses a litterbox.

    Susan R

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  13. "Cats experience a disproportionate amount of suffering by hateful people who would torture or kill them for fun. Your article is clearly biased, lacks perspective, and only adds to the ignorance of people who would harm cats."

    Exactly. Thank you for writing this response to a numbskull article.

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  14. Amen Amen Amen! I love my cat deeply, and she loves me. She was a stray who has been with me now for 6 years. Over time, she has gotten more and more loving, and she will sleep with me on the bed and not even meow once until I get up (and I'm a late riser). Once I start to move and wake up, she comes and gives me nose kisses. This is truly affection, not merely hunger. Thank you so much, Paul Klusman, for sharing what cat lovers worldwide already know. :)

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  15. Stromberg clearly doesn't know cat behaviour and how they relate to their human companions. Cat "language" is very different to that of dogs, there's no comparison.

    A nice, well put piece, Mr Klusman. And a nice Zoey, pic! :3

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  16. Right on Paul, thanks for sharing your view ...

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  17. Wikipedia, really? The same websites that kills celebrities before they actual die, says vaccines give you brain damage and the Nazi party was a gay movement? With research skills like that it's no wonder he's intimidated by cats...wussy.

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  18. Thanks so much for your videos too. If I am having a bad day I just watch the Princess bride one! God bless!

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  19. I'd read Joseph 'Idiot' Stromberg's article a while back and dismissed it as poor science but just found your rebuttal to it today. Thank you for adding a sane balanced answer to such bad bias reporting of his.

    I could disect point after point in his article but why bother? He'd never see it and even if he did, he likely wouldn't read it. But I will mention one thing. He thinks cats don't feel affection for people because they don't show it like dogs do. Using that reasoning then, obviously people don't feel much affection for dogs - even avowed dog lovers. When was the last time he saw a professed dog lover happily licking their dog's face? Or crouched low to the ground but their butt in the air, wriggling it in anticipation of play? Or offering their nether regions to be sniffed after after politely sniffing their dog's butt?

    Different species show attachment, affection and loyalty in ways that are fitting for their own kind.

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