Shauna’s dog Penny


By Shauna Dobbie


The discussion this month is: cats or dogs, which is better?

I’ve owned both. In fact, I – well, my family, really – have owned many, many cats over the years, and only two dogs. It’s not that the cats weren’t good enough, it’s that they kept “running away”. We were very nice to them, so I presume my parents’ story was misleading; the cats got run over by cars or eaten by owls or coyotes or something when they were out. (I know, “you should keep your cats locked up,” but… well, we didn’t.)

The two dogs of my life are Trelawney, a golden retriever who grew up with me, and Penny, a dachshund who lived seventeen years until she passed last fall. (Moment of silence.)

Trelawney was an ill-behaved lug of a dog who drooled and swept things off coffee tables with his big tail. He trained us to keep anything edible that we valued high up and far back from his inquisitive snout. Heaven help eight-year-old me, taking him for a walk on a leash, if he saw a cat or anything that took his fancy because my puny body couldn’t hold him back. Gosh, I loved him.

Penny was just small enough to travel inside the passenger section of an airplane under the seat in front of me. She was exceptionally soft and built like a cat: almost slinky when you picked her up, not wiry at all. Very cuddly. (Cats are cuddly too, except they don’t necessarily want to be.) I got her when I was 40 because my husband was pretty clear that he didn’t want another baby. There was an ad on Kijiji for this seven-month-old puppy, and I went and picked her up from a family on the other side of Toronto who decided not to keep her.

Now, it turned out that we were Penny’s fourth home. She was born by a breeder in Oklahoma, sold to another breeder in Steinbach who couldn’t keep her because she (the second breeder) became ill, so sold her to the people in Toronto, then sold her to us. She was pretty nervous when I picked her up, but she eventually found her voice, which it turns out was very loud. Penny was a barker. I tried everything recommended to keep her from barking (except a shock collar) but the only thing that would work was to pick her up and reassure her that everyone was safe.

As a small dog, she never controlled her bladder all that well, particularly in the winter. During her last year with us, as her dementia solidified, we got a mop and bucket and kept it at the ready to deal with dog puddles several times a day. What could we do? How do you get mad at a little creature who will lie down beside you, rest her long chin on your lap and look up at you?

Every day Penny lived with us, I took an allergy pill. That only barely kept my wheezing in check most of the time, and only if our bedding had been changed in the past five or six days. With a cat, I wouldn’t last 15 minutes. That I could live with Penny at all points to another reason that I am on Team Dog: when it comes to allergies, cats are one of the biggest offenders out there. There is a protein known as Fel d1 produced by cats, and it is “stickier” than most pet allergens. And more people are allergic to it.

Shauna’s dog Penny

Aside from my own experience, I can objectively say that dogs make better pets. They are generally of a more social nature. You know the joke about cats clawing you when you pet them in a way they don’t want to be petted? That joke is funny because it’s true.

Dogs are also trainable. I’m not saying that cats can’t be trained, just that they usually won’t. Dogs respond to our commands. You tell a dog to come, it generally will. Tell it to sit, it will at least think about it. Cats? You have to use all sorts of “psspsspss” noises when trying to get a cat to come to you. And really, it will only respond if it is in heat. I’m not entirely convinced cats can hear.

You can exercise with a dog. In fact, that is one way I convinced my husband to agree to a dog; I would have to walk it every day, which would be good for me. It turned out that walking Penny was more like carrying Penny; she didn’t like exercise any more than I did. But most people get a dog and get an exercise buddy.

And one more thing dogs do that cats won’t: they protect your house. Penny was a whisp of a thing, but she could scare away somebody who couldn’t see her barking. (Dachshunds are bred to be loud.) Trelawney, the friendliest dog in the world, would tear apart anybody who tried to come into our home without an invitation. My mom’s cousin, who would come stay at our place on the couch when he got stuck in Winnipeg, tried coming in one night when everyone was asleep. Trelawney nearly ripped his arm off.

A cat would see a prowler and decide to lie low, maybe find somewhere else to live.

So, a dog will show you affection, follow your instructions, go for a jog with you and protect your home.

Cats “run away” from loving homes and produce anti-people allergies… why would I prefer them to dogs?