I’m a cat owner now. For most of my life, I was cat and dog owner. My cat is Olive and she’s going on nine years. We got her when my son left for college. He’s allergic to cats so we waited until he was out of the house. Olive is really my daughter’s kitty, but she didn’t take Olive to the snow in Salt Lake City during college, even though Olive would have done well with all her fur and polydactyl paws. Then my daughter got her pug Waffles and the two creatures don’t mix. Olive remains my only pet now. I worried about moving her from the only house and yard she knew in Palm Springs to our new home in Arizona.
She used to go outside for about 10 to 12 hours each day. Now she’s strictly an indoor cat due to the wildlife around our house. So far we’ve seen coyotes, bobcats, javelina, hawks and owls. People warned me that cats wouldn’t last an hour outside. I was afraid she’d go nuts. I thought she’d sneak through my legs whenever I opened the door. But the opposite is true. Olive runs and hides under the bed if a door is cracked open. I think she must smell the danger outside.
Olive jumps in my lap for attention and she follows me around the house. She plays with her toys in the early mornings. Then she stoically stares out the sliding glass door at sunrise. Watching. Waiting. For what? I think she was cut out for the indoor cat life.
In an article by Christopher Ingraham called “Dog owners are much happier than cat owners, survey finds” published in the Washington Post, he quotes lots of statistics that basically say that there’s little difference between pet owners and non-pet owners, but a huge difference in happiness between dog and cat lovers.
The well-respected survey that’s been a barometer of American politics, culture and behavior for more than four decades finally got around to the question that has bedeviled many a household.
Dog or cat?
In 2018, the General Social Survey for the first time included a battery of questions on pet ownership. The findings not only quantified the nation’s pet population — nearly 6 in 10 households have at least one —they made it possible to see how pet ownership overlaps with all sorts of factors of interest to social scientists.
For starters, there is little difference between pet owners and non-owners when it comes to happiness, the survey shows. The two groups are statistically indistinguishable on the likelihood of identifying as “very happy” (a little over 30 percent) or “not too happy” (in the mid-teens).
But when you break the data down by pet type — cats, dogs or both — a stunning divide emerges: Dog owners are about twice as likely as cat owners to say they’re very happy, with people owning both falling somewhere in between.
Dog people, in other words, are slightly happier than those without any pets. Those in the cat camp, on the other hand, are significantly less happy than the pet-less. And having both appears to cancel each other out happiness-wise. (Since someone’s bound to ask, it isn’t possible to do this same type of analysis for say, rabbit owners or lizard owners or fish owners, since there aren’t enough of those folks in the survey to make a statistically valid sample).
These differences are quite large: The happiness divide between dog and cat owners is bigger than the one between people who identify as middle and upper class, and nearly as large as the gap between those who say they’re in “fair” versus “good or excellent” health.
However, correlation doesn’t equal causation, and there are probably a number of other differences between dog and cat owners that account for some of the differences. The General Social Survey data show that dog owners, for instance, are more likely to be married and own their own homes than cat owners, both factors known to affect happiness and life satisfaction.
Previous research on this topic yielded mixed results. In 2006, the Pew Research Center found no significant differences in happiness between pet owners and non-pet owners, or cat and dog owners. However, that survey did not distinguish between people who owned “only” a dog or a cat, and those who owned “either” a dog or a cat, potentially muddying the distinctions between exclusive dog and cat owners.
A 2016 study of dog and cat owners, on the other hand, yielded greater happiness ratings for dog owners relative to cat people. It attributed the contrast, at least in part, to differences in personality: Dog owners tended to be more agreeable, more extroverted and less neurotic than cat owners. And a 2015 study linked the presence of a cat in the home to fewer negative emotions, but not necessarily an increase in positive ones.
We’ve always had dogs. But after Angus, our big yellow lab, who died at age 15, I just don’t want to go through the heartache again. Right now. In the future we’ll see.
It’s so hard to say good-bye. It’s not fair that our pets live such short lives. I have two friends that lost their best friends in the past few weeks. One lost Beckham, her Aussie, and another lost her glorious golden last week at eight years old. My heart grieves for them both.
What is your opinion on dogs versus cats? Do you have either or both and do they make you happy?