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It's a doggy dog world

The other day, I was in the bathroom, reading about a Ukrainian bloke who can train cats. He can get them to do all sorts of things, from pushing a baby carriage with dogs in it to walking on a tightrope. Apparently, it's hilarious.

I say "apparently" because I've never seen it, and when viewed as an isolated cultural achievement against, say, War and Peace, I'm not sure I want to. David Letterman may pay real money to get the guy and his cats jumping through hoops, but I think I speak for all dog owners when I say, "Good grief."

Even the Ukrainian admits cats are notoriously independent; they won't move off the couch when you sit down, come when it suits them, maliciously rub their black/white fur all over your white/black clothes and, in the case of my friend Lauren's cat George, watch smugly as you pick through the kitty litter for their poop when you're cat-sitting for the weekend. "More evolved species?" his beady black eyes scoff. "I think not."

So when our family decided to get a "real" pet recently (having accidentally disposed of the hamster and a canary -- long story), the debate raged.

My partner Joe is a cat lover; he thinks fat cats are great to scoop up into a cuddle. "They don't go nuts every time you walk into the room like a dog does," he points out. "Plus, you can leave a cat alone with food and water for a weekend, whereas a dog would eat the couch."

He's right, of course, but there is something about having a pet that actually gives a toss if you live or die that really appeals to me. I like the idea of having a pet greet me when I walk in the door with more than a yawn and wet-food fart. Plus, dogs want to be part of your pack; they love going on walks and they add an interesting dynamic to your social whirl.

That much was evident recently when my friends Scott and Bruce came for dinner. They own a dog, a lovely little puppy-boy named Samson who they've trained to sit when guests come over and look adoringly at them while he nestles around their feet.

My new dog Daisy has a different sort of life. For one thing, she's all about Catholic guilt. Having been born in Montreal, forced to have puppies in a dog mill from when she was six months old and beaten so savagely her jaw and right eye were dislocated, she is all over the guilt trip. Those big brown cocker spaniel eyes ... well, enough said.

She immediately took a shine to Bruce and sat at his feet, looking up at him winningly. "What a lovely dog!" he exclaimed and in a nanosecond, she was on the couch.

Whether you own a cat or a dog really defines the kind of person you are, your lifestyle and your habits; whether you let the dog up on the couch determines whether or not you are a sucker.

When I was a kid, our dog was never allowed on the couch, on the bed, in the kitchen or pretty much anywhere humans congregated. My dad grew up on a farm in southern Ontario, where dogs had a job to do. Even his pet dog Buster slept outside.

Twenty years later, and dogs now have human rights. Mum's two yappers sleep in her bed -- under the covers. My brother Chris is considering a second dog to keep his Spencer company, while my brother Jon owns an Alsatian called Kylie and a Chihuahua named Hugo that wears clothes. Only my brother Mike's Labrador has a dog's life.

Scott and Bruce would argue that their dog does, too. "Dogs have to know where they stand in the pack," Scott lectured me recently. "They shouldn't be allowed on the couch, for example," he added, archly. "Dogs should sleep on the floor. It's what they do in the wild."

I agreed with him, of course. Dogs should know their place or you end up with a pooch and an attitude. The road to perdition is littered with people who feed their dog scraps under the table, believe me. Unlike cat lovers, us dog owners are definitely the ones in charge.

Scott cocked an eyebrow and looked at me like I was on crack. "Julie. You bought Daisy a doggie couch to sleep on." I opened my mouth to protest, but the evidence was right there, on the living room floor ($45.99 from Costco).

Maybe that Ukrainian guy is on to something, after all.

By Julie Beun, The Ottawa Citizen, November 14, 2009

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