Years ago my children found a baby robin which had fallen out of the nest. Naturally, they intervened in nature's business and attempted to rescue the pitiful creature, feeding it through an eye dropper. All was going well until a neighborhood cat discovered the bird and treated it as a meal.
I told the story in my newspaper column as an innocent rite of childhood. Members of the cat lobby saw it another way. I soon received a letter calling my column "unconscionable in the extreme." I was teaching my children to become cat haters. Didn't I know that cats kill other animals, not out of a desire to be cruel, "but as an offering to those who feed and care for it."
Moreover, birds can be nasty, the letter continued. A wretched Blue Jay used to torment the writer's cat, pecking him on the head, attacking like a fighter plane.
"By the way," my critic concluded, "as someone who dislikes cats, you're in excellent company. The two most famous cat haters in history were Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini."
Being likened to Hitler and Mussolini was an attention grabber. This was much more serious than being called an idiot or a jerk. It made me question my so-called values. Perhaps there was something the matter with me.
People who love dogs but hate cats are not true animal lovers, wrote my accuser. Cat enthusiasts like all animals "which is rarely true of anyone with a dog." Cat lovers "have included Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Ed Asner, Art Carney, Groucho Marx, George Burns, Gower Champion, Howard Duff, Dennis Weaver, Kenny Rogers, Ernest Hemingway."
I learned some important lessons from this letter. There are cat people and dog people. Lack of affection for cats excluded me from an exemplary group, though Gower Champion and Howard Duff didn't ring a bell.
Another lesson: Cat people are sensitive. Offend them at your peril. When cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell recited his poem, "Cat'astrophy," about a cowboy who straps dynamite to a pesky cat, cat lovers raised Cain. Mitchell promptly removed the poem from his repertoire.
In an attempt at humor, a local business put up a sign that said, "We like cats, they taste like fried chicken." Cat lovers didn't find it amusing. "We got so much grief, the sign came down in about two hours." A sense of humor can get you into trouble in these contentious times. Laughing inappropriately can be a form of fascism, according to the Thought Police.
Nevertheless, I remain a dog person. Why? I can't answer any question that begins with "Why?" After all, there are "pet" dogs running around who attack people. Two of my children have cats and love them. I have no choice but to accept it. Am I to disown them? Perhaps this is my retribution for having deprived them of cats when they were growing up.
Anyway, I was not among the throng protesting the brutal murder of the stray, "Mama Cat," a week ago. Nor did I respond positively to the sign held up by someone in a cat costume that read, "Honk if you love cats." My impulse was to cry out, "There are too many feral cats and they kill millions of song birds." But I mastered the impulse, remembering the lessons the cat lover's "Hitler-Mussolini" letter had taught me.
Walk a mile in the other fellow's shoes, I like to say. You say tom-ay-to and I say tom-ah-to. Different strokes, and so on. Some are born liberals and some conservatives, there's no accounting for our differences, and it's only amusing when the other fellow's ox gets gored.
Cat people, dog people. As someone once nobly said, "People, can't we just get along?" Unfortunately, the answer to that question is a resounding: No! We can't get along because we don't want to. It wouldn't be any fun.
By the way, there have been several reported sightings of mountain lions outside of Lawrence. This should make cat lovers happy. Remember to stand tall if you run into one of them. That's the advice of Larry Martin KU professor of ecology and evolution and curator of the Museum of Natural History who's found bones of saber-toothed tigers on the Kansas River. Mountain lions are more likely to attack if you're kneeling down, as in joggers tying their shoes, he said. "They strike at the neck."
George Gurley, who lives near Baldwin, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.