THE WASHINGTON POST – President of the United States (US) Joe Biden has taken office as a leader who is committed to bringing people together.
“I know talking about unity may seem like a crazy fantasy to some these days,” he said in his inaugural address. “I know the forces that divide us run deep and they are real.”
Biden has so far not found much success among humans, whose divisions remain as deep as ever. But perhaps he’ll have better luck overseeing cross-species diplomacy: Commander, the president’s new German Shepherd pup, must adjust to the presence of Willow, the Biden family’s new gray tabby cat, introduced to the public recently.
Willow, named after First Lady Jill Biden’s hometown of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, first met her future family during a campaign stop at an unnamed farm in western Pennsylvania.
According to a White House statement, the two-year-old cat is “moving into the White House with her favorite toys, treats and plenty of room to smell and explore.” Will she explore a lasting friendship with a five-month-old puppy?
While humans fight like, well, like cats and dogs, the pet world has reached a notable new level of bipartisanship. On social media and in homes across the country, cats and dogs — sworn enemies with a cultural history of antipathy and bloodshed — are now snuggling together in these soft shaped beds. of donut, snoring and purring with contentment. Considering the deplorable state of everything these days, it sounds like the famous phrase from Ghostbusters, describing the signs of the apocalypse: “Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria!
It’s such a stereotypical relationship that it’s spawned its own idioms: get along like, fight like. 20th century cartoons doubled down on acrimony, exemplified by Garfield’s annoyance at Odie, or Snoopy’s disdain for the “stupid cat” who lived next door, seen only by the “SLASH!” he would deliver, taking a piece of Snoopy’s doghouse. Even when the two species were forced to get along, like in Nickelodeon’s titular CatDog, they didn’t.
Back when dogs and cats mostly roamed outdoors and had to fight over food, their relationship was more adversarial, the Guardian reported.
“Evolution has provided neither species with the ability to communicate with each other, so close combat is more or less inevitable when neither is ready to run,” wrote John Bradshaw.
The expression “to fight like cat and dog” is however “something anachronistic”: if the pets are socialized correctly, they will live harmoniously.
So how’s it going at the White House? There were, understandably, questions about how well-equipped the Bidens would be to handle this new arrival. Commander has the energy of a new puppy to burn. And he replaces Major, their German Shepherd who – after a few “biting incidents” – was rehomed because he didn’t have the temper to handle life in the White House.
The successful relationship between a cat and a dog depends on how they are presented, said Dallas-area dog behavior consultant Fanna Easter.
“The one thing I wouldn’t recommend is dropping them both in a room and letting them get away with it,” Easter said, as it can cause lasting damage to the relationship if either or both animals are scared or aggressive.
Instead, she recommended a slow, kickback-heavy approach: Make the dog think, “Oh, my God. Every time I see the kitten, he makes delicious treats like a shower of string cheese from the sky. So this kitty is doing good things. (Vice versa for the cat, but with fish as a treat, she advises.) The cat should have places to retreat to if the dog’s energy becomes overwhelming.
“At the White House, there’s plenty of room to run around,” Easter said.
The vast majority of presidents have owned dogs – breeds ranging from George Washington’s hunting dogs to FDR’s German Shepherd (also named Major!) to the hypoallergenic Portuguese water dogs of Barack Obama, Bo and Sunny. But only a dozen cats have lived in the White House. The majority of cat-owning presidents were Democrats or Liberals — but most cat owners also owned dogs. Maybe presidents are definitely more likely to be Dog People.
“Candidates for president would typically fit, on average, the profile of a canine person,” said University of Texas psychology professor Samuel Gosling, who has studied the personality of dog and cat lovers. “Just the task of what it takes to be president. You need to be outgoing, and that tends to be dog people.
Dogs versus cats is another one of those binaries that sets people up for a fight, perhaps because animal traits align with other parts of our personality that pit us against each other. In her study of dogs and cats and their personalities, Gosling thinks dogs can be mildly conservative, while cats are liberal.
“Dogs, they tend to be higher on the big five personality traits of extroversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness,” Gosling said. “Whereas people who consider themselves cats tend to score higher on the personality traits of neuroticism and openness to new ideas.”
Openness, he said, is the trait most correlated with political orientation.
Having one of each, then, could be seen as the ultimate bipartisan move – especially for a politician.
“I don’t know if there’s a subconscious desire to appeal across the aisle,” said Presidential Pet Museum online historian Andrew Hager. Reflecting on Clinton, the second Bush and now Biden, “These three people at least initially had the idea that, you know, ‘I can unite people’.”
Scottish Bush terriers Barney and Miss Beazley were pictured licking India, her black cat. But Clinton hasn’t had much luck with diplomacy on the pet front: Her cat, Socks, and her Labrador retriever, Buddy, hated each other.
“I did better with Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis than Socks and Buddy,” Clinton told CNN in a 2001 interview.
Are we a nation of dogs or cats? Judging by social media, a bit of both. In the early 2000s, the internet was all about cats – LOLcats, Grumpy Cat, Keyboard Cat, Nyan Cat, Lil Bub. Then came We Rate Dogs, doggos, doge, Doug the Pug, Boo the Pomeranian (RIP) and Tika, the self-proclaimed “model icon” Italian Greyhound.
Noting the change in 2018, Owen Phillips of The Outline thought the change was “likely a by-product of Internet demographics shifting” to being used by “a segment of society that more easily identifies with cats (introverted, loners) to the general public, where preferences lean slightly towards owning a dog.
But lately, our collective attention has bounced between Noodle, the Bone or No Bone Oracle, and the saga of the three chonky cats who are obsessed with a blender box.
“It’s almost like how our political parties tend to go up and down in fortune. You know, we don’t seem like a very cohesive people politically, like going from Barack Obama to Donald Trump to Joe Biden,” Hager said. “For a while, dogs are superior, and then, you know, people get burned out with dog content and someone comes along with a new cat idea. The internet is probably as cyclical as the rest of our culture.
Many people, Gosling found, don’t just think of themselves as dogs or cats — they’re both. Like Megan Cottone. She owns Chloe, an eight-year-old beagle, and Chlea, a nine-month-old kitten. They are best friends.
“They’re just inseparable,” said Cottone, 27. “They take a lot of naps together. They play together, they are always in the same room around the house. Whatever I go out and do, they both come with me.
To be fair, that’s because Chlea could be described as a very dog-like kitten. She walks on a leash. She hikes near their Seattle home.
This, Cottone realizes, makes her an exceptional cat. Nonetheless, “I’ve never really experienced what people are talking about when they say cats and dogs don’t get along,” she said.
The same goes for Cynthia Bennett, also 27, who lives in Longmont, Colorado, with her rescued seven-year-old dog Henry and four-year-old cat Baloo.
The pair are internet famous: an Instagram account of their cuddles and adventures has more than two million followers, and manage it – as well as a website that sells products and promotes a nonprofit organization nonprofit associate – is Bennett’s full-time job.
When she looks at her pets, she sees an obvious lesson for humans.
“They look completely different and they’re supposed to hate each other,” Bennett said.
“They see beyond each other’s differences.”
She often hears of people whose dogs and cats enjoy a similar affection.
“Henry and Baloo are truly unique, but this relationship is definitely possible,” Bennett said.
Research confirms this. A 2018 study assessed an unscientific sample of dog and cat owners in the UK, US and a few other countries to measure their perceptions of the relationship between cats and dogs living in the same household, and found that many “owners thought their cat and dog were comfortable around each other and were friendly in their relationship.”
Another finding: “Generally, the cat seemed to be the primary controller in determining friendliness in the cat-dog relationship.”
The study didn’t explore whether this was true for the human counterparts, but conscious nods from cats nationwide would indicate it is.
So if the Bidens want to secure a bilateral deal in their household, there’s one thing they need to know. The real commander is Willow.