The Truth About Dogs and Cats

In the movie Cats & Dogs, a secret society of cats is poised to vanquish their ancestral enemy – the dog – to become masters of the world. But in the real world, who dominates the hearts and homes of America – the loyal, eager-to-please dog or the independent, prideful cat?

Well, two independent polls show that there's little chance that we're going to be watched by "Big Kitty" any time soon. Both polls show that there are more dog owners than cat owners in the United States. But how much of an advantage canines have over their feline rivals isn't clear.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 45 percent of Americans own dogs and just 34 percent own cats (with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent).

The poll doesn't count the number of dogs or cats an individual has, just the number of people who own one or more pets. It also doesn't count the number of strays in the United States.

The Gallup poll revealed an even more startling statistic: 73 percent of people polled considered dogs the better pet. Just 23 percent of people polled favored cats (the rest liked both or had no opinion). This poll counted the opinions of both pet owners and non-pet owners, so some people might discount it.

But Gallop took a sampling of people who own both a dog and a cat to see who ruled the heart of household. (Gallup concluded that about 20 percent of Americans have both.) According to this poll, pet owners of both liked their dog far better than the cat: 76 percent to just 18 percent.

Only people who owned cats alone had a warmer, fuzzier feeling toward the cat over the dog by a majority (61 percent).

Now for the controversy. Another independent poll, this one taken by the nonprofit Pet Food Institute, shows dogs holding a comparatively slight advantage, but losing ground fast. The data shows the number of cat owners (34 percent) stalking the number of dog owners (37 percent). In fact, 2000 was a record year for cat owners, with 35.4 million households owning at least one cat. The number of dog-owning households remained steady at about 38 million households.

Why the disparity? No one at Gallup or the Pet Food Institute could explain the difference. The Pet Food Institute is a nonprofit organization that represents 95 percent of the pet food manufacturers in the United States. They have been tracking pet ownership and the types of foods purchased by owners since 1981.

Stephen Payne, the institute's public relations manager, said the trend has been relatively steady for dogs and gradually increasing for cats. He surmised that urbanization and frantic lifestyles has contributed to the cat's rise in popularity. "Cats are easier to maintain," he said. "But there are all sorts of reasons for the rising preference." Incidentally, the institute estimated that 16 percent of people own both one or more dogs and one or more cats. According to their poll, pet ownership overall has reached an all-time high in the United States.

The Gallup poll showed a different trend – that dogs have increased in popularity, at least in the hearts and minds of people. A similar poll conducted five years ago showed 65 percent to 20 percent that people had a more favorable opinion of dogs.

So who's right? The Pet Food Institute doesn't measure people's feelings about a particular pet, but totally unscientific evidence might be found in our culture: In "Cats and Dogs," cats were cast as villains attempting to enslave humanity, with the dogs sallying forth to rescue the world from feline tyranny.