What’s Your Pet Prejudice

Chris Chapper is a mountain of a man. He stands 6 foot 4 inches, tips the scale at 250 pounds and has hands like rocks – the kind of guy few people are stupid enough to mess with in a bar.

But his South Florida home is ruled by an 8-pound tabby named Tiger who lets him know if he's late in giving her dinner.

In Atlanta, a canary sings not to a doting little old lady, but instead to a young professional couple (he's a lawyer and she's a doctor). In another part of the country, a retired Army colonel cares tenderly for his rabbits.

Pet stereotypes and misconceptions abound with our companion animals: spinster women owning many cats (the typical "cat lady"), old ladies and canaries, macho men with big dogs riding in their sport utility vehicles, rabbits for children.

We even artificially place prejudices between the pets themselves (for instance, dogs and cats are natural enemies). If properly socialized, they can be the best of friends – though they often have to get used to one another's habits.

These prejudices and misconceptions are as true as we allow them to be. Take the one where men hate cats. This is one of the most common misconceptions that's reinforced on television shows, in magazines (interestingly, both men and women's magazines). What started it?

Well, all stereotypes have some kernel of truth (which is why they are stereotypes). They just get generalized to the point of inaccuracy. More women, in fact, do own cats, and they tend to be single. But cats are easier to care for than dogs, which make them a good pet for singles.

Dogs, on the other hand, are more in keeping with the active, athletic lifestyle of the images we see in the media. They also tend to be more "mobile": a dog is more likely to enjoy a car ride than a cat (yet another stereotype, men are into cars).

But when a cat waltzes into the life of a guy, as Tiger did with Chapper, the stereotype goes out the window, with one caveat: Don't expect to hear Chapper coo "Daddy wuvs Tiger, and Tiger wuvs Daddy." At least, don't expect to hear him say it in front of another guy.

The cast of little old ladies and pets is a little more complex. They seem to attract several stereotypical pets, birds and cats being just two. Again, there's a reason. Birds and cats are usually easier to care for. But there's no reason why a bird can't grace your home with his lovely feathers and beautiful singing voice.

More Serious Misconceptions

Certain stereotypes are not only misleading, they can be dangerous to the pet. Rabbits are a perfect example. Who doesn't love the sight of young children playing with a cute bunny rabbit?

Sadly, too many people do, not realizing that rabbits really aren't for young children. They are a "prey" species, which means they frighten very easily and can be rather irritable when held. Many people buy rabbits for their children only to give them up when they discover a rabbit is more challenging and less friendly than they first thought.

The bottom line is, don't let pet prejudices get in the way of the companion you desire most. The only opinions you need to worry about are your own, and those of the pet you choose.