Lately, I’ve noticed a growing cottage industry. Human scientists are making a pretty good living spending years doing experiments the results of which any dog could have predicted if only someone had asked.
Researchers from Vanderbilt University examined the brains of a variety of cats, dogs, ferrets, mongooses (or is that mongeese?) raccoons, hyenas, lions and more. I shudder to think how.
They found that a) dogs in general are smarter than cats in general, and b) in particular, golden retrievers are smarter than African lions, brown bears and striped hyenas. (Full disclosure: a golden retriever is top dog in my house.)
The lead scientist, who burnished her impressive academic credentials by admitting that she is an avowed dog lover, backed up her findings by objectively reporting that dogs have 530 million neurons in the cerebral cortex of their brains while cats have only half that amount.
Neurons, for the striped hyenas in the crowd, are the information-processing units in the brain, and the cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that can combine information from different sources and create new associations, recognize patterns, make decisions to act differently based on past experience and start making predictions for the future.
Which means (and remember this is the Vanderbilt researcher talking, so cat lovers can send their letters to her) dogs can be expected to be capable of more complex and flexible behavior such as guard work, movie acting, first responding and assisting the blind, while cats can be counted on to, well, use a litter box.
Now, cat lovers will undoubtedly say that cats could do any of those things if they so desire, but just don’t want to give their human masters the satisfaction, which may be true, but which begs the question.
I leave cat lovers to ponder why their cats consider delivering satisfaction to their humans a bad thing.
By way of reference, the researcher did point out that humans possess roughly 16 billion cortical neurons, so that neither canines nor felines are in any danger of taking over governance of the planet anytime soon.
But considering the mess that we humans have been making of things lately, frankly if given a choice, I’m inclined to vote for the striped hyena.
Robert Chipkin, a Springfield, Massachusetts, writer, makes it a regular practice to malign cats. We welcome essays in cats' defense.