x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Are cat people smarter than the rest of us? Ask my dog

Far from implementing remedies to Abu Dhabi's stray cat population such as compassionate euthanasia or neutering, the authorities might be better off persuading residents to take the creatures into their homes.

The news that Abu Dhabi is struggling with a surfeit of stray cats may seem an unwelcome blight on the city's civic reputation. But far from implementing remedies such as compassionate euthanasia or neutering, the authorities might be better off persuading residents to take the creatures into their homes. An animal expert here in the UK claims this week that feline companionship is a reliable indicator of above average human intelligence. In a new report, the Bristol University cat specialist Dr Jane Moore has produced statistical research suggesting that cat owners are brainier than their canine-owning counterparts.

Admittedly, her conclusion is based on fragile evidence, namely that university graduates are 36 per cent more likely than others to own a domestic moggy. Sceptics have been quick to point out another potential explanation for this curious statistic: namely, that cats are better suited to the lifestyle of the average college student, who can squander most of their precious government loans on cigarettes, drinks and partying until all hours of the night, safe in the knowledge that Tiddles will scarcely notice their absence. Dogs, as we all know, tend to worry where you are and why you haven't phoned.

But with 20 million cats and dogs kept as domestic pets in the UK, the debate as to which is the smarter species is still one of those few topics that can always be relied upon to revive a flagging dinner party. It was the author Mary Bly who said: "Dogs come when they're called. Cats take a message and get back to you later." And the perception persists that while cats are sophisticated, self-possessed and self-sufficient, their canine equivalents are foolish, absurdly loyal and pitiably forgiving.

My experience, however, suggests otherwise. On both occasions I've owned dogs, I've started out as lord and master and ended up as little more than an unpaid skivvy. My first experiment, while still a teenager, ended both in heart-break and heart failure. My parents owned a sweetshop at the time, and my bringing a small Border Terrier puppy with an insatiable appetite and a stare of heartbreaking winsomeness into such an environment proved catastrophic. Within weeks the young pup had my mum happily feeding it a family-sized bar of Cadburys Old Jamaica each afternoon with no more than a wag of its tail.

My protestations that 16 squares of cocoa butter, rum concentrate and crushed biscuits may not be the ideal diet for the little animal was no match for the dog's psychological artistry. He played my mum, indeed, the entire family, like a Stradivarius. Alas, the creature proved the architect of his own misfortune. Glassy eyed and weighing in at nearly five stone, his final days were spent marooned on the sofa, surrounded by empty sweet wrappers. But right until the end he remained firmly in charge.

Thus, when my wife suggested we buy a small black pug a few years ago, I steeled myself. No small ball of fur was going to get the better of me this time. But of course the result was never in doubt. Within days little Oona was master of all she surveyed, and our daily routine came to be entirely governed by her slightest whim. When, muddy and exhausted after endless playtimes and numerous walks round the local park, we suggested she might like to go and lie in her basket, she preferred the altogether jollier idea of charging blindly at us from all corners of the sitting room and launching herself into the air to see if we'd catch her. Which of course we always did.

Thankfully with the passing of time we've come to a mutual understanding. Oona commands and we obey. She now occupies the most comfortable position on the sofa, has three walks a day, a bath every Friday night and a change of menu twice a week. Woe betide us if we attempt to veer from this strict routine. Far from being the biddable clown I'd been hoping for, she treats our house as an offshoot of The Savoy hotel with 24-hour room service. The phrase "It's a dog's life" was never less appropriate.

So, Dr Moore, if cats really are more intelligent than dogs, I wonder whether you could explain it to her in person, as I don't think she's got the message. In fact I can hear her howling to be let out into the garden even now: and Oona doesn't like being kept waiting. As the humorist Ogden Nash wistfully observed: "A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of -" Michael Simkins is an actor and writer based in London.