Posted: March 19, 2014, 2:25 p.m.
by Morgan Daniels.
Cats are the overall most popular pet worldwide, outnumbering dogs three to one, yet dogs are given the label of man’s best friend. This is most likely because cats are perceived as aloof and nefarious, while dogs are seen as loyal and affectionate to everyone they meet. But how did we come to the conclusion that dogs are man’s best friend and cats are trying to take over the world? I will tell you. It was a lack of management of the relationship between cats and their public, or a lack of public relations.
Yes, cats need better PR. In fact, they probably need a whole PR agency, preferably one with excellent media relations experts. The media constantly perpetuates the stereotype of cats as being unloving, distant and sometimes downright evil, while simultaneously portraying dogs as loyal and heroic. We all know the story of Lassie, Beethoven, Air Bud, Ole Yeller and even the animated Pluto, all loyal canine heros who save the day in one way or another. But can you name one of the tales from your childhood that had a feline hero? I didn’t think so.
Cats can be found perched on the laps of TV and film villains, such as The Godfather’s Don Corleone, Austin Power’s Dr. Evil and Inspector Gadget’s Dr. Claw, along with countless others. This association between cats and onscreen bad guys further affects cats’ public perception issue. The 2001 movie “Cats & Dogs” detailed a secret espionage war between the cats and dogs of the world, where of course the cats were the villains trying to take over the world. Even Garfield, one of the most beloved cat characters of all time, is depicted as conniving as he gets poor Odi in trouble for things he didn’t do. Cats don’t save the day in the media; they are either on the bad guy’s lap or they are the bad guys themselves.
When cats aren’t being villianized on TV or in the movies, they are being marginalized as a form of cheap entertainment such as Grumpy Cat, Keyboard Cat and Nyan Cat. Cats such as Tardar Sauce, better known as Grumpy Cat, have been sweeping the Internet in the form of memes and videos for people to get a laugh out of. Tardar Sauce’s signature grumpy look occurs because she has feline dwarfism and an underbite. People think she is hilarious because she perpetuates the stereotype of cats being grumpy and mean; while in the irrelevant reality her owners report she is a very sweet and loving cat.
While dogs readily show love, cats are a little more complicated, just like humans. Maybe that’s why they have a bad reputation; they remind us too much of our fellow humans. Cats reciprocate the love that they receive; as much as you love and take care of a cat, it will return the favor. Cats also have a more subtle way of showing they care and appreciate you. While a dog will lick your face and jump on you to show acceptance, a cat can say the same thing by holding its tail straight up in the air or rubbing against your leg. Cats just have different, less in-your-face, communication styles than other pets, which leads to miscommunication and misconceptions.
The mission of public relations and the needs of cats align perfectly. The definition of public relations is to manage the relationship between an individual or business and its publics. Cats have an image problem created by the media and different communication styles that hinder positive perception by their publics. So as a cat lover, a PR student and a future public relations practitioner, I am putting out a call to action for public relations professionals to consider cats as a potential (pro bono) client.