Nature: Why We Love Cats and Dogs

PBS, 2011


Some people are cat people, some are dog people. But regardless of which camp they fall into, most people are simply crazy about their pets. The connections people form with their cats and dogs are often the longest, strongest relationships in their lives. They are soul mates, best friends, sometimes even surrogate children. What makes these creatures such cherished members of our families?

From a German shepherd named Jerry who inspired his family to leave home on a life-altering expedition, to a tabby that saved a man’s life, this documentary conveys a deep sense of the most powerful and remarkable bonds we experience as human beings and the underlying science of the ways these animals mirror our emotions and express empathy.  


This Nature special accomplishes something pretty incredible: it managed to make pet owners appear entirely reasonable for loving their animals to an unreasonable extent.  Somehow, they’ve found a bunch of dog and cat lovers who are smart and charismatic and funny and not creepy at all.


The Los Angeles Times
Robert Lloyd 
Published: February 14, 2009

"When I was at my bottom, it was the cat who'd wait outside that door," says a man who had a drinking problem. "It was having to look him in the eye . . . that got me to seek help." Another person dealt with HIV by visualizing his diseased cells as mice and sending his cat in after it. Conversely, a couple takes to the road with their cancer-stricken three-legged German shepherd to live out his life as constant companions, on their dog's time, in the ever-present animal now.

But this is a science series, so there are credentialed experts and fascinating facts thrown in as well... Dogs play fair (it's called "wild justice"). Cats possess "mirror neurons" that allow them to mirror the emotions of other animals (it's "the neural basis for empathy"). They live in a "time-sharing society," and see the world not as patches of territory but as paths.

We spend time at a cat show, where we see that cats can be trained, and at a shelter where personality assessments are done of both adoptee and adopter in order to reduce the number of returns. Dog trainer Sarah Wilson has identified nine patterns of behavior between owners and dogs: the soul mate, the observer, the buddy, the idealist, the dynamo, the free spirit, the angel, the master and the expert -- significantly, those terms are meant to describe the humans.

"For years we have been trying to get people to train their dogs, and it hasn't helped," says Wilson. "We're missing the point entirely. It is not about that end of the leash; it is about us."

Young man on his cats: "They bring out the softer side of me. Does that sound weird?"
Young woman: "No, that doesn't sound weird. Thank God."

You'll laugh, you'll cry. If you are any sort of human at all.


The Bark
"PBS's Nature ponders furry soul mates, best friends and surrogate children. If you turn to Nature for images of hyenas glimpsed through night goggles and God's eye views of great wildebeest migrations, you might be surprised on Sunday night, when the featured animals will be dog and cat lovers. "Why We Love Cats and Dogs" provides a serious and moving glimpse of the remarkable bonds we forge with our companion animals. Curl up with your furry buddy and discover the lengths to which other folks will go for their best friends."