The Year of the Cat: Cats will be getting a PR makeover, says Steve Dale
Syndicated columnist and radio show host Steve Dale says cats are the Rodney Dangerfield of the pet world. They get no respect.
If Dale and a host of other veterinary and feline experts have their way that will soon change.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), with initial underwriting from Pfizer Animal Health, launched a landmark event, The CATalyst Summit, February 5-6, coinciding with the AAFP Winter meeting in Palm Springs, CA.
The summit assembled individuals and companies that have a significant vested interest in championing the health and well-being of the cat. Several affiliated leading organizations have already committed to attending the summit, which succeeded in laying the groundwork for a national initiative to champion the cat. Among those represented were the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Winn Feline Foundation, the Cornell Feline Health Center (the initiative was actually the brainchild of the late Dr. James Richards, its director), the Morris Animal Foundation, ASPCA, and American Humane.
“Instead of commiserating about what a sad state of affairs we have, we worked on developing a game plan,” said Dale who moderated the event, “sort of a virgin point of view on agreeing what the problem is – it’s huge.”
Dale said there’s no question that nowhere near the same amount of research dollars are spent supporting cat health and behavior studies as for dogs.
“There aren’t as many investigators interested in doing feline studies,” he said.
According to Dale, the Morris Animal Foundation had more submissions for llama health than cat health. Fiscal funding for 2008 totaled $1.7 million for dogs and just $602,000 for cats. And, Dale added, there were 119 pre-proposals for studies for dogs, compared with 37 for cats.
Dale cites the lack of funding for Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) research despite Winn Feline Foundation’s Bria Fund, which was created to study the disease.
“FIP strikes 5 or 6 to 10 percent of kittens and out of 82 million cats, that’s a lot,” says Dale. “It’s inexcusable we’re not spending money fixing it.”
Dale believes it all gets back to society’s perception of cats. “We’re a dog society, he says. “We’ve evolved with dogs.” As many of us ailurophiles know, cats are not small dogs.
“We look at cats differently,” says Dale. “They’re special in their own way.”
There are enormous misconceptions about cats – their perceived aloofness and solitary nature lead people to believe that they don’t require the care and attention that dogs require. Plus they’re better able to hide illness.
Troubling statistics released by the American Veterinary Medical Association in the U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook show an increase in the cat population coupled with a continued decline in veterinary visits for cats. The percentage of cat-owning households that received no veterinary care in 2006 was 36.3 percent, compared to 17.3 percent of dog-owning households. There are an estimated 82 million cats in the United States (compared with 72 million dogs), yet cats are twice as likely as dogs not to see a veterinarian. As a result, many feline diseases or illnesses go undiagnosed and untreated.
Dale described the two goals coming out of the CATalyst Summit, subject to board approval by the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Association of Feline Practitioners.
One, they agreed to craft guidelines for veterinary professionals regarding the treatment of cats in practices, making them more “cat-friendly,” and to communicate the importance of regular veterinary care.
Second, Dale will spearhead the publication of similar guidelines for the public, collaborating with well-known feline journalists such as Amy Shojai, Pam Johnson-Bennett, Beth Adelman, and Arden Moore.
Dale gives voice to what many of us cat lovers feel: Although millions of people adore cats, many despise them.
“For the sake of all cats, we need to rectify the problem, because cats really don’t have eight other lives to live,” he says.
Steve Dale’s website is www.stevedalepetworld.com.
Information about The CATalyst Summit can also be found at the event website, www.catalystsummit.org, the AAFP’s newly launched website, www.catvets.com, or by calling 1-877-4CATALYST.
Sally Bahner is a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and offers feline consultation services. She is “Dear Sally” on Tracie Hotchner’s Cat Chat Radio (www.catchatradio.com), found on Sirius Satellite Radio, Martha Stewart Living channel. She is a longtime editor and writer on everything feline.
By Sally E. Bahner