Nature: Why We Love Cats and Dogs

Sun, 02/15/2009 - 8:00pm

Brian Strong holding a Shih-Tzu puppy named Stabler and Karie Van Audal with a shy cat named Katy.

Joe Sinnott ©EBC

In the season of valentines, Nature explores our infatuation with our four-legged friends. Americans own 73 million dogs and 90 million cats, considering them best friends, soul mates, family members and even surrogate children. Why are we so attached? To find out, Nature gets personal with pet owners and animal behavior experts. Nature: Why We Love Cats and Dogs airs Sunday, February 15 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11) and WXXI-HD (cable 1011 and DT 21.1).

“This is a different kind of Nature film,” says Fred Kaufman, executive producer of Nature. “We combine a more verité style of filmmaking with in-studio pet owner interviews, and the result is a gamut of stories that are insightful, heartwarming, and funny.”

Featured experts share their research and perspectives on why we love our cats and dogs:

• Sarah Wilson, dog behaviorist, psychologist, and author, reveals primal reasons why men and women are drawn to dogs and the nine major relationship styles people have with their pets, including soul mate, observer, buddy, angel, and master.

• Marc Bekoff, renowned evolutionary biologist and professor emeritus at the University of Colorado, explains our animal attraction through the concept of “mirror neurons.” His theory suggests that shared emotions and empathy biologically connect humans to their dogs and cats.

• Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, reveals that cats, often reputed to be independent animals, can be as responsive and trainable as dogs. He explains that owners who communicate with their cats through training and agility exercises can eventually erase cats’ behavior problems.

• Emily Weiss, an animal behaviorist, uses mutual personality traits to connect people with the “right” dogs and cats. She developed the “Meet Your Match” system for the ASPCA to assess dogs’ and cats’ personalities so that they can be matched to the right owners, based upon lifestyle and expectations.

Throughout the film, there are interviews with cat and dog owners who discuss their bonds and adventures with their pets. Among the many personal stories is the remarkable journey of Jerry, a three-legged canine amputee with cancer; his owners sold their home and business to enjoy Jerry’s last months by traveling with him cross-country. This and other tales show how strong the human-animal bond can be.