Writing in the National Post (where he has had a column since he founded it in 1998) Conrad Black describes in heartfelt terms the passing at the age of 12 of his beloved dog Maya. She was a purebred, Hungarian breed. She was intelligent and a charmer. She captured his heart and they had a very strong bond. She died of cancer and his wife Barbara took her to the vet to be euthanised. He stayed at home with Maya’s nephew. Ninety minutes after Barbara had left home she emailed him to say that, “She has gone”. He almost wept, he wrote, which is something that he had not done since 1963. Clearly, Lord Black is a softy at heart and he loves animals which brings me to cats.
Maya’s life almost converted him from being a cat person to a dog person. But I don’t think you need to be one or the other. It looks as if Conrad Black loves both, probably equally. He writes that he is traditionally more a cat than a dog person. One reason he says is that cats are much less trouble. This is, indeed, one of the main reasons why people select cats over dogs. They consider them to be more independent and therefore able to be left alone while they go to work. There is truth in that but I think the cat’s mythical independence is somewhat overrated. They are considerably social nowadays and just as connected to their human companions as dogs. Therefore, although they may have inscrutable facial expressions they feel the separation from their human like any other bonded animal.
Lord Black also likes feline anatomy leading him to describe cats as “splendid physical machines”. I agree. The domestic cat is a wonderful specimen of a predator, perhaps one of the best predators on the planet. Everything about the domestic cat’s anatomy is designed for efficient hunting and killing. This is the undoing of the domestic cat in the modern age. It is also why we love the domestic cat. But the image of the cat is somewhat tainted by their predatory skills. As humans have damaged the planet and the wild species that nature protects, the survival of the species has become more important to the human animal and therefore he/she focuses on other animals that also damage other species such as cats. It’s passing the buck essentially.
He believes that cats are generally more intelligent than dogs. He should know because he has lived with both and he is an intelligent person himself. I’m not sure that he is right. I think that you will find that in studies comparing the intelligence of cats and dogs, dogs tend to be able to better navigate problem-solving challenges. That doesn’t mean they are more intelligent but it points to the possibility. Although we accept that the question of animal intelligence is fraught with difficulties because of the different types of intelligence and I don’t think we can use human methods to measure it.
Lord Black loves the fact that the domestic cat has retained the behaviours of their wild ancestors living in the jungles of Asia and South America and the dry African plains. This is another aspect of domestic cats which is very attractive. It is the reason why breeders created the wild cat hybrids such as the famous Bengal and Savannah cats (there are others). There is another purely domestic cat called the Toyger which is designed to be a miniature tiger. These breeds are all attempts to bring the wild cat living in distant places into our homes to remind us of the natural world from which we are too distanced.
Conrad Black lived with a Siamese cat, Sidney, who was his former wife’s cat. Apparently he was very smart and he worked out how to travel between floors in his home using the dumbwaiter for laundry. He died in a road accident and is buried in his garden. He was so attached that he had a marble headstone made for him. Lord Black is a softy when it comes to animals and that, I would suggest, makes him a decent person despite his chequered history of trying to stay on the right side of the law.