C.S. Lewis & Cats


Is it possible to love both dogs and cats? Or, does the preference for one work in some invisibly mystical way to create a dislike for the other?

I suspect the majority of people who are genuine animal lovers, maintain the capacity to appreciate both . . . in light of their respective attributes.

Most cat lovers I know, don’t hate dogs, even if they could happily live without them. Likewise, most dog lovers (me included) enjoy interacting with cats too . . . although I must confess, the more doglike they are in their personality, the better.

I’m not focusing on the comparison between people according to their preference. This despite the fact that Psychology Today cites a study that says “cat people [are] generally about 12 percent more neurotic.” However, the same article does offer a provocative observation that may suggest dog lovers are readier than their counterparts to expand their affections.

My results showed that people who owned only cats seemed to be somewhat different than dog owners or people who owned both dogs and cats in terms of their personalities. People who own both dogs and cats seem to be much like people who own only dogs.

C.S. Lewis was like those of us who appreciate each of these creatures as they live in accordance with their created nature. Lewis was an animal lover, and throughout his lifetime he expressed affection for both dogs and cats.

I have written about the dogs in Lewis’ life in the past. The fact is that his residence was also home to a number of cats as well.

In 1962 he wrote to a correspondent who asserted they held much in common. He agreed on one score: “We are also both ruled by cats. Joy’s Siamese—my ‘step-cat’ as I call her– is the most terribly conversational animal I ever knew. She talks all the time and wants doors and windows to be opened for her 1000 times an hour.” (To be fair, most dogs I know also regard their people as doorkeepers and chefs.)

Among Lewis’ references to cats is this quaint observation, shared with a different correspondent the same year. “Yes, it is strange that anyone should dislike cats. But cats themselves are the worst offenders in this respect. They very seldom seem to like one another.”

One of Lewis’ finest insights into the feline psyche is found in Letters to an American Lady. Writing a decade before the previously quoted letters, he describes an observation that echoes true in my own experience with both varieties of pets.

We were talking about cats and dogs the other day and decided that both have consciences but the dog, being an honest, humble person, always has a bad one, but the cat is a Pharisee and always has a good one. When he sits and stares you out of countenance he is thanking God that he is not as these dogs, or these humans, or even as these other cats!

In Mere Christianity Lewis uses these animal species to illustrate his point that you cannot fairly contrast Christians and non-Christians in the abstract. After all, “there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together.” So, simply sorting them out would prove a monumental problem.

On the other hand, there are some abstract generalizations that it is possible to make.

Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass. It is some use comparing cats and dogs, or even men and women, in the mass, because there one knows definitely which is which. Also, an animal does not turn (either slowly or suddenly) from a dog into a cat.

A final delightful reference to cats is found in a letter Lewis wrote near the end of the Second World War to his goddaughter, Sarah Neylan. It is particularly impressive because he takes the time to scribble some images for the young girl. He names and sketches three animals in the letter.


Please excuse me for not writing to you before to . . . thank you for your nice Card which I liked very much: I think you have improved in drawing cats and these were very good, much better than I can do.

I can only draw a cat from the back view like this. I think it is rather cheating, don’t you? because it does not show the face which is the difficult part to do.

It is a funny thing that faces of people are easier to do than most animals’ faces except perhaps elephants, and owls. I wonder why that should be!

If I might hazard a response to Lewis’ question, it could be due to the fact that a dog’s face clearly reveals their intent, whether it be love or malice. Cats, in contrast, are capable of appearing inscrutable, which nearly always suits their purpose. (No surprise there, since they are feline pharisees, after all.)

Despite their differences, and for some perhaps, due to their distinctions, they are both lovable. And fortunately, there is no crime in harboring a preference for one over the other.

24 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis & Cats

  1. Wonderful post! I love both and was just wondering why I end up with cats more than dogs. I kind of like the inscrutability. Dogs are open, paperback books. Cats are ancient mysteries. I enjoy reading all kinds of thoughts and plans and disdain into our cats’ impenetrable stares. Still, the cats I like best are more dog-like, too. And, yes, I agree with Lewis’s observation: Cats are furry little Pharisees! They are always judging us, aren’t they?

    1. You know them well.

      I didn’t even touch on the totally valid considerations that influence our choices… like whether anyone is home during the day… or what our lease allows. Add in factors like what sorts of pets we had when kids, and it becomes pretty complex. Oh, and then there’s marriage… choice in pets is often compromised there as well. But, with either of these you can’t go wrong (which can’t be said for reptiles).

      1. I laughed at Lewis’s reference to his step-cat. My husband gained a couple of those when we married, as well. He still claims to merely tolerate them, but it’s obvious that they’re the victors in the contest. Their secret weapon is the purr.

    1. You’re fairly new to Mere Inkling, so it may surprise you how widely the posts vary. Typically they do offer a connection (sometimes tenuous) to C.S. Lewis. Likewise, humor is a frequent staple. That doesn’t mean we don’t consider serious subjects as well, like the recent post about the tragedy of suicide.

  2. Delightful comment about cats’ and dogs’ faces.
    We have both. They are rather like bookend species with us in the middle
    Really laughed about this one: “But cats themselves are the worst offenders in this respect. They very seldom seem to like one another.” Makes them seem almost human

    1. I like your bookend analogy. We probably do lie somewhere between them.

      Your comment about cats seeming almost human because of their dispositions is well taken. After all, you’ll seldom see a dog that considers itself royalty, but as for cats…

  3. madaboutgreys

    I love C S Lewis’ comparison of dogs and cats in Letters to an American Lady. I never knew, or perhaps forgot, that he was such an animal lover.

  4. Thanks for your post. I love them both too. Each works well with the different sides of my personality or life style. When at rest the cats are great to warm you while you read or type on the computer (now) and the dogs are great when I’m in the mood for movement and adventure – a drive anywhere, walks and visiting neighbors (dogs or humans).

    1. And it’s not just their canine/feline natures that fit them for particular human moods. As they mature they change. That’s obvious, of course, but sometimes its quite striking. We have a young border collie and a senior border collie. The latter used to be a tireless racer in her own youth. Now she’s always up for a walk, but loves just lying beside us as we’re reading or typing. Her younger “sister” has no time at all for such sedentary tasks…

  5. I grew up in a dog-only family and so was never inclined towards cats. In fact, all of my experiences with cats had been negative. Then I went to work for a veterinarian back in 2002. Sigh. Then my household became a cat and dog household. Currently, we have only cats (7) as the last of our three dogs recently passed away. I have learned that each animal can fill a different void as each personality is so entirely different. I love both! I have evolved from a “dog person” to an “animal person” and am a better person for it! :)

    1. That’s a wonderful journey, Linda, with one caveat… Having seven (!) cats in one household might seem a little eccentric… :)

      Sorry about the passing of your last dog. The deaths of our pets parallel the loss we feel with the death of the people we love.

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