PBS Show Explains 'Why We Love Cats and Dogs'

February 14, 2009 | By Robin Wallace | Category: Entertainment | 1672 comments
Tags: entertainment, dogs, cats

PBS Nature episode, Why We Love Cats and Dogs airs Sunday evening. A preview can be viewed in the video player above.

The mystery behind why we love cats and dogs is revealed in PBS' Nature's latest episode airing Sunday Feb. 15th. The 60-minute show dives into the intimate bond formed between human and animal from the perspective of pet owners to animal experts. "It's a fun hour, and I laugh and I cry," said Nature's executive producer.

NEW YORK -- For a man who has no interest in cats or dogs, producing a show called "Why We Love Cats and Dogs" brings a slew of ironies to life.

"I don't have a pet and never have, and I have no desire to -- I’m not the least bit interested or curious," said Fred Kaufman, 17-year veteran executive producer of PBS' Nature.

While Kaufman is not intrigued about what he is missing as a pet owner, he is fascinated by the relationships people have with their pets -- it's a topic fully explored in the 60-minute episode of Nature airing Sunday Feb. 15th on PBS channels nationwide.

"This is very alien to me, but I still get caught up in these people who love their pets,” Kaufman said of the show featuring the dynamics of human-pet relationships.

Although originally slated as a cat versus dog show -- to paint the allegorical dichotomy of blue states and red states, for example -- the film took on a life of its own, Kaufman says.

"We tried to look into the science of it -- and scientists wouldn't comment on it," said Kaufman on why people choose certain species for companionship. ''And so the show kind of meandered, like the Amazon."

Despite snaking around various points of view, former HBO producer and director Ellen Kent kept the 10-month production on the fast track. Yet, "Why We Like Cats and Dogs" ended in a place that no one really could have predicted, and, perhaps jokingly, Kaufman says he still doesn't really know what it is about.

"It's kind of a hard show to pin down," the executive producer said. "It's a fun hour, and I laugh and I cry -- but I really don't know much about it, except that it's a relationship that people are talking about with emotion and passion and that is what gets you caught up in it."

Breaking from the show's typical format of taking a viewer to far off exotic lands to learn intimately about a rare animal, tonight's episode of Nature is shockingly normal, but startlingly curious.

"I sat in awe that someone could articulate such personal feelings, and how these cats and dogs have such an effect on them, when they would not have that effect on me," Kaufman said of his experience in viewing the final cut, which is filled with "very familiar animals, very familiar people and very familiar places."

But being an animal person, animal behaviorist Sarah Wilson, finds the refreshing stroke of originality in treating "the relationship seriously."

"So little is actually known about this relationship and yet millions and millions of us have it," said Wilson, who also appears in the show. "It amazes me that there is hardly any research on it ... and yet so much more needs to be done."

Based on more than 20 years of animal behavior study, Wilson has just released the book "Dogology," which dives into the established nine kinds of relationships people form with their pets. Bringing one of four expert insights to the segment, Wilson uncovered the ways people are limited in how they relate to their pets.

"I saw light bulbs go off all day long," Wilson said of working on set. "Being able to talk to people and to connect those patterns -- the patterns that they have in relating to people in their lives as to how they relate to their dog."

One of those many "oh" moments was with a dog owner who learned from Wilson that his dating life seemed to match his requirements for his dog -- athletic but low maintenance and loyal.

"We make assumptions of the world based on our childhoods, and we don't realize it until it is reflected back to us," Wilson explained. "And our relationships with pets is a pure reflection of that. Such as when you hear people praise their pets, 'I love you and I will never leave you,' or, 'You are the best dog.' "

While Wilson reveals the primal reasons why people are drawn to and interact with dogs in "Why We Love Cats and Dogs," Dr. Nicholas Dodman shows that cats can be just as responsive and trainable as their canine counterparts.

A faculty member of Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Dodman explains that owners who communicate with their cats through training and agility exercises can eventually erase the cats’ behavior problems.

Addressing the human being's overall attraction to animals, Marc Bekoff offers the concept of "mirror neurons." The renowned evolutionary biologist and professor emeritus at the University of Colorado, suggests shared emotions and empathy biologically connect humans to their dogs and cats.

Rounding off the show's expert panel, animal behaviorist Emily Weiss -- the developer of the "Meet Your Match" system implemented by the ASPCA -- uses mutual personality traits to connect people with the "right" dogs and cats.

Interspersed throughout these professional perspectives, cat and dog owners discuss their bonds and adventures shared with their pets.

But as owners were studio interviewed, Kaufman gave a clear directive: "If anybody says unconditional love they are not on the show."

Kaufman was looking for something beyond the formulaic cat and dog show -- seeking real depth and insight for universal relevance -- and he found it, particularly in the story of Jerry.

Afflicted with canine cancer and a three-legged amputee, Jerry's owners sold their home and business to enjoy his last couple months of life by traveling across the country RV-style.

"That is very moving, and many people can relate to a pet who is coming to the end of their lives," Kaufman said of Jerry's story.

While many owners can find comfort in Jerry's story, Kaufman says even the critics are excited about the show and expects many high profile reviews.

"It's the first show that I could say it's really not about animals, but it's really about us, the human animal," said Kaufman of this latest episode of Nature, a series with a 27-year track record.

Appealing to the nature of humans to know more -- more about what they already have an interest in, or more about what they don't fully understand -- the show resonates across the board.

"I really got caught up in how sincere and candid and forthcoming people were about their lives their relationship and how their animal has impacted their lives, and in many cases, changed their lives," said Kaufman. "I am kind of envious that I don't felt as strongly about animals as other people do."

Although Wilson can't relate to Kaufman being disenfranchised from animals, as she "can't imagine being separated from my animal even for a day, but I understand that there are variations in the human being -- but it is very curious to me."

While animal lovers might find non-animal lovers peculiar, and vice versa, one thing is certain, pets create interest.

"Even when someone doesn't have a direct involvement, pets impact our lives," Wilson said. "We now have more pets than we have children in our homes, and it effects everybody."

With such a broad cross-section of interest, Nature's premiere of "Why We Love Cats and Dogs" is bound to catch a bump of viewers and promises, in Kaufman's opinion, to leave them thinking about it the day after -- "which is a good thing."

Yet a better thing is if the show rates well, as it could propel the wildlife-centric show to consider doing another episode revolving around domestic animals.

For more information on Nature's "Why We Love Cats and Dogs," visit PBS.org/WNET/Nature

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Comments (1259)

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Sam
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Sam
5 years ago

Dogs and cats kinda have a way of growing on us, don't they? lol. I've always considered my pets as part of my family, they're like children to me. I couldn't imagine life without them. I always have this need to be around animals.

Good Point | Reply ›

MsBoss
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MsBoss
5 years ago

How best to discribe the love of an animal and humans love for them! Pets are a member of the family and in some cases they are your only family.

Good Point | Reply ›

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