Turns out, it wasn’t satisfaction that brought back the curious cat, but knowledge—and a keen sense for how to use it. Cats—mercurial, mysterious, and savvy—have, over time, fine-tuned their communication skills with humans to persuade their owners to feed them when they’re hungry, accounting for more than one chagrined morning of interrupted sleep, whereas dogs are much more likely to follow their owners’ cues. And while dogs have the ability to sniff out drugs and detect cancer, among other illnesses, cats demonstrate more expressive and sophisticated vocalizations: It was found that a wild cat can manipulate an ambush to its advantage by possessing the ability to mimic the call of its prey. Further, dogs are, by and large, much more dependent on their owners than cats, for which evolution is largely responsible—dogs were domesticated 20,000 years before cats, and are notoriously obedient because of it. Cats, meanwhile, are much like their owners: Icons of independence and autonomy, which, according to some, are the hallmarks of intelligence and success.
Bark or mewl, pounce or purr, whether you prefer a pup to join you for runs around the park or a cat to sit on your lap as you read Chaucer; are an extrovert or an introvert or somewhere in between, one generalization is irrefutably true: We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals. And when it comes to character, rarely does intelligence trump love and the capacity for compassion.