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People Parroting Pets?

See the resemblance? canstockphoto9533635

It has been widely noted that pets often begin to resemble their owners, sometimes to comedic proportions.

Why is that?

What is it that will ultimately make me look similar to my 20-pound, mixed Siamese/Maine Coon cat?

I personally don’t see the resemblance, although my wife tells me there is a strong likeness if I don’t shave for a couple days.

There is actually scientific data to explain this phenomenon.  Stanley Coren, Ph.D.,  professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, writing on , talks about doing a study.  He tested 104 women students, showing each portraits of four different dog breeds.  He had them rate the dogs, then asked them a series of questions to determine if there was any preference for certain animals by certain types of women.

He found that, for example, women with longer hair covering their ears tend to prefer a Springer Spaniel or Beagle over the Siberian Husky or Basenji, who were preferred more by women with short hair that exposed their ears.

In general, he found that people tend to choose their pets based on familiar features to which they are, consciously or not, attracted.

I guess it isn’t so different from family members, who even if they don’t look exactly alike tend to take on common features and mannerisms just from living in close proximity.  When you live with people for decades they’re bound to rub off on you, so why shouldn’t that be the case with pets too?

As I write this I am staring into the face of my cat, who likes to jump up on my desk when I am at my computer and get eyeball-to-eyeball with me.  He is sitting like a statue, his eyes are half-opened, he appears to be near sleep.

I have to wonder if I look like that too?  I guess at times I do, but without the pointy ears.

The familiarity is probably why we get so close to our pets.  Dr. Coren noted that our own face is something we are quite familiar with – we see it in the mirror every day. So having a pet around all the time, we eventually take on their mannerisms, or they ours.

As I now watch my cat, Raven, lick his paw to bathe himself, I suspect that part of the theory is a bit flawed; but he does raise his left eyebrow as he looks at me wondering why I’m staring at him, similar to what I tend to do with my left eyebrow, so maybe it does warrant further study.

Humans have opposable thumbs, a cognizant brain (with some exceptions) and a soul, therefore we consider ourselves the dominant species; yet, I have to wonder, which species is it that feeds, cleans up after and otherwise provides for the other?  Yeah, think about that; who’s in charge here anyway?

Which further makes me wonder; do our pets emulate us, or we them?

For example, data supports the theory that animal mannerisms are, in part, due to the shape of their faces; their muzzle obstructs their view of our face so they tilt their heads to get a better look.  We think it’s cute, so we do it when we want to look cute.  They do it because they have to but we do it to emulate their cuteness.

I’ve read that when humans pick our pets we tend to gravitate, knowingly or not, to pets that strike a familiar chord in us, maybe because we intuitively see a resemblance.  But I have to wonder, are the animals actually manipulating us?

Consider the fact that animals’ senses are much more highly tuned than ours; their senses of sight, hearing and smell are way better than ours in most cases and they have spidey senses we don’t even understand.

Take Raven for example.  He found us one rainy Thanksgiving morning when he was a tiny, 2-month old, cold, wet, homeless and hungry bundle of fur who got trapped in our garage.

Or did he?

My wife had noticed him skiddering around the perimeter of our house a few days before and had put some cat food outside the garage door, away from the activity of the front door.  He had been eating the food.

So, could it be that he instinctively saw an opportunity?  Did he sneak into the garage when the door was opened and deliberately get trapped in there?

Was that an act when he put up such a fuss when we had to bathe him to get rid of the fleas, gently dry him with a hair dryer and swaddle him in a soft blanket to quiet him down?

Did he intentionally turn down that first hot meal to make us believe he was too weak to eat?  He hasn’t missed a meal since then.

We’ll never know for sure and he’s not saying.  But eight years later he is now nearly 20-pounds of handsome and cute – not obese, just a big boy.  When he yowls for food we jump to his service.

We recently adopted another cat; or did he adopt us?  The evening before he found us, I had said to my wife, “We should get another cat for Raven to play with.”

She said, “The only way I’d get another cat is if it was a gray one with those yellow eyes like Bob and Sheila’s,” she noted, talking about a cat we’d seen at a friend’s house.

Next morning, I walked out our front door and there, right in front of the door, was a handsome smokey-gray kitten with striking yellow eyes, about eight months old, who flipped on his back and struck his cutest pose for me.  I picked him up and carried him to my wife and said, “Your cat just delivered himself.”

It was unbelievable.  The cat – his name is Scooter - just fit right in.  Long story short, the cat’s owner couldn’t keep him, so he is now a full-fledged member of our family.  He brightens our day with his friendly personality and constant antics.

But did he come to us by accident; or was it by divine design; or could it be that among the heightened senses of animals is the sense of compatibility?  Did that cat know that someone in our household was looking for a cat just like him?

I guess we’ll never know for sure.  I do know that he is a great fit for our family and he’s motivated our older cat to start acting like a kitten again; and to be honest, he’s made the rest of us all feel a lot younger at heart as well.

Randy Gaddo , a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email

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