Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories | Annotated Tale

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Why do cats and dogs fight?

The Story of the Dog, the Cat and the Mouse.

IN THE beginning there was no enmity between the cat and dog, and they lived on friendly terms together and served their master (Adam) faithfully, each one doing its own work. But as you know, it is very much better to have a written agreement at the beginning than to have a row afterwards, so they decided to draw up an agreement defining the work which each had to do, and decided that the dog was to do the work outside the house, and the cat the work inside. For greater safety the dog agreed that the cat should take care of the agreement, and the cat put it in the loft.

               After a time, the devil, who could not allow peace to last for a long time, must needs set the dog up against the cat; so one day the dog remarked to the cat that he was not fairly treated, he did not see why he should have all the trouble outside the house, to watch for thieves and protect the house and suffer from cold and rain, and only have scraps and bones for food, and sometimes nothing at all, whilst the cat had all the comfort, purring and enjoying herself, and living near the hearth in warmth and safety. The cat said, "An agreement is an agreement." The dog replied, "Let me see that agreement." The cat went quickly up the loft to fetch the agreement, but the agreement, which had been a little greasy, had been nibbled by the mice who were living in the loft, and they went on nibbling away until nothing was left of it but a heap of paper fluff, and as it was as soft as down the mice made their home of it. When the cat came up and saw what the mice had done, her fury knew no bounds, she pursued them madly, killing as many as she could seize, and running after the others with the intent of catching them.

               When she came down the dog asked her for the agreement, and as the cat had not brought it, the dog, taking hold of her, shook her until he got tired of shaking her.

               Since that time, whenever a dog meets a cat he asks her for the agreement, and as she cannot show it to him he goes for her, and the cat, knowing what the mice had done to her, runs after them when she sees them.


In the South Slavonic folk-lore (Krauss, No. 18) there is a parallel to this story, but greatly changed from the original form. It is no longer a "creation" legend. It runs as follows:

               The dogs used to receive all the meat that fell off the table. This became a habit, and so he and the cat drew up a statement to that effect, and made it a permanent rule. They wrote it on the hide of an ass, and the king of the dogs gave it to the cat--the first chancellor--to take care of it. The cat hid it away in the rafters of the house. There the skin was found by the mice, who nibbled it until there was scarcely anything left. One day a dog got badly beaten because he picked up some meat that had fallen from the table. He went and complained to the king, who sent the cat to find the document. The cat could not find it, and saw that the mice had eaten it. Since then there is a continual feud between the cat, the mice and the dog.

               In this version, the entire origin of the tale has been lost. It is no longer referred to Adam, nor is there any question of a compact between a cat and dog which was broken by the latter. In the Slavonic tale there is no authority for this arrangement.

               The Rumanian version approximates much more closely to the Oriental, and seems to have preserved much more faithfully the ancient form. The oldest which can thus far be traced is that in the "Alphabet of Pseudo Sirach," printed here in the Appendix (No. III.).

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Why do cats and dogs fight?
Tale Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Book Title: Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories
Book Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Publisher: Sidgwick & Jackson
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1915
Country of Origin: Romania
Classification: unclassified

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