Review by Joel Kreissman
Mary E. Lowd’s “When a Cat Loves a Dog” starts with a mixed-species wedding, something that has only just become legal in the setting. Lashonda, a black cat, and Topher, a pug, are getting married over the objections and disbelief of their families. Topher is a comedian who gets paid to make jokes about cats, while Lashonda is a grad student working with 3-D printing. But as the ceremony ends, a comment from Lashonda’s new mother-in-law gets stuck in her head: dogs and cats can’t interbreed. This sets her on a path leading to a scientist offering a quite radical solution to their problem: genetic engineering.
“When a Cat Loves a Dog” seems to take place in the same universe as Lowd’s “Otters in Space” series and possibly the standalone novel “In a Dog’s World” as well. That is to say, a post-humanity Earth dominated by uplifted dogs, with cats as a significant minority and otters colonizing space. You might even consider it a bridge between the two works. There was a creative bit of foreshadowing when the priest at the wedding mentioned another couple who spent their honeymoon in jail, later meeting said couple at the lab. Though Topher’s job as a comedian making off-color jokes about cats raises some uncomfortable questions about privileged groups, especially when Lashonda says she’s fine with it because they need the money. There’s no real “antagonist” to this story, no specific character opposing the heroes, opposition is more diffused across society in general.
It’s a bit unclear if the book is going for interspecies marriage as a parallel for gay marriage or interracial marriage in the all-too-recent past. The couple being two different phenotypes (one an oppressed minority) automatically draws thoughts of interracial couples, the central plot of a couple who can’t procreate attempting to have kids reminds one of gay couples, but it’s belied by their being straight. Lashonda and Topher getting turned away by adoption agency after agency will remind most people nowadays of gay couples, but the solution they settle on is very pie-in-the-sky for current gay couples while an increasing number of agencies are allowing gay couples to adopt. It’s like dog (and to a lesser extent cat) society is a case of “low culture high tech” regarding civil rights, which would make sense for what’s essentially a post-apocalyptic scavenged civilization, though the otters seem to have escaped that.
This book also doesn’t pull punches about the failure rate for experimental genetic modification, Topher and Lashonda’s litter aren’t the first dog/cat hybrids to be conceived, but they are the first to be born alive.
If you’re familiar with Lowd’s other stories in this ‘verse this book provides a satisfying addition to the setting and presents a whole host of new possibilities for future installments. If you’re reading it on its own, it’s a nice story that may leave you feeling uncomfortable at times.