My Best Cat and Dog Writing, 2016

December 2016 marks three full years that I’ve been an SEO writer for pet lifestyle sites Dogster and Catster. What is SEO? It stands for “search engine optimization,” and involves locating terms and phrases that people search for in their thousands, and attempting, through a number of strategies, to get my sites’ posts to come up as high as possible when people look for info on search engines.

When I first started, it was sort of like playing MadLibs; I’d try to work a particular phrase or word in as often as I could. Technology moves quickly, and search engines caught up with that particular tactic, also called “keyword stuffing,” and began counting that against sites. In any event, as a lifelong writer, trained researcher, and all-around perfectionist, I was well aware that most SEO writing was crap, and have always tried to give my essays a bit more flare, a bit more style, like this baby puppy.

this baby puppy got a new baby sweater for christmas!

A post shared by Melvin Peña (@melvin__pena) on


I’ve come a long way since the very first piece I wrote for Dogster, “Ringworm in Dogs: Detection, Treatment, Prevention.” From roughly the second half of 2015 through the first half of 2016, there was a dude who was pre-selecting phrases and topics for me, and they all sucked. They all seemed to be either about horrible diseases or bizarre medications, with the end result that my work was a constant slog of despair.

Once they let me off the leash, though, earlier this year, and I could do my own keyword research and determine my own topics again, I started to flourish anew. Since then, the stuff I’ve been writing has been stranger, more eclectic, and more outlandish than ever, while still hewing close to the needs of SEO. These are my 5 best cat and dog pieces that were published this year.

Top 5 Catster pieces

  1. How to Draw a Cat,” January 12: Because of the paucity of compelling topics on the pre-established SEO list, I saved ones like this for special occasions. I love to make art, and enjoy a new challenge, so I really put a lot of work into this one.
  2. How Do Cats Taste?,” February 9: Talk about a tone-deaf phrase. Clearly geared toward a lurid curiosity about places where cats are on the menu, I decided to make use of the shockingly high numbers on that topic to steer people toward an essay that is actually about how cats tongues work, and how they experience the sensation of taste. That approach also allowed me to makes clear in the intro that I’d been listening to a lot of Lovecraft on audiobook.
  3. 18th-Century British Poems About Cats,” March 15: The prompt was “poems about cats.” Since I trained as a scholar of 18th-century literature, the essay’s content suggested itself quite easily. Pretty sure I did more leg-work and research on this piece than almost any other this whole year. I wouldn’t say the financial reward was worth the effort, but the process was intellectually satisfying!

    poems about cats

    Love Me, Love My Cat” via Yale Center for British Art

  4. The Cats of Doctor Who,” May 10: Talk about relevant to my interests; I don’t know if a single piece gave me more pure joy to research, write, and locate art for than this one. Granted, there were more than enough comics and Big Finish audio dramas to satisfy even the most desperate fan. However, as there were no new TV adventures from last Christmas until this, Doctor Who fanatics like me had to make our own fun in 2016. Even more gratifying, it was featured in BBC America’s weekly roundup of Doctor Who news about a week later!
  5. My 6 Favorite Cat Power Songs,” July 13: Nothing at all to do with cats, really, but Chan Marshall’s enduring popularity and general awesomeness means that “cat power” is a high-value search term. I was ecstatic to write about Marshall’s influence on me and my listening habits over the last two decades.

Top 5 Dogster pieces

  1.  “Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?,” May 17: I love a pleasing head tilt in a dog. Every once in a while, I also like an open-ended question to play around with. My favorite of the reasons I offer in this one is shame/embarrassment, because I got to use a picture of my baby puppy wearing a little sweater and giving me earth-shattering side-eye.
  2. Are Pigs Smarter Than Dogs?,” September 14: So much good came out of this piece, it’s an easy choice. First, my cover model and star of the piece’s photo selections is my friend Kelsey’s pet pig on a leash, Jolene. Next, it gave my friend Shalla and I the idea for an art project I’ll be working on more in the new year, inspired by the early-modern subgenre of bucolic portraiture in which women were painted as shepherdesses.

    are pigs smarter than dogs

    Pig on a leash.

  3. Confession: I Have a Pet Crush on Someone Else’s Dog!,” October 05: To make a bit of extra money — indeed, it would be difficult to work any harder and make any less than I already do — I was encouraged to pitch some first-person pieces on bringing up my baby puppy. This one’s basically about how my jealousy over a tiny dog I follow on Instagram caused me to realize I wasn’t giving my own baby puppy a fair chance.
  4. Can Dogs See Ghosts?,” October 11: I went deep for the research on this one. The vast majority of SEO pieces extant are either inane, anecdotal, or simply repetitive. To differentiate my work, I drew on actual scholarship on links between dogs and the supernatural in anthropology, cultural studies, and folklore. I couldn’t have been more psyched than when I found out the piece had been shared by Coast to Coast AM, alongside reports on terra cotta warriors, dinosaur extinction, dwarf planets and what the Pope may have told Hillary Clinton about aliens. I’ve never felt more like Mulder!

    can dogs see ghosts

    Scully, it’s clearly a case of demon fetal harvest!

  5. Art History and Pug History: Pugs in 18th-Century Art,” November 22: It’s sort of a toss-up between this one and the one about 18th-century cat poems above for the piece I’m most proud of and found most  stimulating to research and write. I started thinking about Pugs in portraiture when I was at the National Gallery in DC in the Fall of 2015, and spent a great deal of time thinking about the little Pug in Goya’s painting of the Marquesa de Pontejos, so the concept had been gestating for a while in my mind. The original prompt was something about the history of Pugs, but having seen that one of Dogster’s sister sites, Petcha, had a piece on exactly that topic, I panicked a bit before changing directions.

That’s that! Ten of my favorite, and of my best, pieces of dog and cat writing during 2016! Was the one you like best among my selections? Did you like another one better? What kinds of common dog or cat questions or topics are constantly pawing at the back of your mind?


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