Monday, July 27, 2009 3:13 PM

The Domestication of Cats

When we think of domesticated animals, we immediately think of dogs and cats. Then, we usually think of horses, cows, chickens, pigs, etc. We think first of the animals that we share our homes and lives with, right? As I've mentioned previously, the dog has a long history with humans, being identified as a very useful animal indeed. Hunting, retrieving, guarding, herding and even sled pulling--it's all in a day's work for the dog. Livestock, of course, provides us with transportation (or used to), wool, meat, manure, eggs...the list goes on and on. And the cat provides us with--what exactly?

Since cats couldn't be made to respond to orders like dogs, it's difficult to imagine why humans cared about having them around. More aloof and independent than the dog, it's also hard to figure out why they allied themselves with humans. What we do know is that fossilized remains of cat-like creatures harken back 10 to 12 million years, predating humans and most domesticated animals' predecessors. So, while they may have been first on the scene, they were the last to make their entrance into domesticity. How did that happen, you ask?

Most sources credit the Egyptians for befriending these wily creatures. Was it for their beauty that they were worshiped, or was it for their prowess in keeping the grain silos free of rats and mice? Probably the latter situation, which established a symbiotic relationship between wild cats and people, began both to soften the cat's attitude toward humans as well as give people a really good look at this beautiful animal. The deifying came later, I would imagine, after the two species got to know each other a little better. There is no doubt that they were treated as gods: many ancient Egyptian gods have physical attributes of cats, especially the head, and mummified cats have been discovered in the tombs of powerful Egyptians. Who better to wake up to in the afterlife than your pet cat!

So, although cats were domesticated in part because, as the August Harper's Magazine states, they're "adorable", they also demonstrated their utility to humans. Their hunting abilities came in handy again during Europe's Black Plague, dispatching the rats whose parasites harbored the disease. They did, however, suffer due to their perceived association with paganism. Happily, this era of ignorance was short-lived, and humans once again appreciated the cat for its near perfection. Though it took considerably longer for felines to enter our lives, it only proves the old adage that the best things are worth waiting for!

On That Same Note: I happened to catch one of my favorite scary movies this weekend, Alien, with Sigourney Weaver. What a great pic! Anyway, I couldn't help but notice that while Ripley couldn't manage to save her co-workers from the nasty monster, she did make sure to rescue the cat, Jones. Cats know a winner when they see one.
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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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