In the mid 1980’s clumping cat litter started to fly off the shelves, a move that solidified and catapulted indoor cat ownership. Many cats were kept at home before the discovery of bentonite, but their litter boxes consisted of ash, sawdust, and sand.
At present, approximately 95 million cats live in American homes and a whopping 600 million worldwide (with another 600 million living independently). Without a doubt, the privilege of cat ownership has been around for a long time, but how did our attachment to cats become so embedded in these modern times?
A Symbiotic Relationship
Agriculture in the Fertile Crescent (today’s Middle East) was established and organized by people about 12,000 years ago. We owe a great deal of our success to cats because they prowled food storage for rodents and pests.
Up until that time, humans were hunters and relied predominantly on dogs for assistance. But when the ancestors of today’s domestic felines wandered into settlements looking for an easy meal, a mutually beneficial relationship flourished.
Who Domesticated Whom?
While much has been said over the years about the domestication of wild cats, it’s hard to argue with the idea that felines were simply content to walk among us. In other words, they stuck around because the food was plentiful and, in exchange for their usefulness, our human ancestors paid them in kind.
Can’t Deny a Cat
A tomb unearthed on the Meditteranean island of Cypress revealed the preserved remains of a 9,500 year old cat, buried next to human remains. Not indigenous to this remote island, this cat was brought along on the long voyage. Most modern proponents of cat ownership might see this as a natural way to express the powerful connection people have with their cats.
Cat Ownership in Ancient Egypt
Bastet, also known as Bast, was a goddess worshipped in ancient Egypt for her protection and fertility. Perceived as half-cat, half-woman, statues, hieroglyphs, and other ancient artifacts show that ancient Egyptians held cats in the highest esteem. Punishment for any trespasses against them were in the extreme.
Mummified cats have been discovered in the same tombs as their owners, revealing that cat ownership has not only been around for centuries but with the same attachment we share today.
Similarly, ancient Romans seemed to share a fondness for felines, perhaps because culturally they deeply valued independence and liberty.
Cats were also equally appreciated in India, throughout Persia, China, Japan, and Greece. Famously, the Phoenicians routinely broughts cats on the sea-faring ships and were likely responsible for bringing the first cats to Europe. Over time, they became part of human history in Germany, Ireland, Scotland, and Scandinavia.
And Then, the Worst
The middle ages, influenced by religious leaders at the time, significantly decreased the popularity of cats. Cast as associates of Satan, cats (especially black cats) were widely threatened and killed ritualistically in England. Sadly, reduced numbers of cats in communities lead to increased rodent populations responsible for the spread of the Bubonic plague.
Later, cats were portrayed as wicked during witch trials. Thought to be the “familiars” of suspected witches, cats were often burnt at the stake.
Thankfully, the age of Enlightenment and the Victorian age lead many to rediscover the allure of the species. A resurgence in Ancient Egyptian art led the way for many to realize the unique natures of cats, catapulting them toward the elevated status they enjoy today.
We Love Cats!
The felines we know and love are irrefutably wonderful pets. Known to improve our moods, cat ownership is connected to decreased risk of strokes and heart attacks. They seem to know that we love them, and return our esteem with feline affection.