Cats and Their Allure: What, When, Where and Why


Domesticated cats have been gaining in popularity in the United States. It is projected that by the year 2010 there will be far more cats than dogs. Noted for their independence, cats can also be loving and loyal to their owners. They adjust well to indoor living, take great care in grooming themselves, and are easily trained to use a cat box. Cats, when they're not asleep, are observers. They stare into corners and spend hours sitting in windowsills. They don't bark, they don't whine; they purr. Occasionally, they scold.

Cats are also predatory, and some are very good mousers. In a flourishing society of condominiums and high-rise apartment buildings, many landlords ban dogs and accept cats. One building manager puts it like this: "As long as the cat doesn't wander through the halls and annoy others, I don't see any problem."

Cats, more than any other mammal, exhibit similar attributes and actions, no matter if they are wild or tame. Lions, tigers, leopards, wild cats, panthers, and house cats look similar and act very much alike--they are all predatory, nocturnal, fastidious, and defensive, but the domesticated cat is much smaller than its wild relatives. How did the wild cat first become domesticated, and where did it happen?

Origin of Cats

Looking back to the Late Eocene epoch (43.6 to 36.6 million years ago), it has been discovered that the "cat pattern" was already well established in the evolution of modern mammals. The earliest cats were easily recognizable as the ancestors of present-day felines. Other mammals had not yet evolved into a recognizable form. Typical cats (subfamily Felinae) appeared about 10 million years ago and have changed very little since that time.

The Anatomy of the Cat

Why is it that cats are able to curl up on the narrowest ledges, squeeze under the smallest spaces, or disappear at will when they sense an intrusion. The anatomy of the cat gives it great elasticity. It has a flexible spine and uses its tail and inner ear to maintain balance. Because of its inner-ear balance, it almost always lands on its feet when it falls and can jump from and to great heights without injury. For this reason, the cat is said to have nine lives.

The Historical Background of Cats

The history of the cat lends itself to drama, controversy, heroism, and mysticism on a somewhat uneven road from its domestication around 1500 B.C. to the present. From the moment the dog became domesticated, humans accepted it as a loyal and loving servant of man. The cat, however, has not been so blessed. It has been an icon of worship in ancient Egypt, a rat-catching hero during the plague years in Europe, and labeled a familiar for witches in Puritan America.

While dogs have been trained to assist humans as hunters, guides, companions, and enforcers, cats have no obvious purpose other than their presence in one's life. They're simply not very trainable. Yet, the art of relaxation has been mastered by the cat, and this attribute is assimilated by its human owners. Nursing homes often have a resident cat who is there only to be petted by the residents.

The Cat in Literature and Art

The cat is not as independent as it appears. It wants to be loved and cared for, and the contradictory interaction between humans and cats has been the subject of many children's books, novels, poems, and plays over the years. From fairy tales to Wanda Gäg's classic "Millions of Cats" (1929) to the long-running broadway show "Cats," based on T. S. Elliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" (1939), to "The Marble Cake Cat" (1977) by Marjorie and Carl Allen; from Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (1865) to B. Kliban's contemporary cartoon cats, the cat has long been a fascinating subject for both children and adults.

Breeds of Cats

Many people believe that the Siamese cat originated in Ancient Egypt, but it actually is from the Far East and thought to be a domestication of the Asian wild cat. The 30 to 40 recognized distinctive breeds of cats can be grouped into two general categories: the long-haired Persian and the domestic shorthair. Most cats, however, unless they are show cats, are mixed breed.

Cats Around the World

In America, cats as pets have long been popular. In most families where there are cats as pets, there is only one, possibly two cats. They're not pack animals and don't adjust well to living on their own outside the home. Stray cats tend to be loners. In other countries, cats are not as pampered as they are in American homes, and are sometimes a source of food.

Marjorie Allen is a free-lance writer/editor, who has had several award-winning books published. She has taught writing and offers initial editing free. Check her website http://marjorienallen.com. Marjorie and her husband spend winters on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico and summers in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts.

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