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A beloved family feline, historically have cats always been treated well?

Updated on November 12, 2014

How did it all start?

A cat is normally looked upon in a few different ways; a pet, a hunter, a nuisance, etc. Throughout history cats have been treated as something to worship to a nuisance roaming around outdoors making a mess. For those who love cats, the thought of them being a nuisance is farthest from their mind; however, those who has a great dislike of cats cannot understand why anyone would allow one or even more into their home.

Some cat lovers and cat haters sometimes wonder how and why we as the human race even developed a relationship with our feline counterparts. Unlike dogs, cats have a known history of being in the lives of humans between 7,000 to 10,000 years ago. Most research shows domestic cats are decedents of one of five separate wild cats; the European wildcat, the Sardinian wildcat, the Central Asian wildcat, the Chinese desert cat, and of course the sub-Saharan African wildcat. A lot of reasons cats became welcomed guessed of communities is due to the problem of having people living in large groups and attracting rodents. Prior to cats being a part of the daily lives of humans, rodents would find their way into stored grain bins and feed on the grain inside. With the introduction of rodents invading food sources, there was a decrease of eatable food and increase in disease from the rodents eating and defecating in the grain bins. So when the wildcat decided to start making frequent visit to capture, kill and eat the rodents no one in the communities seemed to mind. In many cases the wildcats were welcomed and allowed to roam the communities with no interference. Since a problem with rodents and disease was not only a problem in Africa, but throughout the world. Thus making a permeant relationship between humans and felines, granted the relationship hasn’t always been good for the cat.

Where did it actually start?

A lot of people believe the beginnings of the human relationship with cats started in Egypt, but there have been discoveries in other parts of the world to challenge this belief. To date the oldest archaeological evidence that can be found for domesticated cats is on the Greek island of Cyprus and has led some to believe they were introduced to the area by 7500BC. In another location not far away a cat burial was found next to it human burial site, it is believed they have been there between 9200 – 9500 years. Along with the two burial sites, there was also a sculpted head of what appears to be a combination of a human and cat being. Turkey has its claims in there too, since female figurines carrying cats in their arms were located and dated back to roughly the 6th millennium. Some of the first illustrations dealing with cats wearing what appears to be a collar can be found in an Egyptian tomb in Saqqara, which has been dated back to the 5th dynasty (roughly 2500-2350 BC). Others things such as the mummification of cats in Egypt helps researchers to understand a rough estimate of when they became domesticated in Africa; however, due to difference in beliefs other populations didn’t preserve the remains of cats as well. In the end no one may never actually know where humans and cats began to have a relationship

Where they worshiped or considered evil?

What is known is that in the case of the Egyptians, cats basically became sacred animals and the harming of one outside of religious ceremonies was considered extremely wrong both from a religious and legal viewpoints. It has been shown in latter depictions of the Egyptian Goddess Bast that she had the head a feline and the body of a woman. The feline head was the driving force behind the priest serving Bast to keep sacred cats in her temple. These cats were actually thought to be incarnations of Bast herself. This is partly why upon their deaths they were mummified and present at the goddess’s alter as an offering. It has also been shown through art and other depictions found, cats where considered loving members of the family who were trained to aid in the hunting by retrieving prey once it was killed. Cats were considered so scared in some parts of Lower Egypt; it was illegal to remove them without proper permission from the ruling family.

On the opposite end of the spectrum in the Middle Ages in Europe, cats were considered evil. Though cats helped the populations of Europe as they had in Africa. Religious leaders began linking those who kept cats as a companion to also be evil. In their minds, if a person kept a cat they must be practicing witchcraft. It is because of this that during this period sanctioned slaughters of cats was the norm. The biggest irony of this injustice, is the fact that cats actually aided in the protection of Europe during the Black Plague; since the cats helped in the control of the rodent population slowing and even stopping the spread of the plague to more locations.

Current history has shown the need for cats also on military camps and ships. These cats however are not brought in to be a pet, but to help the camps ships with their overall health by controlling the vermin population. Such as the days of old, when cats first ventured into communities seeking out vermin in the grain bins, cats maintain the protector of human health. Cats have also be known to alert troops of poisonous gas, which in turn saved thousands of lives during the WWI and during combat in general by utilizing their “sixth sense” of knowing when an attack was impending. If you see the cat taking cover, probably a good idea to do the same!

Able Seacat Simon of the HMS Amethyst

In 1948, on the docks of Stonecutter’s Island in Hong Kong a young cat named Able Seacat Simon was adopted by a British Sailor and began his life aboard the HMS Amethyst as a mouser. While serving on the ship, Simon was wounded by shrapnel during an attack conducted by the Chinese Liberation Party. Simon would go on to survive the attack, kill unknown number of rodents, and provide comfort and support for the crew as they recovered from an attack that left them stranded and a lone for a 101 days. It should be noted that Simon is the only known cat to receive a military title in the British Navy, the only cat to receive the an Amethyst campaign ribbon and the Dickin Medal, and when he finally died due to his battle wounds the honorary Blue Cross Medal. Able Seacat Simon is the most decorated cat known of in military history.

Iraqi War Veteran PFC Hammer

In 2004 an Egyptian Mao cat was born on a military base in Iraq and decided to become part of the unit. PFC. Hammer proved his worth by killing and keep away rodents that would have otherwise devoured and contaminated their food sources. Hammer did so well that the unit made him an honorary member of unit and ensured he rotated home with his unit with their deployment was up. Hammer now lives in Colorado with his military family and feline siblings.

Cats as Companions

It is believed that the middle class are the main reason of why the change in status in society and homes. Where once cats were normally outside living around grain bins or barns as a weapon against vermin, they have now become a member of the family fulfilling their need to hunt by attacking beams of light or fake mice. While fulfilling a cat’s need to hunt, their antics also fulfill the needs of their humans with joy and entertainment. In the past 10 years alone, cats have surpassed their canine partners as the common companion in the United States. Though cats have found their place in current society, they are still at risk due to misconceptions of many owners. It is a misconception that cats can take care of themselves, so people will allow them outside unsupervised in city type populations. This leaves many cats open to deceases and injuries that an indoor only cat or even a cat living in a rural area may not have to face. This thought process is also leading to the problem of an overabundance of stray and feral cats or as I like to call them “Domestic Cats in need of a home”.

Though cats have been able to avoid many of the problems dogs have been forced to face due to breeding for certain types of physical characteristics; they have not gone without a handful of physical traits due to them breeding on their own. To ensure this does not occur society needs to stay alert to breeders attempting to do the same thing to cats as they have done to dogs. It is due to some dog breeders attempting to get the perfect animal, which has caused some breeds now to have genetic and physical ailments they might not have had in the first place.

History many never truly show all the good cats have done in the development of our societies and an even a better chance the harm we as have done to them to be soon. However, good and bad they have accepted humans as their companions and for the most part humans have cared for cats and even worshiped them at times. Cats and dogs alike will continue to be a trusted companion of humans in their homes for a long time to come.


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