Its Raining Cats & Dogs
Why are Cats and Dogs amongst the most popular pets in the world. What is it that makes them most liked amongst all species of animals that we have today?
There are over 80 million dog owners in the United States alone. Cats amount in far larger numbers, ranging into the mid-90s. Move these figures onto the global scenario and you have a similar picture. Cats and Dogs are, by far, the most popular pets in the world with small animals like hamsters, rats, mice, etc. coming in at a distant second.
While dogs are said to be man’s best friend, surprisingly, cats have more followers in this world, than dogs. That said, the fight for the most popular pet has always been between these two. The surprising fact is that despite their popularity, loyalty and the many tales & poems written in their honour, dogs aren’t as popular, amongst pet lovers, as cats – a fact that is true across the planet.
Domestic Dog Evolutionary History
Dogs are descendents of the grey wolf, and one of the first animals to be domesticated by mankind. Mankind was largely dependent on this creatures for their hunting, herding and protection skills. Their loyalty and companionship to man was the primary reason for such an emotional connection with the animal.
An extremely versatile creature, dogs became a part of man’s everyday survival in the wild, giving him company on hunting trips as well as aiding transport by pulling sledges across ice and snow. Their pack-animal characteristics are nothing but a set of complex behaviours that allow them to place each other in a societal hierarchy.
Dogs are playful by nature and can be trained. Their unique ability to fit into households and be trained to take up some responsibility has made them even more popular amongst human beings. Dogs are a subspecies of the wolf, however their relationships with mankind has helped shape their characteristics to quite a large extent.
THEIR EARLY LIVES
With humans, dogs had a life that was probably started as wolves. It is widely believed, with archaeological evidence to support it, that dogs came closer to humans while they were still wolves. Scavenging around human settlements brought these wolves closer to human beings. Over time, these varieties of wolves, which hung around humans, evolved differently from those in the wild.
Bolder and keener to approach man, these varieties slowly led to the evolution of domesticated wolves, or the first dogs. In return, these dogs also received the safety to breed more, in human camps, without worrying about food. Humans’ use of tools would enable dogs to bring down bigger prey, making food an easier option than that for their wild cousins.
For humans, the benefits were mutual. Dogs would help clean up the camp by eating human waste as well as food scraps. Dogs were also used to provide warmth, as told in the Aussie Aboriginal saying “One, Two or Three Dog Night”, referring to the number of dogs they would cuddle amidst, for warmth. Dogs had much better senses, as compared to humans, thereby announcing the arrival of predators or strangers much before humans could sense or see them.
However, studies have shown that it is probably their keen sense of smell that humans relied upon, for hunting.
Their ability to live and work as a team, with humans, made them extremely popular over the years.
Dogs as pets became a popular phenomenon after the Second World War. In the 50s and 60s, dogs were kept as pets primarily to act as a guard, be a walking companion or be playmates for children. From being a worker, the dog was slowly transformed into an emotional companion or support for their owners.
Today, most dog owners look at these animals as an inseparable part of their families. The characteristics of the relationship is not dissimilar to that of a wolf-pack except that in the case of dog-human relationships, humans are the alpha-males or pack leaders. Dogs have been used as resources by humans, not just as pets but also as emotional support.
Studies have shown that people talk to dogs and even talk through them to mediate interactions with other humans. Dogs have, at times, also been assigned various tasks or routine chores around the house like licking plates in the dishwasher or carrying in the newspaper from the lawn.
Working dogs are more popular in rural or cut-off areas where life still isn’t as plush or comfortable as that in the cities. While in the cities, working dogs are restricted to roles like guide dogs, police dogs and hearing or assistance roles, rural dogs are more commonly used in hunting, gathering, rodent control, helping fisherman and even travelling (when it comes to the snow & ice covered regions up north).
Dogs have also been used in the field of medicine, especially when it comes to predicting seizures, sometimes well in advance.
Depending on their size and capabilities, dogs have been used for a wide range of jobs. The personality of each breed also gives them the kind of ideal behavioural traits looked for in people or animals involved in those jobs.
Dogs have taken up a significant part of life when it comes to humans. They are more than just simple companions, helping humans get through life as well. If that doesn’t make them popular, nothing will.
Cat vs. Dog
When it comes to cats, they are the complete opposite of dogs! An extremely powerful ability to adapt, a fantastically active breeding rate as well as predatory instincts have made cats extremely independent. They think, live and act selfishly, making them an, almost, antonym for dogs.
However, that hasn’t prevented man from being so attached to this animal that there are more cats, as pets, than there are dogs around the world. However, what is interesting in this fact is that there are far more homes that have dogs, than those that have cats. This means that cats breed and multiply rapidly, raising their numbers quickly in order to take over the pet-world.
HOW IT PROBABLY BEGAN
There has always been a popular belief that cats have been domesticated primarily due to the beliefs in ancient Egypt. However, archaeological discoveries in Cyprus have pre-dated these studies and have shown that almost 9 and a half thousand years ago, cats were associated with humans.
The similarity of modern-day domesticated cats with the African Wildcat shows that there is a possibility that early domestication occurred near the eastern part of the world, along with the development of agriculture in areas close to Egypt and Cyprus.
In Egypt, cats were sacred and an Egyptian God, Bast, was often depicted in the form of a cat, sometimes a lion. Cats were said to be the guardians of the underworld and were used liberally in carvings and statuettes all over Egyptian kingdoms and even the common man’s home. The introduction of cats, in Europe, can be attributed to the Romans.
While they may have been already present in Europe, before the Romans got them, domestication became quite popular after the Romans got involved. Primary evidence has shown that cats were normally taken aboard on ships to control the rodent problems and, therefore, save rations on board ships. They were also considered a good luck charm, possibly a derivation from the Egyptian beliefs of old.
Many ancient religions have looked at cats as exalted souls or companions for humans. In some cultures, such as Japanese society, cats are a symbol of good fortune, similar to the good luck charms of the Roman era. Islam and Norse mythology is also riddled with stories of cats playing a major role. The Prophet Muhammed is said to have had a cat, Muezza, who was loved and cherished by the Prophet. Freyja, the Norse goddess of love, fertility and beauty is said to have ridden a chariot pulled by cats.
In the 14th century, cats began to be associated with superstitions and were said to have caused bad luck. Cats were exterminated all across Europe to prevent witches from enhancing their powers. This led to a sharp decline in the number of cats and a subsequent rise in the number of rats around Europe. Thus came the era of the Black Death of the bubonic plague epidemic that reduced the European human population by almost 60% in some parts.
Cats are extremely popular pets in Europe and North America. The concept of cat breeds is relatively recent though. Breeds are said to have emerged in Britain, in the late 19th century. Cats have a extremely large number of breeds, 41 to be exact. 16 of these are said to be natural breeds, which may have emerged before the practice of breeding pedigree cats amongst humans.
Their small size and independent nature is extremely popular with humans. They pose little physical danger to adult humans and require very little care. Cats don’t require to be walked, bathed or, even, fed at times, as they tend to take care of all these aspects on their own. Extremely clean creatures, cats are generally free of any diseases and can quickly acclimatize themselves to humans even if the humans are allergic to them.
There are beliefs that say cats might lower allergic reactions, in humans, to other things. While unproven scientifically, there are few harmful reasons for humans to stay away from cats, making them quite popular. Cats are known to help normalise high blood pressure while the emotional and psychological support from cats is unmatched.
Cats are playful, when young, although what appears “play time” to humans is actually its natural hunting instincts kicking in. Even when playing with a ball of yarn, a cat is honing its ability to survive on its own, while humans merely think that it is playing.
Dogs and cats have enough reasons to bring them closer to human kind. Perfect pets and, more importantly, perfect companions, both cats & dogs are ideally suited for life with humans.
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