From companions to the Pharaohs to Hello Kitty, cats have been a part of human civilization for a (very) long time. In fact, domestication of cats likely began as early as 12,000 years ago, when humans first began to settle down from their nomadic lifestyle and to farm the valleys of the Fertile Crescent.
Farming meant that crops needed to be stored someplace within or near permanent human settlements. Naturally, rodents came to feed on the easily accessed grain, and feral cats arrived in response to the abundance of prey. This symbiotic relationship proved to be a win-win for both cats and humans—the cats got free food and the people got free pest control.
And, as it turned out, cats were pretty nice to have around for other reasons. They’re smart, affectionate, cute, and just being around a cat can even boost our immune response and reduce stress.
Over the millennia, domestic cats have changed quite a bit from their feral ancestors, Felis silvestris (“cat of the forest” or “woods cat”). For one thing, they’re smaller. Today’s domestic cats typically top out at a weight of approximately 14 pounds, while their wild forbears could tip the scales at up to 25 pounds. Also, centuries of eating smaller prey or food from a bowl has made their paws smaller in relation to their bodies, and indoor life has made their fur softer and less dense (though this varies widely by breed).
As for their personalities, cats are often characterized as independent, fickle, or standoffish when compared with dogs. And during the Middle Ages in Europe, there arose the superstition that cats were somehow allied with dark forces such as sorcery and witchcraft. The cat’s reputation worsened when in the early 13th century, Pope Gregory IX issued a Papal Bull (or edict) saying that Satan was part cat and that the animal was central to devil worship. Sadly, this edict resulted in the murder of thousands of cats, particularly black cats.
The abuses continued under Queen Elizabeth the First, and in 1563 England’s Witchcraft Act associated cats with the dark arts and made anyone who owned a cat suspect. Fortunately for cats, civilization did at last move forward, though the black cat remains a symbol of Halloween and is still associated with ill fortune.
A Few Cat Stats
Today there are somewhere between 200 and 600 million cats in the world—with estimates varying widely because of the number of feral cats. According to the ASPCA, in the US housecats number about 85.8 million, not counting strays. Breeds range widely in appearance, build, color, and fur length—with the most popular being the Siamese, Persian, Maine Coon, Ragdoll, Bengal, Himalayan, and American Shorthair.
Stray cats (which could number as many as 70 million in the US alone) continue to be a problem—especially in towns and cities, where they often feed on birds. Shelters often find themselves overwhelmed when trying to house, care for, and re-home feral cats, so it’s important that owners spay or neuter their cats as part of a regimen of regular veterinary care. One way to ease some of the pressure on shelters would be if prospective cat owners choose to adopt rather than buy.
After the holidays, shelters usually see an uptick in the number of pets that were given as gifts and “didn’t work out.” So, be sure to think through the impact of your decision to adopt a pet, including these tips on holiday pet adoption:
1. Decide whether you have the time, patience, and resources to provide for a pet.
2. Prepare for the expense and be realistic about the total cost of pet ownership.
3. Involve your family in the purchase.
4. Avoid overstimulation during the holidays.
If you are looking to give a forever home to a feline in need, we hope you’ll consider your local shelter in your search.
Editor’s Note: Is the cat the best pet for you? If you’re interested in adopting a cat, here are some cat adoption and parenting tips to consider.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.
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