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The Family Cat – Pet or Wild Animal?
Cats and dogs have long been an integral part of many people
families. Cats are second only to dogs in popularity
family pet. But of course, cats haven’t always been
domesticated pets we know today.
It is difficult to trace the origin of cats, but some scientists believe that the original ancestor of cats was a weasel-like animal called Miacis, which inhabited the earth about 40 million or 50 million years ago. In fact, Miacis is thought to be the common ancestor of all land-dwelling carnivores, including cats and dogs.
But apparently cats were on earth before dogs — millions of years before the first dogs. The first appearance of prehistoric cats is Smilodon, the saber-toothed cat that is sometimes called a tiger. Cats were not as easily tamed as dogs (and I am a good example of that..smile). These animals had a strong hunting instinct, which did not easily translate into cooperative instincts. Initially, cats brought their hunting instincts home, even attacking small babies. Early domestication of cats occurred mainly in Africa and Southeast Asia.
In the early days, cats served many purposes in the home, none of which were decorative. Cats were domesticated for their hunting skills, with the hope that they would control vermin (rats and mice) in homes, barns, and especially in
valuable containers for grain storage. One of the cultures that first seemed to accept, and even revere cats were the ancient Egyptians (ah – the good old days). Of course, the Egyptians used cats to hunt fish and birds, as well as control vermin populations in barns. But the cat also took on a new place of importance in the religion of Egypt. A branch of the traditional religious movement developed which worshiped cats. The cat goddess Bastet (also identified as Bast i Pashti) was represented with a figure of a cat’s head. Cats soon became sacred to the Egyptians; they were well cared for in the family home and after the cat died, its body was mummified and buried in a special cemetery. A cemetery found in the 1800s contained the preserved bodies of more than 300,000 cats. The Egyptian cat is the ancestor of many of our modern cat breeds. Although the Egyptians had strict laws prohibiting the export of the sacred cat, other cultures soon appreciated the cat’s rat-catching ability. Cats were soon smuggled or taken out of Egypt and brought to Greece and Rome, among other parts of Europe.
At the same time, domestic cats were found in India, China and Japan, where they served as pets as well as rodent catchers. Overtime cats changed and certain breeds were bred for ideal characteristics: eye color, hair length, marking patterns, etc. These many different varieties of cats may all have ancestors in the wild, even if today they are mostly used in homes as pets ( Well, I’m a pet, but don’t tell my people. I’ll give them about 30 seconds and then I have to run back and do my “chores”), pet lover (oh yes, of course I am loved … or so my mom tells me all the time, even if I don’t want her to I hear…purrh, purrh).
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