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The Family Cat – Pet or Wild Animal?

Cats and dogs have long been an integral part of many

families. Cats are second in popularity to dogs

family pets. But of course, cats weren’t always the

domesticated domestic animal that 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 believed 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 sometimes called a tiger. Cats were not as easily domesticated as dogs (and I’m a good example of that.. smile smile). These animals had strong hunting instincts that did not easily translate into cooperative instincts. Originally, cats brought their hunting instincts into the home, even attacking small babies. Early domestication of cats occurred mainly in Africa and southeast Asia.

In the early years, cats served many purposes in homes, none of which were decorative. Cats were domesticated for their hunting abilities, with the hope that they would control vermin (mice and rats) in the home, in the barns, and especially in the

valuable grain storage containers. One of the cultures that first appeared to accept, and even respect, cats was the ancient Egyptians (ahem – the good old days). Of course, the Egyptians used cats to hunt fish and birds, as well as to control pest populations in granaries. But the cat also took on a new place of importance in Egyptian religion. An offshoot of the traditional cat-worshipping religious movement developed. The cat goddess Bastet (also identified as Bast of Pasht) is represented with a cat-headed figurine. Cats quickly became sacred to the Egyptians. They were well cared for in the family home and once 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 forbidding the export of the sacred cat, other cultures quickly came to appreciate the cat’s ability to catch rats. Soon the cats were smuggled or transported from 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 rodents. Overtime the cat changed and certain breeds were bred for ideal characteristics: eye color, hair length, marking patterns, etc. Well, I’m cute, but don’t tell my folks. I’ll give them about 30 seconds and then I have to run back and do my ‘chores’), loving the pet (oh yes, I sure do…or so my mom keeps telling me, even if I don’t want to I hear it… woof, woof).

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