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A short History of Cats

The history of the cat is an interesting tale with twists and turns at every few hundred years. The cat has been worshiped, adored, loathed, and persecuted by humans throughout time. To understand cats' place in today's society, it is important to know how the relationship between cats and humans began.

It has been 5000 years since man domesticated the cat. The first cat made tame was the African Wildcat. The cat wasn't domesticated to make a pet or companion; the cat was domesticated by accident.

In the Valley of the Nile (which is now Sudan, but then was Upper Egypt), the cat was first domesticated. The people in Egypt at that time consumed large amounts of grain, and they stored this grain in large storage rooms. Many rats would draw to these rooms to eat the grain and breed. The rats attracted cats who would eat the rats, thus helping to eliminate Egypt's rodent problem. People recognized this fact and left food out for the cats to encourage them to "hang around." It worked. Many cats bred and lived happy lives in Egypt destroying the plentiful rats.

Now the Pharaoh had much grain that needed protection from vermin. He wanted to confiscate all of the cats in Egypt and keep them near the palace granaries, but he couldn't. Cats were so popular among his people that to remove all the cats from all the people in Egypt would have caused a revolt. So, instead he cleverly declared all cats "demigods." This means that they weren't gods equal to the Pharaoh's status, but they certainly were more valuable than the average person. With this plan, people could care for the demigods (cats) while they remained the official property of the Pharaoh. The status of the cat shot up overnight. If anyone killed a cat, they were sentenced to death. If a house caught on fire, the cats were pulled to safety first. If a cat died of natural causes, the family had to bring the dead animal to the priest to make certain the cat's death was natural. People would sob for their cat with outwardly displays of sorrow. Shaving their eyebrows or beating their chest was a good sign of this sadness.

In time, the cat became known for health, fortune, and marriage. To have many cats meant you were very lucky.

Cats spread to other parts of the world by ship. The crew members would always keep extra cats aboard the ship to kill any mice that might be aboard. Cats spread quickly, and soon were part of many religious beliefs and deities. One such goddess, Freya, a Norse goddess during the middle ages, had the head of a cat and the body of a woman. The inclusion of cats with religious gods became the cat's downfall. When Christianity spread, it condemned false gods, and cats were viewed as a manifestation of the devil. This led to 100 years of pure torture to the cat. Many were killed, tormented, burned at a stake, or else roasted alive. Consequently, the cat population declined tremendously, and cats became scarce.

It is supposed that domestication of cats took place not only in Egypt but in other regions on the globe. The remains of animals discovered when excavating the ancient settlements of the Bronze Age and even late Stone Age on the territory of the Caucasus, Central Asia, India confirm this idea. At the beginning of AD a cat as a domestic animal, appeared in Roman Empire and according to Plutarchus, in I century AD, it was found in Europe. In the XIth century domestic cat spread over the whole Europe and became an ordinary domestic animal used in household first of all for catching rodents.

At the same time the spreading took place in Russia. According to excavations cats come to us not only from the west but also from the south. There were discovered the remains dating from the VIIth-VIIIth centuries AD in the south of Ukraine, and in central and northern regions of Russia (Moscow, Novgorod) - dating from the Xth-XIVth centuries.

Cat become the favorite domestic animal because of its features and habits, very specific, different from the features of other domestic animals: meowing resembling the crying of the child during the heat, changes of pupils of the eyes depending on the power of light, soft, noiseless step etc. And simultaneously it was chased and driven away. In convents cat was the only animal allowed to keep. In the Xth century in Great Britain cats were worshiped; for theft or killing of the cat one could be sentenced to death. In other countries, in France, for example, at the same time cats was considered to be a Satan, a monster. Often the owners of black cats were accused of agreement with a devil. In the Middle Ages many people were burnt with their cats. That's why in the ancient pictures cats are depicted together with the warlocks. The same image of this animal one can find in fairy-tales, but absurd and invented superstitions about cats have fallen into oblivion.

In other countries where Islam ruled, cats were held in respect. The legend says that Mohammed adored cats. When one of them was sleeping on his sleeve and he had to go out, Mohammed supposedly cut off the sleeve not to disturb his pet.

The cat was also common in China by 500 BC. At first the cat was given as gifts to Emperors. As time went by the nobility were allowed to own them, then the priesthood, and finally the commoners. A lot of the cats interbreed with the local wild cats and created some of the breeds we know today. The fluffy Persian came from the country of its name. Now called Iran. The Angora from Turkey. The Siamese from Siam, now Thailand. The Burmese from Burma, now Myanmar and the Bobtail from Japan. In Japan, cats are seen as lucky. One of the most known cat is the 'Beckoning Cat'. This cat is seen with one paw held up, and brings good luck to Japanese and Chinese homes and businesses that have one displayed. The story goes that a cat used to stand out the front of the Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo and hold up its paw and beckon people in. Due to the cat the temple became very rich. The temple still exists today and cat lovers go there to pray for the good health of there pets.

Speaking of Islam, they may love and respect cats, but many Muslims sure treat dogs terribly.

In Europe the cat was seen as evil and disciples of the Devil. By 1400 the cat was almost extinct due to bad press from the Church. This was because the Church felt that the cat had to much connection to Pagan churches and beliefs. This is one of the main reasons that The Plague got out of hand.

At first the People thought that cats and dogs were the bringers of plague. This led to the annihilation of both animals. Later it was discovered that there was less of a problem with plague if there was a lot of cats around. This encouraged people to start keeping cats again.

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A Short History of Cats
from CatQuotes.com   
This is an interesting site full of cat humor, facts, myths, movies, books, and information.

And a discussion about the hunting of feral cats going on now in Australia
A Little About The Australian Program to Kill Feral Cats

In Europe, in the Middle Ages, laws were passed which lead to the killing of millions of CATS. It was part of an effort by the Church to wipe out paganism.

Very soon rats started plaguing.

When the bubonic plague was brought back from Asia, the rats spread the Black Death. MILLIONS SUFFERED FOOD POISONING FROM RAT DROPPINGS and 25 million died of the plague. It was the greatest disaster in human history.

CATS were reintroduced and bubonic plague was brought under control.

The Egyptians used CATS to prevent rats and mice from poisoning the grain with their droppings. CATS ensured economic wealth for the Egyptians by allowing them to store vast amounts of grain safely.

In Australia vermin control by CATS has prevented a major outbreak of bubonic plague and during the 60's, 70's and 80's Australian homes were virtually vermin free.

Now you would think that anyone who would suggest we start killing our cats, in the light of the lessons of years of history, would be quite foolish.


In 1989 a quite solid anti-cat campaign started. Cats were accused of everything they could think of.

The "pet cats kill endangered animals" slogan became the most popular accusation. Environmentalists then jumped on the bandwagon. Then governments started introducing anti-cat laws just like in Europe, in the Middle Ages.

The Federal Government says "Rare or threatened species do not occur in or near cities and are not at risk from domestic cats."

Cat numbers have been dropping at up to 10% per year. Over half a million cats have been killed. The rest are being kept indoors.

Australia, now, is killing cats at a faster rate than has ever occurred in history.

By 1995 rats and mice started invading Australian homes, restaurants and food factories.

There has been an eight-fold increase in the incidence of mouse plague in the grain fields costing hundreds of millions of dollars.


Rat baits being used to try to control vermin are poisoning fifty toddlers a week.

Councils are giving out vast amounts of rat baits for free but the vermin numbers are increasing.

Urban Native Animals are not in decline as some claim. In fact Ibis, Possums, Bats, Feral Pigeons, Magpies, Butcherbirds, poisonous Snakes and also Rats & Mice are all in dangerous over population around our homes having lost their primary predator.

People have been killed by bats with lyssa virus or are being attacked by snakes in their own backyards now.

Some said that if we killed enough cats we would have more of the animals that cats prey on. This is exactly what has happened !

More Current History
The feral cat crisis going on right now in Australia
The article to your left is very much against the hunting of feral cats in Australia. But those that favor feral cat extermination are correct...ferral cats are such successful hunters and reproduce so rapidly that they are taking away the habitat and killing a wide range of birds and smaller native animals.  And they are apparently evolving into very large killing machines.  I sure don't have a solution... but I suspect that as with most problems there needs to be a balance... the solution will lie somewhere in between the the extremes.  I apologize in advance for the gruesomeness of the photos but I thought it best not to sugar coat the realities of life and death.  Also note that it's just not feral cats that are causing incredible problems but also a plague of rabbies, coyotes, feral dogs, and foxes.  Wild horses are less of a problem but are also of concern.
Ranger (on left) being interviewed about the smaller native wildlife facing extinction due to extreme over populaton of feral cats

Below a ranger from the Northern Territories (2013) reports thousands of feral cats in the "bush", many weighing as much as 40 lbs.
There is also a plague of rabbits in parts of Australian denuding the land

Below another territorial ranger with another giant cat shot in the wild