A brief history of the domestication of cats
think the cat was first tamed about 3500 BC. The ancient Egyptians were the first people to keep cats as pets; they also worshipped cats as
gods. The goddess Bastet, daughter of the sun god Ra, had a cat's head. The Egyptians loved and worshipped her, and so loved cats. Deceased
cats were mummified and given the same kind of burial as human family members.
Romans, in the conquest of Egypt, brought cats home to Europe. After a period of disfavor during the superstitious Middle Ages, cats were
restored to hero status: when rats from Asia brought the Black Plague to Europe, people who had kept cats survived, for their cats killed the
rats. Soon cats became protected by law.
times, cats were a favorite subject of artists and writers, and were considered part of a happy home. Studies have shown that petting a cat lowers a person’s blood pressure and that elderly people who are able
to keep their pets live longer. The healing power of cats is being used to help people in increasingly popular programs in which pets are
taken to visit nursing home residents.
I read that
cats, unlike dogs or horses, initiated their own domestication. They probably approached a human family group, killed some vermin, accepted
some food and a spot by the fire as a reward, and thus earned the humans’ respect by making their usefulness known. Now, most cats spend their
days in leisure, not having to work for their keep. But then, compared to the way humans lived throughout most of the last three or four
millennia—so do we!
©Lisa J. Lehr