Our History with Cats

Our History with Cats

Long story short: It's complicated

No other animal carries the same level of paradoxical mystique than the cat. Cats were worshipped in Egypt and demonized in Europe. They’re either harbingers of bad luck or good luck depending on their fur color and your culture. They can be born two-faced, like Janus cats, or with two sets of genes, like chimeras. Even Catwoman was a frenemy to Batman!

Am image of a black and white cat

How can this be? Are we mapping their behavior onto our perceptions, or forming superstitions based on their behavior? For example, cats can go from being content to hissing at you in 0.3 seconds. Does this mean they could easily turn on us and are not to be trusted? According to lore, they can suck the life out of your baby. Why would we think that?

To better understand the cat, let’s look at our history together.

Will cats always land on their feet?

It’s ironic that throughout history, it’s cats we characterize as untrustworthy and duplicitous. When cats were considered goddesses, they died. Cats who were considered demons or witches died. No wonder cats need nine lives. So who should not be trusted? Humans or cats? If cats seem indifferent to us, that’s actually a pretty generous response after how we’ve treated them.

Now we are more accustomed to permanently conforming our pets to fit the whims of our desires. Because about 70% of cats in the United States are indoor only, declawing has long been an acceptable means of protecting our furniture. Illegal in most of Europe, this painful practice was just recently outlawed in New York as well as in several cities throughout the country.

Cats don’t suffer from as many genetic disorders as dogs, but some live with gene mutations perpetuated by breeding. The Scottish fold has malformed cartilage, which gives it tiny floppy ears and arthritic pain throughout its body. While there is a move to ban the breeding of them in the U.K., the breed is gaining popularity in the U.S.

It's important to consider the unintended consequences of the physical qualities we choose for our cats.


An image of a grey cat 

Reflections on cats

Being notoriously hard to read, it’s impossible to know how cats see the world. Because of this, we have felt compelled to project our own feelings onto them. After all, our deep need to understand or at least explain the universe has been with us longer than cats. It turns out that the inscrutable cat is merely a mirror that reflects our own bias, our own hopes and fears. Perhaps this is all we can understand.

“I'm not crazy. My reality is just different than yours.”
—Cheshire Cat

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