In previous blogs, I have mentioned my cat Pickles (full name Sweet Pickles). She was a surprise “housewarming” gift from a co-worker when I moved into this new apartment about nine months ago. Pickles is fun, frisky, and loves to scratch my furniture and chew cords. I was ill-prepared for having a pet because, as a child, my family never had pets. No cats, dogs, fish, hamsters, turtles, guinea pigs, rabbits, snakes … you get the picture. But Pickles and I have made our peace and she’s a hell of a lot easier to keep alive than a houseplant.
About a month ago that same co-worker stopped me and told me a “tale of woe” concerning the lady whom donated Pickles (formerly known as “Topsy” I discovered) for my gift. It seems this woman needs to have knee surgery and is going to stay at her daughter’s place in Virginia while recuperating. The recovery and associated physical therapy was estimated to require between eight and 10 weeks, which was great with this lady’s family because they had been trying to get “Grandma” to move in for years. But the hitch was that this lady still had another pet cat … Turvy … and her grand-daughter is allergic to cats. Topsy Turvy … well, at least Pickles’ original name makes some sense now.
So to make a long story short … Pickles (the extrovert) was reunited with her introverted sister (they are actually from the same litter) who I renamed Moo (short for “Moo Goo Gai Pan”) and all hell has broken loose. In the dictionary, the term “topsy turvy” is deined as “confused, disorderly, or an inversion of the natural order.” Truer words have never been printed on high-quality paper. These two cats are insane when they rough house, and it’s MY HOUSE they are chewing and scratching their way through. Blinds … curtains … earbuds … lamp cords … shoe strings …dish towels … anything and everything is fair game.
And then there’s the “stigma” of being a double cat owner. I recently read an article where the writer said, “Single men and cats are like a burger and broccoli. Separately they are okay, but together it just seems off.” When I meet people I sometimes lie about my feline flatmates because people assume a single man my age with cats is “troubled” and destined for a life of loneliness and tea parties with his still-in-the-original-packaging action figures! P.S. … they are not dolls, people!!
So it’s time to defend my cats’ honor as well as my own!! Here’s the scoop …
The domesticated cat … Felis catus … has been associated with humans for more than 9,500 years. These little furry felines have been valued for providing companionship, preying on pests and vermin, and even inspiring entire civilizations. Mine mostly chew stuff.
The ancestors of domesticated cats lived about 10 million to 15 million years ago and share genetic “stuff” with lions, tigers, cougars, and other ferocious “kitties.” During the evolution process, domestic cats really haven’t changed that much. They are still small, have a strong social nature and love of play, display high intelligence and a system of communication, and still possess their innate hunting skills and abilities.
It has always been said that domesticated cats were first prominent in Egypt, but more recent discoveries trace their first appearances to Cypress and Africa just under 10,000 years ago. But ancient Egyptians definitely raised the bar on the treatment of cats. Around 3500 B.C., many Egyptians worshiped cats and looked at them as embodiments of their gods. Some prayed to them and pampered them ridiculously. Some protected them because of their abilities to hunt and kill mice and other destructive vermin. There were even elaborate funerals for pet cats and equally horrible punishments for individuals who harmed these beloved felids. There have been hundreds or ornate caskets found with carefully mummified cats inside, as well as embalmed mice for “treats” in the afterlife. Historic records also show that some Egyptian cat owners shaved off all their hair to mourn the loss of their pets. If a home caught fire in ancient Egypt, the cat was saved first. The Egyptians also honored and revered Bast, a goddess with the body of a woman and the head of a cat, as the protector of these sacred animals and as a deity who bestowed luck and favor on people who cared for her “many children.”
Many other civilizations, too, catered to the whims of cats. The Romans of the 1st and 2nd century treated domesticated cats like royalty. Romans are also believed to have been responsible for the spread of cats to most of Europe. In Norse mythology, Freyja … the goddess of love and fertility … rode in a chariot pulled by cats. In Japan, the Maneki Neko is a cat that brings good fortune. And many seafaring tribes and peoples took cats aboard ships because they believed these animals brought luck and could perceive approaching storms and dangers. It is this last practice that is believed to have spread the domesticated cat to other continents.
Today, there are more than 500 million domesticated cats in the world. According to a 2009-2010 study endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States, there are 93.6 million “owned” cats in the U.S. … about 16 million more than pet canines. On average, one third of American households have at least one cat; the average “cat owner” has 2.45 pets.
The domestic cat was first classified in 1758 in the 10th edition of Systema Naturae. Currently, there are 41 recognized breeds of domesticated cats. Purebred cats (or pedigree cats) are animals whose entire lineage has been maintained within one standard breed; these animals represent less than 10 percent of the overall cat population. Many other breeds are grouped into loose “clowders” (a group of cats) such as domestic longhair, domestic shorthair, and other nomenclature based on coat length, fur pattern, body type, or any number or genetic quirks created by a cat’s more than 20,000 separate genes and 38 chromosomal pairs.
But the real question still remains: why choose a cat for a pet? First off, cats have super powers. Cats have additional thoracic and lumbar vertebrae that provide it with exceptional mobility, flexibility, and balance. They even possess “floating clavicles” that allow them to move through tight spaces. Cats have a more acute sense of hearing than people (and dogs!). They can hear an incredibly wide range of frequencies as well as fainter noises in part because of their large, movable outer ears which both amplify sound and provide better source direction for the noises. Cats also have super vision … because of retinal formations and slit pupils, cats can see in near darkness by focusing all available light. But they see in only blues and greens … weird! Add to the list that cats have “super jaws” and specially formulated teeth to kill prey; a sense of smell that can perceive one part per billion of a substance in catnip; protractible claws for defense and hunting; a special gait similar to camels and giraffes that assures balance and even stealth; and a system of whiskers that provide sensory information on everything from air currents to the dimensions of gaps in small spaces. And don’t forget the super metabolism … cats have extremely efficient digestive systems, can tolerate temperatures up to 133° F with access to water, and can conserve heat for cold weather conditions by reducing the flow of blood to their skin. Cats should come with capes!!
The second reason to choose a cat as a pet is that cats can talk. Numerous studies have documented that cats use a variety of sounds and body language to communicate with each other and with their human caregivers. Ask any cat owner and they will confirm that the meows, purrs, trills, growls, squeals, and hisses from their little “furballs” all correlate to very specific needs and emotional states. Likewise, cats will make body contact, move their ears and tails, fall into a self-grooming pattern, or even do the “kneading” trick with their front paws to express themselves. They even emit pheromones (undetectable by humans) to convey their feelings and emotions to each other. Dogs just bark. Hamsters just keep running in their wheels. And turtles … turtles just take up space.
Thirdly on my list … cats keep you healthy. Although there are an estimated 400,000 minor cat bites inflicted on pet owners each year, cat ownership has been shown to provide greater mental health through affection and companionship. Reduced physical responses to stress also are a benefit of owning a cat. Studies in America, Switzerland, England, and other locations have shown reduced blood pressure in at-risk cat owners as well as a corresponding lower risk of heart attacks and strokes.
And finally … and maybe most importantly … cats just make better pets from a practical standpoint. According to more Humane Society data, cat owners spend less money on routine vet visits than do dog owners. Cats use a litter box for “their business” … a natural instinct not dimmed in millions of years … so they do not need to be taken outside or specially trained. If something comes up at the office or if an opportunity presents itself for overnight or weekend travel, a cat can be left to its own devices. Cats are generally low maintenance, providing a sense of freedom to their owners. A dog … oh, no! A dog would need a sitter or a walker or a stay at a kennel in a similar situation.
As I wrote this blog post, I was feeling good about my relationship with my pets … aside from the destruction of personal property. Then I saw some information that actually made me a little smug. Suddenly, owning a pair of feisty felines made me a little cocky.
A higher percentage of cat owners both adopted their pets from animal shelters and had their animals spayed or neutered as compared to their canine-loving counterparts. Additionally, a psychological study conducted at the University of Texas at Austin put “cat people” in a good light when researching the differences between “us” and “dog lovers.” Looking at personality traits and the connections between people and their pets, subjects who associated themselves with cats were noted to be more open and flexible. And then a separate study conducted in the UK found that a higher percentage of cat owners (over dog owners) held advanced educational degrees.
So people … and dog owners, in particular … quit dissing on our kitties!!
POINT OF RANT: My one cat is a “polydactyl,” meaning she has extra toes. And extra toes mean extra claws. Maybe all the scratching and chewing is just in her “super powered mutant” nature! SNIKT!!