Thousands of years ago cats were worshipped as gods,cats have never forgotten this. The Egyptians worshipped them, and had tame cats 4,000 years ago. When a house cat died, the family and servants shaved their eyebrows and went into mourning.The death of a temple cat was mourned by the whole city. Many mummies of cats have been found, prepared in the same manner as the mummies of kings and nobles. The penalty for killing a cat was death.

The tame cat was rare in Europe until after 1000AD. However in European superstition the cat was usually an evil spirit, rather than a god.The devil was often pictured as a black cat, and the familiar spirits of witches were supposed to take the shape of cats. Even today some people believe that a black cat crossing their path will bring bad luck.

That they have "nine lives" is part of an ancient superstition also. As people associated luck with cats, and the number nine was considered to be especially lucky because it was a "trinity of trinities".

While cats are remarkably resilient they do, of course, only have one life. 

A Brief History of the Domestic Cat.

The domestic cat in Britain today is evolved from the African Wildcat that first came into contact with human settlements along the fertile floodplains of the Nile in Egypt around 4,000BC.

The Wildcats living in the area were attracted to the settlements as granaries and silos attracted rodents. The settlements also offered the cats shelter and safety from larger predators.

The Wildcats gradually evolved into the domestic cat. They became more placid, their brains became smaller and their gastro-intestinal system changed. Coat patterns and colour mutations that wouldn’t have survived in the wild were perpetuated in the domestic cat.

By 2,000 BC cats were well established in Egypt. Between 330 – 30 BC cat worship had reached its peak. Felines were seen as having a protective role because of their rodent control powers and ability to hunt poisonous snakes. Egyptians developed a deep understanding of, and respect for cats, and created symbols of cat deities.

It is believed that cats reached India in around 300 – 500 BC and China and South-east Asia between 2,000 BC and 400 AD. They arrived relatively late in Europe but with the decline of the Egyptian empire and the expanding Roman empire, the cat travelled rapidly north across Europe. By around 500 AD felines were being freely traded throughout most of Europe.

Domestic cats first went to the New World in the fifteenth century when French Jesuits took them to Quebec. A cat accompanied the Pilgrims when they sailed to America in 1620 and appeared in larger numbers in Pennsylvania in the 1700’s when settlers imported them for rodent control purposes. Cats also sailed to Australia on convict transporters in the 1800’s.

Over the centuries, many religions have incorporated cat worship. Domestic cats symbolised more feminine virtues, especially fertility, which was linked to felines’ nocturnal inclination. The cat also came to be seen as the guardian of the night and sometimes death’s companion which led to their association with the devil.

The spread of Christianity meant that the Church had an ambivalent attitude to cats because of the many roles felines had played in the old religions. Some Christian churches such as the Russian Orthodox Church continued to respect cats whilst others ignored their presence.

Any vestiges of cat worship dramatically ended in Europe in 1484 when Pope Innocent VIII decreed that witches worshipped Satan and took on the form of their animal helpers, or "familiars". The usual familiar was a cat. The Church turned against felines and they were persecuted for thousands of years.

Discrimination against cats can, however, be traced back a further two thousand years to the twelfth century went it was believed that heretics worshipped the devil in the form of a black cat. During the plague of the thirteenth century, the Lord Mayor of London ordered all cats to be destroyed thereby unwittingly removing the greatest barrier to the spread of the disease.

Throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, people were tortured and killed because they owned a cat. A lack of understanding about cat behaviour perpetuated the myths. It was believed that cats were nocturnal creatures in order to guide evil spirits. These beliefs soon spread from Europe to North America.

Witchcraft laws were abolished in 1736, thereby lessening the Catholic Church’s antipathy towards cats. This was the dawn of the Age of Reason – theological beliefs were waning and the associations between cats and spiritual life, both good and evil, were reducing.

Cat numbers in Britain began to increase. They lived feral or semi-feral lives, surviving on rats and mice and scavenging in growing urban sprawls. Their lot didn’t really improve as, during the eighteenth century, they were often the subject of cruel entertainment. Even in Victorian times, antipathy towards, and dislike of, cats was still common. Feral cat shooting on large estates and elsewhere was common. This lead to an increase in numbers of brown rats.

However, it was during Victorian times that some individuals became determined to raise the status of cats. The country’s first cat show took place at Crystal Palace in 1871. It was organised by Harrison Weir, who wanted to both improve the appearance of cats, as well as raise felines’ lot. His efforts led to a growth in interest in pedigree cat breeding.

It is only in the last 100 years that cats have become popular pets and only in the last 50 – 60 years that they have become true companion animals. Their integration as companion animals has been slower than that of dogs, as felines have traditionally been used for their rodent control capabilities. Perhaps their independence, as opposed to a dog’s pack animal nature, has also been a factor in their slower assimilation into the role of popular household pet.

Increased affluence in society, the widespread availability of feline neutering, improved veterinary care and changing attitudes towards animal welfare are all factors which have helped to increasingly establish cats as highly popular pets over the past few decades.

Cats are now the nation’s favourite pet. Their low-maintenance lifestyle, coupled with their winning personality blend of independence and affection, makes them the ideal companion animal for young and old.

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