It’s the cat…according to Abigail Tucker, an American science journalist. She wrote a book entitled, The Lion in the Living Room: How house cats tamed us and took over the world. The author maintains that we humans are the true “slaves” at home. Some of the highlights of her book were recently reported in La Repubblica.
Scientists tell us that cats, unlike dogs, are only partially domesticated. One sees this even anatomically. Cats of today are identical to cats of 50,000 years ago. Other species that are more domesticated, have had clear changes over time, like the floppy ears of dogs, and the shorter horns on cows today compared to cattle in antiquity.
There are several reasons that cats are poor candidates for domestication. They don’t have a herd instinct; they need a high-quality diet, given that they eat only meat; and it is difficult to confine them in one place. In nature, they need vast areas where they can prey without interference from other cats. To be solitary hunters makes cats also indifferent, for the most part, to our company.
It is interesting that an animal that does not have a great need to communicate with others, has developed—no doubt through trial and error—a form of communication with us: the meow. Feral cats do not meow and do not purr. It is reasonable to presume that these sounds, in practice, originated as commands specifically to get food from us and, in general, to manipulate us to their advantage.
In the forced domestication of other animals, like cows and sheep, man selected over time the more tranquil and gentle beasts. The case of the cat is different. Traits that made cats approach humans over the course of our history do not seem to be those of docility, but rather of courage, and perhaps of arrogance. It was cats who decided to come around us.
It happened, probably, after the development of agriculture. When man began to amass abundant food reserves in pantries and barns, the mice arrived. And so the cats understood that to stay near us could be to their advantage. We didn’t capture them, but rather they decided to approach us. Certainly, we were happy to have these efficient rodent exterminators at the time. This classic role is the only “work” that they do for us, while dogs are useful in many other ways. Ironically, the Rat Terrier dog is better at catching rodents because the cat, more fickle and independent, is not always in the right mood for catching mice.
In conclusion, the relationship between humans and cats is like a marriage of convenience…but one where love can blossom. Do you think we are more affectionate toward them than they are toward us?