Let’s start with ethology:
CRAZY CAT SHENANIGANS – NO EXPLANATION, JUST RUMINATION
As you might have previously read, the first serious contact between humans and cats began some 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent. (2) We’re actually not quite sure why the two species took to each other. (2) The most prevalent theory involves (as discussed in other sections) cats forming partnerships with farmers as mousers within granaries in exchange for plentiful food, shelter, and the general easy living that would come with living alongside humans. (2) However, general consensus among researchers is cats couldn’t have proved to be all that useful to early civilization, and humanity could have just as easily tolerated such a close relationship simply because it wasn’t particularly malignant. (3) A second theory exists as well. Carlos A. Driscoll et al. write in “The Taming of the Cat,”
Cats have “cute” features—large eyes, a snub face and a high, round forehead, among others—that are known to elicit nurturing from humans. In all likelihood, then, some people took kittens home simply because they found them adorable and tamed them, giving cats a first foothold at the human hearth.
So we have two plausible (and potentially tangental) explanations for why cats began to hang around humans. So what impact did this have?
Biologically, not much at all. (4) Cats remain largely unchanged between their domesticated, wild modern, and wild historical selves. (4) The most prevalent adaptions include a development of social interactions (where formerly cats were solitary) and a tolerance for humans. (4) Some interesting conclusions from a study show cats and humans operate more on a level of co-existence rather than owner-pet relationships. (1) Cats also tend to dictate the nature of a human-cat relationship, particularly in terms of time spent interacting with one another; humans have difficulty initiating interaction, such a burden belongs to the cat. (1)
HUMANITY – THE MUNDANE AND THE UNCHANGED
The nature of the humanity-feline relationship involves very little massive change to society after the appearance of cats on the scene. Our best bet for any major changes to the course of human history probably lies in the facilitation of better agricultural conditions and practices from the behaviors discussed earlier on this page. For a deeper discussion on the changes cats have brought to society check out the If I Fits, I Sits section. However, such an ambivalent relationship in the domesticate universe seems rather unique.
The big surprise in all of this is cats don’t affect society to any great degree. (3) We didn’t domesticate these creatures for any sort of gain, goal, or benefit; we merely tolerated them, as they tolerated us. (3) In fact, cat’s may not even be considered domesticated! (3) (4) (At least not yet, anyway). (4) Such a domesticate relationship seems exceptionally unique compared to other backstories, uses and processes surrounding other domesticates, particularly when considering just how common cats are in our daily lives.
So have we really changed for cats? A little bit, but not really. And the same can be said about them for us. While other domesticates have clear uses, cats exist seemingly in a relationship of toleration, or “just because,” or even “why not?”
(1) Turner, D. C. “The ethology of the human-cat relationship.” Schweizer Archiv für Tierheilkunde 133.2 (1991): 63.
(2) Stephen J. O’Brien, Warren E. Johnson “The Evolution Of Cats.” Scientific American 297.1 (2007): 68-75. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. Web. 5 May 2013.
(3) Carlos A. , Discroll, Clutton-Brock Juliet, Kitchener Andrew C., and O’Brien Stephen J. “The Taming of the Cat.” Scientific American . 06 2009: 68- 74. Print.
(4) Carlos A. Driscoll, David W. Macdonald, and Stephen J. O’Brien
“From wild animals to domestic pets, an evolutionary view of domestication”
PNAS 2009 106: 9971-9978.