The lion on your lap: My obsession with cats

Ever since I was a child, I have adored cats. My family have had many in the past, so I’ve basically grown up with them.

My grandparents had two lovely Molly’s (female cat). Often times when I would visit my grandparents, I would give a quick hello to them, but then immediately go on a hunt to find the cats. I also spent most of my time playing with them!

Tucker was a shy, grey tabby. She would only approach my gran and was wary of everyone else. But one afternoon, I managed to stroke this elusive creature, and from then on we shared a special bond. Tucker was the one who sparked my love of cats. She would come to me in the garden and sit on my lap, but then flee when someone else would get close.

Sadly she passed away in her sleep in her early teen years. She went into her little bed in my grandparents garden, but didn’t wake in the morning. I was devastated.

Tucker did have a sister. Isis was named after one of the major Egyptian Goddesses. It is a gorgeous name but now has bad connotations and seems a bit inappropriate today, but I can assure you my family aren’t terrorists! She was a grumpy tortoiseshell cat who’s meow sounded more like a quack.

I had a love-hate relationship with Isis. I remember one time when I was playing with her with some string and she scratched me by accident. My 14 year old self took offence to this and spent more time with Tucker. But as I grew up, I forgave her. When Tucker died, I felt sorry for Isis. Even though she would fight with Tucker a lot.

Sadly, as Isis grew old, she experienced a lot of pain. So my family made the decision to put her down.

Then there was Jasper. My uncle and aunt would let me pet sit him and their dogs while they were at work/away. Jasper was another tabby but was white all over with ginger splodges. Unfortunately, he was run over at a very young age. He managed to hobble back to my uncles house, but the vet made the hard decision to put him down.

My little gremlin Gizmo

Fast forward a few years when one day walking home from college I bumped into my neighbour who straight up asked me “do you want a kitten?”. Of course I said yes. Six years later and I am so glad I have my darling Gizmo in my life.

My little gremlin is my one true love. I genuinely don’t know where i’d be without him. Although he has no idea what I’m saying, I still pour my heart out to him (this is normal for cat owners I hope!) and he’s been there as my little support buddy whenever I’ve needed a cry, hug or smile.

As you can tell. I am hugely passionate about cats. They are probably my favourite animal on this planet. When I go to zoo’s and see the lions and tigers, all I can see is a big version of my little Gizmo.

Now lets get into the sciencey stuff! We know cats as the independent, self-caring animals who only use us for food and a bed to sleep on. And this is essentially how they came to us way back then.

From various genetic evidence, it is suggested that our modern felines (Felis catus) came from the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), and were domesticated around 4,000 years ago.

Despite domestication happening that long ago, it was thought that cats would have hung around human settlements about 8,000 years ago in what was called “the Fertile Crescent”, an area in the Middle East spanning from modern day Egypt to Iraq. This is where the origins of domestic cats are thought to have arisen.

African Wildcats were the precursor to the Domestic Cats we see today.

The Fertile Crescent was where early human started to practice agriculture. 9,000 years ago, wheat, barley and lentils were some of the first plants that we began to farm. The first domesticated farm animals were also seen here around the same time. Pigs, sheep and cattle all have origins that source back to the Fertile Crescent.

With all these new crops being produced, rats and mice would come along to feast on the grains and agricultural by products. The cats were thought to have followed the rodent populations into our farms to hunt them for food. In turn acting as the mice patrol for us, ensuring the vermin didn’t get at our crops. And this is how cats came into our lives.

Seeing the benefits of having a cat on your farm, farmers would take them in as they travelled across the land. Studies of DNA evidence has shown that these Middle Eastern friendly felines were found in eastern European settlements.

The ancient Egyptians also helped with the domestication of cats. They worshipped them, and because of this, cats became very popular animals 6,000 years ago. It was also illegal to harm a cat and breaking this law could have resulted in death.

Rodents were also a problem on many ships. During medieval times it was actually compulsory to have a cat on board to rid the vessel of mice. The Romans also took a liking to cats because of their mice catching abilities. With maritime trade rising and the expansion of the Roman empire, these Egyptian bred cats began to spread all across Europe. With some being found as far as the northern tip of Germany.

For thousands of years, cats were only seen as pest control animals. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that people took an interest in the way their cats looked, and selective breeding started to take place.

“There are few things in life more heartwarming than to be welcomed by a cat

-Tay Hohoff

A group of researchers looked at a genetic marker that codes for the blotched tabby patterns that are commonly seen in domestic cats today but not in their wildcat descendants. What they found was that this patterned coat first appeared in the 14th century in Turkey. So it took many years before the vast variety of felines we see today came about.

Despite having their differences, our carnivorous companions who sit beside us today have changed very little from their wildcat cousins according to genetic evidence. And cats still help us in many ways today.

One study showed men who owned cats were said to be nicer than those who didn’t by about 90% of single women. Simply by mentioning that you own a cat could work wonders on your dating life (unfortunately this hasn’t worked for me). But cats may also be better partners than humans.

According to some surveys, women prefer to sleep with a cat more than their actual partners. By sleeping with a cat, about 41% of people reported having a better night sleep. So there’s something about cats that aid in our sleep, and it could have something to do with their purrs.

The low rhythmic hum given off when they purr is calming. Having a cuddly cat sat on your lap purring away has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes by up to 40%. Scientists have suggested that there is something about the way cats evolved that made their purrs so soothing to us.

The frequency at which cats purr actually heals and calms themselves when they’re injured or stressed. And those same frequencies may also have the same effect on us human, but this is still not well tested. But a cat’s purr is one of the many ways they communicate to us. Often a sign of happiness and contentment, we feel at ease when our cats purr.

Cats spend 13-16 hours a day sleeping. That works out to be 70% of their lives.

Another way they talk to us is with a noise that is a mixture of a purr and a howl (those cat owners know what i’m talking about). This call shares the same tones as a human baby’s cry, something that our brains are programmed to respond to as it signals our babies are in distress.

The high pitch rapid sound agitates owners, encouraging them to do whatever it takes to stop the unsettling noise. By giving off the same notes as a baby’s cry, cats can almost manipulate us to tend to their needs. Which is usually just when they want food.

Although they come across moody and plotting ways to kill you (which they probably are) cats are one of the smartest and well adapted creatures to strut the planet.

Whether you’re a dog person or were a fan of cats already, I hope that I have made you appreciate these incredible animals a little more.

And remember, dogs have masters, cats have slaves.

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