[The four levels][The cat/human bond][The horse/human bond]
However, the vast majority of people are not knowingly or deliberately cruel to animals though they might vary considerably in what they consider to be fair and kind treatment of them so that their total welfare needs are met, whether they be physical, behavioural or emotional needs. This variation in human concern for animal welfare is best explained by an understanding of the animal/human attachment bond.
No doubt all animals were originally domesticated because of their usefulness - they provided food, clothing, materials for habitations, transport, protection (dogs), rodent control (cats). But the traffic has never been all one-way. Animals, too, derive benefit from domestication by being provided with regular food and shelter, although some enjoy less than ideal conditions.
Nowadays we bond with animals for many reasons, from the purely utilitarian through to the altruistic. In fact there are four recognised levels of the animal/human attachment bond, though most people who own and work with animals do not conform just to one level. Also the increasing recognition of "guardianship" rather than "ownership" of animals adds a further dimension, as explained by the organisation In Defence of Animals, which is campaigning with some success to stop at least companion animals being defined in law as "property" and therefore able to be abused and exploited at will.
Level 1 is the utilitarian/exploitation level. Animals are owned, trained, exploited, manipulated and used in research for the benefit of humans. The animal has few if any rights.
Level 2 is the need/dependence level. Animals are kept and associated with for emotional and egotistical reasons. They are companions, objects for reciprocal affection, child substitutes, reflections or projections of self.
Level 3 is the transpersonal relatedness level. The animal has rights, is appreciated for itself and the animal/human bond is largely ego-free. This is probably the true animal welfare level, in that it is accepted that animals are used for food, sport, entertainment, companionship but that they must be treated in the most humane way possible and not unnecessarily exploited. Alternatives to the use of animals, particularly in research, should always be sought - and many thousand such alternatives now exist. Major scientific and medically-based organisations such as PCRM are at the forefront of exposing the wasteful, cruel and unreliable nature of animal experimentation as a research tool. LearningWithoutKilling is an excellent resource for students and teachers wishing to use alternatives to animals in education (dissection etc). Many health charities are actively campaigning for donation and bequest dollars by highlighting the fact that they do not support or fund animal experimentation. Lists of these charities are available, including on a recently developed Australian site Humane Charities Australia, which in turn gives further links worldwide.
Level 4 is the stewardship level, where the animal's needs and rights are as important as those of humans, perhaps even more so in certain situations. Level 4 encompasses the animal rights/animal liberation movement, the philosophy of which is that animals are not ours at all to use for food, clothing, entertainment, amusement or experimentation. This thinking can extend to the keeping of companion animals, and indeed, many "pets" do live in less than ideal conditions, particularly in relation to provision of behavioural needs. The totally confined, declawed cat with few if any behavioural outlets is a prime example.
Unlike the obsequious dog, the cat owes allegiance to no master, yet has fascinated people down through the ages. Cats are often described as aloof, enigmatic and inscrutable, but felinophiles worldwide agree that it is a privilege to win their trust and subtle affection. It has been said that the cat-human relationship represents the animal-human bond at its most satisfying.
But cats have had a very chequered association with humans, being alternately worshipped and hated. History has seen them plummet from the highest eschalon of all, that of being deieties, to being branded familiars of witches and instruments of the Devil, callously rooted out and persecuted, burned and even crucified during the Middle Ages. Perhaps the mass devastation wrought by bubonic plague during this period really was Nature’s retribution for such ignorance and cruelty, as has oft been quoted. Certainly the dearth of cats during the Middle Ages allowed rats to proliferate, and it is the rat flea that is the main carrier of this disease.
It is little wonder then that folklore accredits the cat with nine lives, for such is their enduring capacity to survive. But whether loved or hated, this fascinating little animal can never be ignored, and today is enjoying rightful appreciation and unprecedented popularity worldwide, in fact in many countries cats outrank dogs in the popularity stakes.
Cats are mammals the same as humans, so we share the characteristics of having hair or fur, being warm-blooded and rearing our young on milk. But then we diverge somewhat, for domestic cats belong to the family Felidae, which also includes the lion, tiger, jaguar, leopard, puma, cheetah, serval, ocelot, lynx, ounce, panther, caffre and manul. Most members of the Felidae have characteristics specifically suited to hunting smaller prey - sharp retractile claws, teeth that grasp and tear, night vision, a body and legs suited to the short sharp dash and leap after prey. Most Felidae cover their excreta and any leftover food, and have patterned fur for camouflage.
The family Felidae is further broken down into three genera, one of which is Felis, which contains more than 25 species including the domestic cat which has the species name of catus. Thus the scientific name of the domestic cat is Felis catus and that is irrespective of breed. A pedigreed Persian or Siamese is still a Felis catus, same as any moggy.
There are signs from archaelogical digs in Cyprus that the cat may have first established a tenuous bond with humans more than 8000 years ago. The bones of humans, cats and mice have all been found together from that period. Initially this would have been strictly a working relationship, for humans needed the cats to control rats and mice in their grain stores. It was not until 2000 years later, in 4000BC, that there is much evidence of true domestication. This evidence comes from Egypt, especially from the region of the Nile delta, and coincides with the appearance of permanent settlements based around farming. Cats would have been valued for vermin control as they always had been, but there are indications that they were household pets as well.
Probably the cat domesticated by the Egyptians was Felis silvestris libyca, a subspecies of the wild cat. It was a large cat, mainly grey to reddish orange in colour with tabby markings and may also have been crossbred with the swamp cat, descendants of which are still in the Middle East today.
From about 1000BC, such was the high regard the Egyptians held for cats that they were elevated to the status of dieties and bred in large numbers in the temples. They were considered earthly manifestations of the cat-headed goddess Bastet, who was associated with fertility, motherhood and beauty. Mummified cats have been found in tombs in their thousands, deliberately put to death often as very young cats prior to mummification.
Early Phoenician travellers would have introduced these Egyptian cats to other parts of the Mediterranean on trading vessels, then they no doubt spread through Europe and Asia with the expansion of the Roman Empire, along trading routes like the silk road, and with religious missionaries even to such far away places as Japan. Cats now can be found worldwide anywhere there are people.
Humans originally bonded with cats because of their rodent killing ability and still do so today for this reason. Millions of cats, sometimes semi-wild, live long and fruitful lives on farms, in city buildings and factories and in private homes fulfilling this role. Some kill tallies are formidable. It is on record that a Scottish distillery cat called Towser killed close to an astonishing 30,000 mice over her 21-year lifespan.
No doubt cats are still happiest today living the way they did in ancient Egypt - free to come and go and kill rodents especially at night, but also able to curl up companionably in someone’s lap or bed, or blissfully purr away the hours in front of a hearth fire (or a fan or air-conditioning unit if it’s hot!).
Cats are the cuddliest and most soothing of all pets (if they are in the mood) and definitely are child if not baby substitutes for many people. More and more is the power of pets being recognised - pet owners are healthier, live longer, are happier and suffer less from stress. Pets are something to worry about and care for besides oneself, and they are great social lubricants. The occupation of time is required in looking after them, and for some people they become something, sometimes the only thing, worth living for. The simple act of stroking an animal lowers blood pressure. Cats can provide all these benefits and more to those able to develop the right rapport with them. Such rapport is more hardly won than it is with dogs, but all the more rewarding for that very reason. The death of a special cat can be devastating, equal for some to the loss of a child. As Doris Lessing, who understands very well the cat/human bond, said in one of her books "This was love, and for life".
Cats are beautiful to look at and aesthetically pleasing just to have around, whether pedigreed or moggies. They have made a major contribution to the art and literature of many countries because of their aesthetic appeal. Proud owners often want to show off their beauty, and nowadays the only way to do that officially and win some sort of award is to have a pedigreed cat belonging to a recognised breed.
Because of their short generation length, it is easy to select certain traits in cats and quickly develop a breed. Many people breed and show pedigreed cats and make a good living from it. The first ever official cat show was held at Crystal Palace in London in the 1860s and attracted 170 entries, including the newly imported “Royal Cat of Siam”, a huge and friendly longhaired tom from Persia, and an enormous tabby weighing 21 pounds. By 1889 this show had grown to 600 entries and attracted 20,000 spectators. Today a major cat show in Britain attracts more than 2000 entries, while American cat fanciers are represented by hundreds of clubs and associations.
Cats can be longhaired or shorthaired and are shown under these two broad classifications before being judged under their respective breeds. The longhaired gene is thought to have arisen as a spontaneous mutation in cats in Persia and Turkey. The beautiful and luxuriantly-coated Persian is today the principal longhaired breed, but the rangier and slightly coarser-furred Angora (originally from Turkey) is making a comeback in popularity. Moggies can also be longhaired, in fact because the gene is recessive, two shorthaired domestics can sometimes produce a longhaired kitten.
Cat breeding and showing has a large following in Australia, although it was slow to become properly organised. An amusing story from Queensland was of all twelve entrants in a cat show in 1955 being provided by the one owner who arrived on a motor bike, together with her husband and all the cats. By the mid-1980s however, cat showing was popular and well organised in Australia and under the strong control of several governing bodies.
Such is the appeal and popularity of cats that multimillion dollar industries have sprung up based on servicing their needs. Hundreds of people and many companies are employed in manufacturing food and accessories for them, in veterinary and other forms of health care services, and in boarding catteries and breeding establishments. With the increased emphasis on confining cats, even if only partially, there is a whole industry based on ensuring happy indoor cats, ie providing indoor or otherwise confined cats with adequate environmental enrichment. It includes the manufacture of outdoor cat enclosures with various accoutrements, fence attachments for keeping cats in their own garden, elaborate cat flaps and doors, grass that grows indoors, very sophisticated cat toys, climbing trees and scratching posts, cat hiding and play boxes, high walkways for inside rooms, specially constructed window ledges for resting and viewing the outdoors, and so on.
Horses are certainly wonderful for enhancing self-image and self-esteem. The western cowboy stereotype is a powerful macho image, and one can look and feel ten feet tall on the back of a horse, particularly a good-looking or winning one. As well, to the uninitiated observer, the mastery of such a large and powerful animal is cause for admiration. Someone on horseback creates a much more commanding presence than someone on foot, and this centaur image has been used for years by the mounted police to control crowds.
Psychologists have put forward other related theories for our association with horses. One is that the horse is a powerful male symbol particularly appealing to adolescent females - and the horse-mad teenage girl is indeed a well-known entity. Perhaps the answer lies in pheromones emitted by horses as part of their highly characteristic smell. But be that as it may, the feel and sight as well as the smell of horses make people of age groups and both sexes want to be with them and work with them sometimes all their lives.
Julie and Maiden, Edinburgh 2006
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