Working Cats

There are not a lot of modern day phenomena about which the origins are so obscure as modern day house cats. Which is another way of saying that cats, their history and how and when the entered into the common realm of human experience remains largely unknown.

It was previously thought that the Egyptians were the first to domesticate housecats but Recent archeological and genetic discovers indicate that cat domestication may have begun in the region of Mesopotamia as early as ten thousand years ago, although it remains curious that whereas there are numerous other animal images in early cave paintings, there are none of the cat and at most ancient sites there is no record of their bones as there are of dogs, cattle and other species known today. In any case, most of our early information concerning cats comes from the Egyptians from about 2500 BC. where they would seem to have been trained and used.

A Working Cat

Notice this papyrus painting from the twentieth dynasty of the Egyptian kingdom. It shows a dog herding goats, or sheep, and a cat herding ducks.

They are shown in the upright position to demonstrate their dominance, their control over their respective charges, just as people would be.

Think about this. If the picture showed the dog and cat on all fours, they would be seen to be in the company of goats and ducks, not controlling them. The Egyptian painter shows them standing upright to indicate that they are in control, and the staff they hold emphasizes this. Clearly, just as dogs had been trained to herd goats, cats were used to herd ducks.

(It is interesting to note that the only way present day interpreters could understand this picture was to think that it was meant to be humorous and they assert this at the same time acknowledging that there are no other examples of humorous papyrus paintings.)

Cats were also apparently trained to hunt ducks in cooperation with men. In this next image of a 3,000 year old painting Nebamun is out hunding with this cat. You can see the cat pouncing on two waterfowl (ducks) with one in his mouth. (Lower center of image.)

Nebamun Hunting With His Cat

Most of we cat owners and cat lovers don’t train our cats because we think them untrainable (they train us) but there are plenty of examples of cats being trained in the modern world. When their trust is absolutely gained (and it takes a great deal for this to happen), cats become a different sort of being altogether. And it’s no wonder they often seem inaccessible.

Cats have been the victims of pogroms that had the intent of eliminating them from the face of the earth forever. They were associated with witches and demons, thought evil and hunted down and burned by the thousands in more than one time and more than one place.

So is it any wonder that cats remain aloof, distrustful, independent, seeming unresponsive and certainly untrainable? Wouldn’t you, if within your genetic makeup you had the memory of betrayal and horror inflicted by humans that your ancestors were fortunate, or wise enough to escape?

Can your cat be trained? Can you gain his trust? Yes, and Yes.

(Photo and information taken from “The Life, History and Magic of THE CAT)


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