|Dogs have owners, cats have staff……|
Most dog owners will tell you that they have a loyal, loving hound, who greets them joyfully on their return from work, acts as a faithful companion to the kids, or can be heroic, silly, protective or dumb. Cat owners on the other hand are just as likely to tell you that their cat behaves like the Egyptian Royalty she knows she simply must be descended from; ignoring attention, scarpering when called, and prowling around the neighbourhood cosying up to any soft hearted wretch willing to dish out the kitty food.
These are massive generalisations, of course, but what is it that makes us ‘dog people’ or ‘cat people’? The domestication of dogs is a well documented part of our culture, dating back to the earliest period of human development, possibly even as far back as 30,000 B.C. The relationship has long been one of compromise and teamwork, and theories abound as to its roots. It is likely that the ancient canine, the Grey Wolf, dog’s closest ancestor, scavenged human camps, and those who interacted well with humanity had a good chance of both surviving and passing on these traits to their offspring. The relationship has roots in the work of these animals with herding and hunting; as well as guarding, and although few pet dogs are properly working animals today, many of these instincts can be found in modern dogs. The domestication of wolves made for an interesting relationship; partially removing the threat to valuable cattle, and providing wolves with a steady food source, making the two species happy allies.
Of course it could be argued that the lack of available work for the modern dog, in addition to the cowing of his predatory instinct, may have reduced his usefulness, thus making many of the traits so highly prized by millennia of humanity somewhat redundant in the modern world. That said, dogs are intrinsically social animals, hardwired to respond to family or pack, and display an amazing intelligence at times. Ask anyone who owns a collie, who will tell you that even a closed fridge is not safe! Dogs respond to commands, understand some expressions of emotion, and tend to display signs of empathy, making them mans best friend in a variety of ways. Many owners adore their dog for the companionship and unreserved, undying affection many breeds offer.
Cats are a whole different kettle of fish, if you’ll excuse the pun. Although not specifically working animals, cats have had a job throughout history – the removal of vermin, which for millennia has been a far more important purpose than it would be today. Theories vary about the domestication of cats, although it seems likely that in a similar way to the Grey Wolf, the cat lingered near human settlements. They were attracted less perhaps by the scraps and more by the small mammals who in turn were attracted by human scraps and rubbish! Admired for their hunting abilities and useful for their ability to keep rats or snakes away from household and food storage, the cat did serve a useful purpose. Unlike dogs, most cats were too small to pose a threat to cattle, and so would have roamed at will. Nonetheless, it would be hard to say that they have had an integral role in human evolution. The cat was of course venerated and adored by the ancient Egyptians, appearing in artwork from around 4,000 years ago, although there is evidence to suggest that cats lived with humans as far back as 8,000 years ago.
Despite their reputation for aloof behaviour, cats as we know can be very affectionate, loving creatures. Harder to train in any way, they also have not lost their predatory instinct to the extent that dogs have. This arguably makes them much less dependent on humans, and it is clear from the numbers of feral cats that it is much easier for them to survive alone. This makes them a more independent species, and explains some of their less affectionate traits. The air of disdain, the apparent hot and cold affection, and the intelligent, self aware appearance of cats appeals to many pet owners. Presumably, the best of both worlds would be one of each, but of course that will create yet another hierarchy in your house again…