Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our November/December 2016 issue. Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.
She seemed so nice at first. I’m talking about Annie Shirreffs, my editor at Catster. Then she gave me this assignment: What might happen if cats ruled the world.
At first, I thought the idea was really creative. After all, I’ve been writing stories about cats for nearly 30 years (I began when I was 3 — in human years). I’ve written about litter box indiscretion maybe 5,000 times, but this is the first time anyone has asked me to write about feline world domination.
Cool! A chance to be original and to think outside the box, so to speak.
I sat down at my computer and, even with our cat, Roxy, sitting on my desk and offering directions, nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not a single word to type on my keyboard, except the following: Ba0003 c000-=11 vg.
Roxy typed that, not me. I believe that may be secret code for plans to take over the world.
Days went by, and still not a single word typed — until it hit me like a whiff of catnip. Annie had it all wrong. The story should not be what will happen when cats take over the world but instead how cats have taken over the world.
Cats rule! That’s not just an expression; it’s reality.
At this very moment, Roxy has hopped into my lap. She spontaneously decided it’s time to be petted. I don’t know why she chose right now. It doesn’t really matter. What Roxy wants, Roxy gets. And she doesn’t wait to get what she wants.
And Roxy’s not alone. Adding up the cat population in the top 20 cat-owning countries, there is a total of about 420 million cats, with about 85 million cats in the U.S. alone, according to the American Pet Products Association. I very much doubt there’s a home with one or more cats, from Singapore to St. Louis, where cats aren’t in charge. And it’s been that way from the beginning. Cats do what they do on their own terms.
Case in point: Cro-Magnon human began the domestication of dogs by domesticating a now-extinct wolf-like canid species somewhere around 27,000 to 40,000 years ago. They were bred to guard human settlements and to hunt, to work for us.
We did nothing to domesticate cats — it was their idea, probably as far back as 12,000 years ago. Cats decided to take advantage of the easy food source, catching vermin, in close proximity to people. And soon they began to cautiously accept handouts.
All along, we’ve trained dogs. All along, cats have astutely trained us. Even when their services as vermin catchers were no longer a priority, they’ve purred their way into our hearts and our homes.
Look at the data. Today, about half of all dogs share a bed with a member of the household. Cats snooze wherever they want, as they live on their own terms.
Back to Roxy. Our loving cat has no sympathy if we have a late night. If doesn’t matter what time we get to bed; at 7:30 a.m., she’s reliably meowing in our faces. If that doesn’t work, she pounces on us. Anything to get us up so we can feed her.
Though most cats in the U.S. now live indoors only, so much hasn’t changed. Barn cats and feral cats still manage to fend for themselves. And thank goodness.
Studies suggest that without those barn and feral cats, rodent numbers would spiral out of control, and along with that so would disease. Back in 1997, a study from the U.K. found that cats were responsible for killing more than 200 million animals (mostly rodents).
But the without-cat scenario gets worse. Without cats, there would be nothing on the internet worth watching; Tom and Jerry and The Siamese Cat Song would have never existed, and there would be no purpose for empty boxes.
Cats already rule the world. But we’re not following their examples. Purring isn’t only thought to be an indication of affection; it’s a self-calming mechanism. Cats also purr when they’re in pain, sometimes before they die, and sometimes as a replacement for an irrational response. Maybe humans should learn to purr as well.
About the author: Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior consultant. He is a national newspaper columnist (Tribune Content Agency); heard on WGN Radio, Chicago; host of the nationally syndicated Steve Dale’s Pet World and author of the e-book Good Cat, among others. He’s a founder of the CATalyst Council, and serves on the boards of the Winn Feline Foundation and Tree House Humane Society, Chicago. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.