DOMESTICATED ANIMALS, THEIR RELATION TO MAN AND TO HIS ADVANCEMENT IN CIVILIZATION
BY NATHANIEL SOUTHGATE SHALER
DEAN OF THE LAWRENCE SCIENTIFIC SCHOOL OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY
1895 (REPRINTED 1908) - CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
(Prof. Shaler included only a few paragraphs in cats as a footnote to his extensive section on dogs and before an equally extensive section on horses. In the year the book was published, the first Championship Cat Show (i.e. with breed divisions and breed standards) was held in New York, marking the birth of the organised cat fancy in the USA.)
Cats deserve some mention for the reason, that, while they are the least essential, and on the whole the least interesting, of domesticated animals, they have had a certain place in civilization. They afford, moreover, a capital foil by which to set off the virtues of the dog. Nowhere else, indeed, among the creatures which are intimately associated with men, do we find two related forms which afford, along with a certain likeness, such great diversities of quality.
We know nothing as to the time when the cat first found its way to the associations of man. Presumably this period was much later than the advent of the dog into the human family. The presumption rests upon the fact that while the dog does not demand fixed residence as a condition of its fealty, but is at home wherever his master is, the cat is the creature of the domicile, caring more indeed for its dwelling-place than it ever does for the inmates thereof. In a word, the creature must have come to us after our forefathers gave up the nomadic life. Nevertheless, the association is very ancient; it has endured in Egypt at least for a term of several thousand years.
Among the curious features connected with the association of the cat with man, we may note that it is the only animal which has been tolerated, esteemed, and at times worshipped, without having a single distinctly valuable quality. It is, in a small way, serviceable in keeping down the excessive development of small rodents, which from the beginning have been the self-invited guests of man. As it is in a certain indifferent way sympathetic, and by its caresses appears to indicate affection, it has awakened a measure of sympathy which it hardly deserves. I have been unable to find any authentic instances which go to show the existence in cats of any real love for their masters.
In the matter of intelligence cats appear to rank almost as high as dogs. They are even quicker than their canine relatives in discerning the nature of man's artful contrivances; they readily acquire the habit of opening doors which are closed by means of a latch, even where it is necessary to combine the strong pull on the handle with the push that completes the operation. Feats of this sort are rarely if ever performed by dogs.
The most peculiar quality in the mind of cats is the intense way in which they cling to a well-known locality. Their memory of places, and affection for them, if we may so term it, is evidently far greater than that which they feel for people. Some years ago I had an interesting exhibition of this singular humor. A well-grown and thoroughly domesticated cat, one that seemed more than usually attached to people, was brought from my house in town to a place on the shore. When released, the creature seemed for some days to be nearly insane. It did not recognize any of its friends, it betook itself to the fields, and was with difficulty captured at the end of a week of roaming, during which it appeared to have had no food. Confined within one room, it gradually recovered its powers of mind, and began to take account of its friends. In the course of a month it seemed to be reconciled to its surroundings. Nine months after its first sojourn in the wilderness it was again brought from the town to the same place. On the second visit the creature was somewhat uneasy, but this passed away in a day or two. On a third visit, after a like interval, it seemed at once and entirely at home. Nevertheless, its habits while in the country differ very much from those it has in town. In its original domicile it insists on being about the table at meal-times. While in the country it does not care to be present; in fact, it appears to avoid associations with the household. It seems to me that this cat, after the manner of some men whose brains are diseased, now lives in two distinct states of consciousness, each relating to one of its places of abode.
The differences as regards affection for localities which is shown by cats and dogs are perhaps to be accounted for by an original and essential variation in the habits of life in their wild ancestors. Judging by the kindred of the species which are known to us in their wild state, we may fairly suppose that the dogs were of old accustomed to range over a wide field, having no fixed place of abode; the pack ranging, if the occasion served, for hundreds of miles in any direction. On the other hand, with the cats, it is characteristic of the species that they have lairs to which they resort, and a definite hunting ground in which they seek their food. They are, in a word, animals of very determined routine. As there has been no effort by breeding to change this feature, it has remained in all its old ingrained intensity.
As a consequence of the affection which cats have for particular places, they often return to the wilderness when by chance the homes in which they have been reared are abandoned. Thus in New England, in those sections of the district where many farmsteads have of late years been deserted, the cats have remained about their ancient haunts and have become entirely wild. In this State they are bred in such numbers that their presence is now a serious menace to the birds and other weaker creatures of the country. The behavior of these feralized animals differs somewhat from that of creatures which have never been tamed. They have not the same immediate fear of a man, but the least effort to approach them leads to their hasty flight.
While considering the inelastic quality which is exhibited by cats as compared with the dog, the naturalist notes with interest the fact that the former creature belongs to a family which has never been accustomed to any social life beyond the limits of the family. Moreover, all the cats have the habit of hunting in a solitary way, each for itself, in the achievement and in the result. It is otherwise with dogs. They belong to a group which hunts in packs. For ages they have been used to a communal life. Their minds have thus become accustomed to social intercourse; they are used to having their excitements of the chase in comradeship, and generally they are accustomed to the rough-and-tumble fraternity which we behold in a pack of wolves. It was long ago remarked that the really social animals are those which afford the only good material for subjugation. The difference between the cat and dog seems, in a way, to warrant this statement.
Although it is likely that many efforts have been made to domesticate the other larger felines, no distinct success has attended these experiments. A large Asiatic cat known as the chetah is somewhat used in hunting for sport, but the species has never been adopted in any definite way. In fact, with all the larger cats, including the lion, which is structurally a little apart from the other members of the group, the size and furious nature of the animal have made it impossible to begin the process of selection which has been the means whereby the wilderness motive has been replaced by that of the household in the case of all other domesticated beasts.