The domestication of cats began about 12,000 years ago in the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent when the first agricultural societies began to flourish. Once people began farming and storing food, especially grain, cats invited themselves into the towns and became the vigilantes and protectors of the grain stores. People began to value cats for their control of mice and rats. One can argue that instead of humans domesticating cats for a specific purpose, cats partially domesticated themselves by moving into settlements to take advantage of the food scraps and mice they found there.
Egyptians revered cats. Archaeologists uncovered a cat cemetery in Beni-Hassan containing over 300,000 mummified cats. An Egyptian goddess of fertility, happiness, and the moon, Bastet, had the head of the cat and the body of a woman. Conviction of killing a cat commonly resulted in a death sentence.
Through trade and shipping routes cats made their way to Asia, Europe, and, eventually to America. In all parts of the world, cats were held in high esteem.
Cats fell out of favor with most of Europe in the Middle Ages. The Catholic Church connected them, and those who loved cats, with paganism, devil worship, and witchcraft. Superstitious people believed cats had diabolic powers. They were feared due to their nocturnal hunting habits, their ability to see in the dark, and their “glowing” eyes. In 1484 Pope Innocent empowered the Inquisition to burn all cats and cat lovers. As a result of the fall in the cat population, the rat population increased. Millions of rats with fleas carrying Bubonic plague spread the Black Death throughout Europe taking the lives of 20 million people in Europe.
Fortunately, the persecution of cats ended and their good reputation was reaffirmed, and continues today. Thank goodness. I can not imagine my life without my feline friends. Today there are about 86.4 million pet cats in the United States and they are the most popular pet in the world.