What is it about cats that, if they are not loved, they are treated with such callousness or wanton cruelty? They have been killed because it was believed they acted as witches’ familiars. Alive they were torn apart by Elizabethan gents to prove their strength and masculinity. In China they have been (probably still are) together with dogs being flayed alive for their pelts to make furry toys. There was the case a short while ago of the woman who, after stroking and making a fuss of it, dumped a cat in a green bin and ostensibly left it there to die. By the way she scuttled off, caught on camera, she knew she had done wrong. Later in court she could not explain her behaviour. Now we have the case of a “teenage mother” who purposefully dropped a kitten from the eleventh floor. Here in Crete there are stray cats everywhere and it is estimated the length of their lives to be three years. Every taverna has its quota of cats that get fed by tourists during the season but are left to their own devices during the winter, except for the few people who take the trouble to feed them. Every now and again, despite it being against the law, someone puts poison down to get rid of them. What is it with these beautiful creatures that they are so often treated so unkindly? In ancient Egypt of course it was quite a different matter. Here cats were sacred or totems and even gods, the goddess Bast for example. On death cats were mummified and bowls of milk, rats and mice placed in the tomb. Cats were not only protected by almost every occupant of Egypt, but also by the law. So extreme in fact was the devoutness of the Egyptian culture to the cat, that if a human killed a feline, either intentionally or unintentionally, that human was sentenced to death. There’s a turn-up for the books! Laws were set that also forbade the exportation of cats, though more often than not, many were smuggled to the neighboring Mediterranean countries. Documents state that armies sometimes were set out to recapture these cats from the foreign lands. The historian Herodotus explained there was even greater significance to the cat. He tells a story concerning the Egyptians at war with Persia. The Persian general had decided to collect as many cats that his men could find or steal, knowing the great importance of the cat to Egypt. The soldiers then returned to the town of Pelusium and set the cats free on the battlefield. Horrified, the Egyptians surrendered the city to the Persians rather than harm the cats. Cats were treasured in ancient Rome too of course because they kept the vermin population down, also in Japan. Unfortunately in the Middle Ages, being associated with witchcraft and the devil, thousands were killed leading to a rise in the rat population leading to bubonic plague, the Black Death.
Has any other animal wild or domestic had such a history?