Originally published September 4, 2013 at 04:44p.m., updated October 2, 2013 at 04:44p.m.
Let us consider cats, specifically house cats.
In an effort to be official about it, I dug out my “Encyclopedia Americana” and looked them up. There followed columns of information, more than I ever wanted to know.
Beginning with a statement that cats are a predatory mammal of the family felidae, they proceeded for eight columns (and two pages of pictures) of this small animal. The writer obviously had studied them closely.
First she went through all the Latin names for varieties in Europe, the Far East, North and South Africa, and Latin America.
At long last, she got to those of the U.S.
It’s the kind of thing that has you glancing up at your fur-bearing animal, asleep in a chair, and thinking, “Is that you?” Not included in her listing were scores of tales of cats and the things they have done, the books written about them, and their singular personalities.
I used to think that cats were cats – you know, fur and purr and some claws. But over the years, they have taught me differently. They are emotional, temperamental, and know how to be differentially disobedient and capable of deep affection.
I think of one pictured in a magazine that had sort of adopted the family baby (age 6 or 8 months) and would put up with any roughhousing the child unconsciously did.
They learn, not necessarily to stay off the counter, but not to get caught being there.
I have heard of those who brought anything they killed to their humans before tasting it themselves.
More important is the encyclopedia’s report that many societies in various parts of the world have learned that they needed to keep cats for rodent control of their crops.
They can be fiercely defensive of kittens, as most animals are of their young. Are you keeping track of yours and the things the encyclopedia claims for him/her?
People and animals form close relationships, and there are thousands of stories out there of touching things that have occurred between them.
I was startled when the encyclopedia claimed that early varieties of cat go back to the Oligocene time. I’d heard of he saber-tooth tiger, a giant cat out of geologic history, but this older claim was a surprise.
They have found skeletons of the saber-tooth, but I’ve never seen any indication of what this old monster must have looked like.
Somewhere I read that the biggest cat of our time is the tiger. The lion is big, but a lot of that is hair.
Each species has its place in the scheme of things, and if any of them were to disappear and upset the balance of things in nature, there could be trouble.
The house cat cannot claim to be preserving crops for farmers, but you know what?
With two of them resident in my house, I an not troubled with mice.
Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for The Chronicle. This is the 2,851st column in a series. She may be reached at 509-826-1110.