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CATS AND THEIR FRIENDSHIPS.
By W. H. LARRABEE.
T HAD for ten years a cat whose intelligence interested me I greatly and was considered remarkable by all persons who took notice of her. Her confidence in her master and mistress, her evident enjoyment of their society, her happy faculty of putting herself upon an understanding with them, her familiar interest in matters of the household, the shifts and devices of which she was master, and her sagacity manifested in ways as various as the exigencies she had to meet, evoked frequent admiration and praise. These manifestations led me to look into the subject of knowledge in cats, and I have found that she was not singular, or even exceptional, in the quality of her faculties. She appears to have been a type to which a great many of the more happily trained members of her race can easily measure up. My observations have been naturally extended to other animals, and have led to the conclusion that most domesticated species and many wild ones are capable of and often manifest equally high degrees of mental development. But cats—and dogs too—are more at home with us, have more opportunities to learn, and come under closer and more constant observation than the others.
The cat belongs to a large and highly specialized family; to one that is clearly distinguishable from the other families of animals, while the resemblances between its own members is so strong that even the careless, unprofessional observer will hardly fail to assign at a glance an individual of any of its species to it. All the members of the family are, according to Wood, light, stealthy, and silent of foot, quick of ear and eye. They are exceedingly graceful in form and movement, have flexible bodies and limbs-walk, we might say, on tiptoe-are alert and swift in action, and are exceedingly cunning. Between many of them and the cat itself there is hardly any prominently visible difference except in size. Curious resemblances in features of line or expression may be remarked between the portraits of the Felida in Wood's Natural History and cats with which the observer is acquainted. A copy of the photograph of the head and breast of a tiger at rest, in a portfolio by our side, might be easily mistaken, except for a few differences in the shading of the hair, for a life-size portrait of the cat that has given the occasion of this article. St. George Mivart recognizes fifty living species of the cat family, forty-eight of which he includes in the genus Felis.
The history of the domestic cat has been traced back to the ancient Egyptians, among whom the earliest notices of it appear
on the monuments of the second empire of the twelfth dynasty (about 2400 B. C.), at Beni Hassan. It seems to have appeared there just after the Egyptians had made considerable conquests in Nubia, whence it may have been brought, already domesticated, among the spoils of war. The mummified cats in the Egyptian
tombs are not identical with our house cat, but seem to belong to a native species (Felis maniculata, Fig. 1) which is said to be still indigenous in Nubia, where it is found on the western side of the Nile, in a stony district in which brushwood
grows. Fig. 1.-EGYPTIAN CAT (Felis maniculata.)
The domesticated animal
was slow in making its way from Egypt into the neighboring nations. The Hebrews were apparently without it, and it is not once mentioned in the Bible. No evidence has been found that the Assyrians and Babylonians were acquainted with it. According to authors who have investigated the philological branch of the history, these people possessed a binary nomenclature for animals, with generic and specific names, and included their lions and panthers among the dogs-a thing they would hardly have done if they had been familiar with house cats. It was not known to the Greeks and Romans till a comparatively late period ; and all the earlier representations of cats on their monuments are referred by the authorities to the wild cat or some other animal than the domestic cat. According to the most careful conclusions on this subject, the mouser of the Greeks and Romans was a weasel, and led an independent, not a domestic, life. The Aryans of India had cats at a very early but not at their earliest period; for while the names of the animal are all Aryan, it was not, according to Pictet, designated by any simple term such as would have been given it in primitive times, but by composite names, having such meanings as “house-animal,” “ rateater,” and “mouse-enemy.” The name of the wild cat (Fig. 2), however, embodied a root common to many of the European languages. It becomes in Persian, pushak ; in Afghan, pishik; in Kurdish, psiq; in Lithuanian, pnije; in Irish, pus and feisag; and in Erse, pusag and piseag; whence the English "puss.” It is derived by Pictet from a Sanskrit root puchha or pitchha, that means "tail,” and therefore points to one of the most striking external features of the animal. The name by which the cat was known to the later Greeks-ailovpos—and which was originally applied to the weasel, refers to the same feature. It is
compounded from two words that give the meaning of “wavy tail.”
The Latin name of the cat tribe (Felis) appears to have been originally applied to the weasel and other mousers, and afterward to the wild cat. The word catus or cattus came into use in about the fourth century, and is found first in the agricultural writer, Palladius, who recommends that cats be kept in artichokegardens for protection against mice and moles, and remarks that men had previously been served for this purpose by weasels. The name catta is found later in the Greek church historian, Evagrius Scholasticus, about A. D. 594. Historical inferences have been drawn from the absence of the remains of cats in the ruins of Pompeii, and from the fact that the name common to all the other Romance languages does not occur in
Fig. 2.-Wild Cat (Felis catus.) Wallachian. It is concluded that the domesticated animal had not become common when Pompeii was destroyed, in A. D. 79, or when Dacia was isolated from the rest of the Roman world by barbarian conquest, in the third century. Mr. W. Boyd Dawkins infers, from his researches in the caves in which the Celts took refuge from the Saxons, that cats were unknown in Great Britain before about the year 800.
Cats easily commended themselves as efficient vermin-destroyers to such extensive grain-raisers as the ancient Egyptians; and a people so ready to deify everything needed little prompting to put them in their pantheon. They may also have made themselves useful in killing snakes, an occupation in which, if the stories are true, they sometimes become very expert. Rengger, who has written of the mammals of Paraguay, declares that he has more than once seen cats pursue and kill snakes, even rattlesnakes, on the sandy, grassless plains of that land. “With their rare skill,” he says, “they would strike the snake with their paw, and at the same time avoid its spring. If the snake coiled itself, they would not attack it directly, but would go round it till it became tired of turning its head after them; then they would strike it another blow, and instantly turn aside. If the snake started to run away, they would seize its tail, as if to play with it. By virtue of these continued attacks they usually destroyed their enemy in less than an hour, but would never eat its flesh.”
Cats are represented on some of the Egyptian monuments as accompanying their masters on hunting expeditions. In a wall
picture on a tomb at Gurneh, a hunter is represented in his boat in the marshes as about to hurl his throw-stick at a covey of birds, while a cat by his side is on the alert to spring upon the game he is expected to bring down. Another picture (Fig. 3) represents the cat seizing a bird. This would involve going into the
FIG. 3.-AN EGYPTIAN FOWLING SCENE. 1. Sportsman using the throw-stick. 2. Keeps the boat
steady by holding the stalks of a lotus. 4. A cat seizing the game in the thicket. 5. A decoy bird. 6. Fishes, the emblem of water.
water, an act to which our modern cats usually have a very strong dislike. If the Egyptian cats had the same feelings, they must have come under the discipline of skillful trainers. But there have been fisher cats in modern times. Mr. Ross, in his Book of Cats, tells of one that lived in 1829, which caught fish with great assiduity, and frequently brought them home alive. She taught another cat to fish, and they used to go out together,
sometimes taking opposite sides of the river. · Another story is quoted by the same author, of a cat at the battery in Plymouth, England, that was in the
habit of diving into the sea, bringing FIG. 4.–Cats' Tails. up fish, and leaving them in the guard
room for the sailors. She was seven years old, and “as fond of the water as a Newfoundland dog," and hunted regularly along the rocks at the water's edge for her game,“ ready to dive for it at a moment's notice.” A cat described by Mr. Lawson Tait was a remarkable fisher, and would
wade into a small pond up to her shoulders to catch her game. She was “always fond of dabbling in the water.” Mr. Harrison Weir* tells of a cat which used to go into the water up to her shoulders to bring in the fish which her master drew up with the hook, and which stole out the minnows that had been placed, for safe keeping, in a well of cold spring-water.
The domestic cat is not identical with the Egyptian cat, and, therefore, if descended from it, must have undergone modifications in the process. It is not known whether it has interbred with the wild cat; but it is possible that some of the varieties have originated in that way. The marks of difference between the species are very plain. The most obvious one is the shape of the tail (Fig. 2), which in the domestic cat is long, slender, and tapering, while in the wild cat it is shorter, stumpy, and bushy. The fact that no tendency has been observed in either of these
forms of tail to revert to the other is in favor of a permanent specific difference. The minor varieties of cats are numerous, but the important ones are not many. A line is drawn between the short-haired and the long-haired varieties. Of the former are the tabbies (Figs. 5 and 10)—brown, blue, or silver; red and spotted tabbies-of various colors, with their delicate stripings, cloudings, or spots; the Chartreuse, blue, or Maltese, which has long, slatecolored fur, and a bushy neck and tail; the Spanish, or tortoiseshell (Fig. 11)—white, black, and reddish-brown, mixed, whose
* Our Cats and all about them. Boston and New York : Houghton, Mifflin & Co.