From Ewen Callaway at Nature:
Thousands of years before cats came to dominate Internet culture, they swept through ancient Eurasia and Africa carried by early farmers, ancient mariners and even Vikings, finds the first large-scale look at ancient-cat DNA.
The study, presented at a conference on 15 September, sequenced DNA from more than 200 cats that lived between about 15,000 years ago and the eighteenth century ad. More.
There were even Viking cats—of course, given enough familiarity with the animal, you’ll believe that.
But then, with an apparently straight face, Callaway goes on to report that “experts” doubt whether the cat is truly a domestic animal (behaviour and anatomy are not “clearly distinct” from those of wild relatives).
That’s the point at which one wants to get clear of anyone with “evolutionary” in their job title.
“Domestic” is really a psychological thing and one must see it live in action. If you tried adopting a baby beaver, the animal would probably go along with you for a while but then, usually, it just wants to depart for a normal life of damming ponds with felled trees—without your interference. It’s no one’s fault that his interests and yours don’t intersect at all.
The cat, like the dog, can be raised to be part of a human environment because he actually wants what humans want, to the extent he can understand it. That is, you want to lie on the couch and watch Biography; he wants to lie on the couch and use you as a huge space heater while intermittently scanning the shadows for rodent activity. If you feed him, he won’t leave you. Why should he?
One cat psychologist has pointed out that kittens are usually moved to homes long before they are mature, with the result that a human simply becomes the cat’s “mommy.” It’s a lifetime arrangement, especially if the cat is neutered. The cat will never understand the human world anyway, and after a while, does not even try particularly. He just develops a way of living in it that seems to work for him.
That characteristic, rather than some special appearance, determines whether an animal can be a “domestic” animal.
See also: Keeping pets is unethical?
Study: Do people think pets go to heaven?
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