Damian was the most ornery kitten in the litter. I remember picking him on a foolish whim from some girls who said he’d been ditched in a box. I was playing with a bit of string and I noticed that one cat just went totally balls out for it. He wasn’t the nicest cat in the litter, in fact, he was positively anti-social. There was a nicer grey one, but I just noticed this one cat was really competitive about getting that string. I picked him. He promptly scratched me, jumped out of my arms and jumped right down the stairs. So that was Damian. He’s lived in Columbus, Washington DC, Nawala, Battaramulla and Colombo 7. Pretty cosmopolitan cat by now, lives out of a suitcase. He’s obviously dependent on us, but he also doesn’t seem to give a shit. He doesn’t come sit on your lap when you call, but if he feels like it you’d better not move. Makes more sense after reading that cats are self-domesticating.
Guy did some DNA comparisons to various wildcats and mtDNA calculation (‘Mother’ DNA basically, passed clean through females) to trace cats back to (where else) the Middle East. Right now their closest wildcat relatives are in Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. It was also interesting what the mtDNA showed. mtDNA is weird because the egg literally destroys whatever data the sperm has. The ‘mt’ really means mitochondrial’, but it might as well be mother. All living human mtDNA is actually from one Mitochondrial Eve that lived about 140,000 years in Africa. Scientists believe she looked like Beyonce.
Cats, on the other hand, seem to have 5 Mitochondrial Eves that decided to start a mutualistic relationship with humans. God knows how many Toms. At some point these 5 cats wandered into a village, ate some of the vermin that come with agriculture and decided it was safer there than in the woods. The relationship made sense for humans cause the cats fed themselves and kept rats out. So, cats were never properly domesticated. They just sorta moved in. As Wikipedia puts it,
Like some other domesticated animals, cats live in a mutualistic arrangement with humans. It is believed that the benefit of removing rats and mice from humans’ food stores outweighed the trouble of extending the protection of a human settlement to a formerly wild animal, almost certainly for humans who had adopted a farming economy. Unlike the dog, which also hunts and kills rodents, the cat does not eat grains, fruits, or vegetables. A cat that is good at hunting rodents is referred to as a mouser.
The simile “like herding cats” refers to the seeming intractability of the ordinary house cat to training in anything, unlike dogs.
In my experience this is pretty much true. Damian never act like he owes anybody anything. He won’t come when I call, he doesn’t play with kids, and he pretty much does what he feels like. However, if he wants to be petted or open a door he’ll be quite vocal until the job gets done. My parents moved into an apartment in Colombo proper and he can’t poop in the garden anymore. No one sells cat litter in Colombo so we just shred up toilet paper in a litter box. Thing is, he’s a pretty cleanly fellow and he meows right after he does his business till someone cleans it up. If it’s 4 in the morning I gotta know that he’s had a poop. Just a matter of tipping the box into the toilet and flushing. If the bugger was less ornery he could just use the toilet himself, but that’s how it goes. Anyways, at those moments I really wonder who’s got the better end of the deal.