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World Cat Day: honoring felines’ contributions to health

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Happy World Cat Day to all domestic felines and those lucky enough to share their lives with these amazing creatures! On the other hand, to all the misguided souls who hate Felis catus, you can skip this article and go where no cat exists—namely, an extremely hot place not found in the physical world. Figure it out by yourselves. Cats and those who love them won’t miss you.

Despite the efforts of many humans throughout history to malign domestic cats, considering them evil, “witches’ familiars”, and possessing dark powers, these little mammals have been responsible for a great many benefits to our species. Consider the legend, for instance, of Dick Whittington’s cat (see http://youtu.be/VQFE2r13RFE) Although several versions of this legend exist, the basic information is that Dick, an impoverished orphan in medieval England, (some records indicate he lived from 1354 to 1423—during the same time frame as the infamous Black Death) had a cat who was a superlative killer of rats and mice. At some point, the young boy had to relinquish his beloved kitty to his master, who sold the cat (some say named Tom; other sources report it as a female, name unknown) to a ship’s captain.

While this feline was in some foreign land busy killing vermin, endearing her or himself to royalty who forked over enormous sums of money to the aforesaid captain, young Dick Whittington allegedly heard church bells in London foretelling him that he would someday be Lord Mayor of that city not once, but three times. Inspired by this omen, he gave up plans to run away from his job in a kitchen ruled by a sadistic cook. Long story short: the ship returned with riches earned by the boy’s former feline companion, which the captain gave to the now-no-longer-poor lad. Eventually this youth did become Lord Mayor of England’s capitol, three times as predicted. All of this he accredited to the skills of his pet cat, which had originally protected him from the biting vermin as he slept.

Other cats in general have also played a great role in extermination of flea-bearing rats and mice during the Plague in Europe (1346 to 1443, covering the same time frame as the Whittington story). Bubonic plague, a deadly disease spread by fleas carried by rats and mice, wiped out possibly up to twenty-five million people, a good portion of Europe’s population. Originally thought to have been brought back by Crusaders from the Middle East, it took foothold quite easily thanks to many superstitious cat-haters who were busy trying to eliminate the animal they thought of, in their quasi-religious fanaticism, as some form of demon. In addition, then, to needlessly destroying innocent beings, they set up their own doom by allowing the plague-bearing rodents to thrive.

Today, hopefully, fewer humans look in terror at these benign as well as beneficial domestic friends. Cats are not only a boon to us when it comes to controlling the numbers of rats and mice, but can be helpful companions in numerous other ways. As a loving living partner, a playmate for children, even a warning-sounder when someone is coming around your home, cats can be of great value. A simple “meow” to greet the weary returning human and a rub around the ankles, a purr while cuddling on your lap, all such gestures mean a lot. Keeping your feet warm on a cold night, or even nudging you awake when there is danger like a gas leak that human noses can’t detect, are examples of how a feline roommate can make a difference.

Many people suffering from loneliness, depression, autism, PTSD and other conditions find cats valuable in assisting them in a variety of ways ranging from being good listeners (they never tell you to shut up or go on social media about you) to giving you a reason to get up daily and get busy. Some felines even have been known to protect family members from attack by dogs (see http://youtu.be/Y6GQR3Ym5M8). Who says only dogs can guard?

Whether you rely on your kitty’s extraordinary mousing ability or simply love to watch the antics of your furry friend to cheer you at any time, show appreciation today—and every day—to your amazing little fluffy family member. You may not end up being Lord Mayor of your city, but your cat will always love you anyway.

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