Move Over, Dog Lovers: Cats in Ohio Memory

Calf licking kitten
Calf licking kitten, 1968. Joe Munroe Collection. Courtesy Ohio History Connection. Via Ohio Memory.

A few weeks ago, we gave a nod to the dogs of Ohio Memory. And why not? Nearly 40% of Ohio households have at least one dog. But, while we do love our dogs, we love our cats, too, with 30% of us having one and, often, more than one. So let’s give the cats their due!

Cat With Trophies [approximately 1990]. Courtesy Toledo Lucas County Public Library. Via Ohio Memory.
This article in National Geographic magazine (note: clicking the link will take you to a site outside of Ohio Memory) tells us that wildcats initially approached human settlements in pursuit of the rodents that were attracted to farmers’ harvests. Finding the relationship mutually beneficial, cats and humans existed side-by-side for thousands of years until, in time, cats just moved in with humans. Yes, in a surprise to no cat lover, cats chose to domesticate themselves. The same National Geographic article states that cat DNA has changed very little over the past few millennia. This effigy pipe depicts a wildcat is from 1500-2000 years ago, after cats’ domestication. It is entirely possible, however, that the cat that the carver chose to portray was one that lived on the outskirts of the village, staying nearby to catch critters in the village food stores. How long was it until that wildcat in the woods became the tabby on someone’s bed?

Little girl with kitten
Little girl with kitten, ca. 1896-1912. Albert J. Ewing Collection. Courtesy Ohio History Connection. Via Ohio Memory.

Still, the relationship between humans and cats has, on occasion, been fraught. Cats are nocturnal, and who knows what they get up to when we’re sleeping? They can be loving one moment, purring with affection and begging to be petted, and suddenly begin hissing and scratching for no apparent reason. Cats don’t appear to need us; rather, they sometimes tend to be solitary, happy just to ramble through the world on their own. Cats have been associated with witches and burned alive for their presumed magical and/or evil powers. They’ve been rumored to be able to steal the breath from a baby or child while the little one sleeps. And don’t let a black cat cross your path!

Despite all of these superstitions and misbegotten beliefs, cats remain popular pets. They’re wonderful companions, often happy to just snuggle up and nap. They’re also great for ridding our homes of rodents, retaining the same instincts that attracted them to humans in the first place. They’re curious and active, and quiet and contemplative by turns. Mark Twain once said that “a home without a cat — and a well-fed, well-petted, properly-revered cat — may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?” Or maybe you prefer Disney’s take on cats, via the film “The Aristocats:” “Everybody wants to be a cat / because a cat’s the only cat who knows where it’s at.” Either way, move over, dog lovers; it’s the cats’ turn!

Thank you to Shannon Kupfer-Trausch, Digital Initiatives Librarian at the State Library of Ohio, for this week’s post!

Couple milking dairy cows
Couple milking dairy cows, 1952. Joe Munroe Collection. Courtesy Ohio History Connection. Via Ohio Memory.

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