Around 1600 years ago the Romans left Britain but many  of the cats they owned were left behind. When the Vikings invaded Britain about 1,000 years ago it is thought that they took some of the domesticated cats (that the Romans had left behind) back to Norway with them. The Romans had many pets, from cats to apes, but favoured the dog above all others. The dog is featured in mosaics, paintings, poetry, and prose.

There is some confusion about the origins of the domestic cat, with uncertainty about where and when in time cats were domesticated. Some scientists even argue that cats domesticated themselves.

In the last several hundred years, there has been a massive increase in the number of animals kept purely for companionship and pleasure.  Statista (here) say that the most popular individual pet owned in the United Kingdom is the dog, with 25 percent of people owning one. In total, 40 percent of the UK population own a pet . Over 90 percent of pet owners in the UK say that owning a pet makes them feel happy and 88 percent feel that pet ownership improves their overall quality of life. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the very positive effects this relationship can have on human health and psychological well-being, and a recognition of the therapeutic value of animal companions.

The First Domesticated Cats

For a long time, it was believed that the Egyptians domesticated cats around 4,000 years ago. Geographically this makes sense because DNA evidence suggests that modern day domestic cats share a common ancestor with the African wildcat. However, in 2004 a nine and a half thousand-year-old Neolithic grave in Cyprus was excavated and revealed the remains of a cat buried with a human, suggesting that humans kept cats long before the 4,000-year mark.Other studies have suggested that domestication of cats could have started as much as 12,000 years ago when agriculture boomed in the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent (a crescent shaped area of fertile land around Egypt and Syria). It is thought that the increased agriculture brought in more vermin and the cats followed.

It was the ancient Egyptians who were the first to name their domesticated animals. Don’t forget that Abuwtiyuw, the guard dog to a Pharaoh, is thought to have been named in 2,280 BC.

The Telegraph reported on 4th July 2020 that the first named pet in the UK has been revealed as cat called Mite who lived in the 13th-century in Beaulieu Abbey. a Hampshire monastery. This story was corrected a few days later in a Letter to the Editor: “Pangur Bán” is an Old Irish poem, written about the 9th century at or around Reichenau Abbey. It was written by an  Irish monk, and is about his cat. Pangur Bán, ‘White Pangur’, is the cat’s name, Pangur meaning ‘a fuller’.

Britain had been a centre for dog breeding since Roman times, and one of the first formal competitive dog shows was held in Newcastle in 1859 for the Pointer and Setter breeds. Still, little was known about the inheritance of various characteristics until Charles Darwin published The Origin of the Species in 1859. Since that time, dog breeding has become more formalized with the establishment of strict breed standards.

The Death of a Pet
Great grief was shown over the death of a dog or cat and the family would shave their eyebrows to mark their bereavement. Tomb paintings of the Pharaoh Rameses the Great depict him with his hunting dogs (presumably in the Field of Reeds) and dogs were often buried with their masters to provide this kind of companionship in the afterlife. The intimate relationship between dogs and their masters in Egypt is made clear through inscriptions which have been preserved.

Martin Pollins
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