Today is International Cat Day, and it’s certainly a day for celebrating our cats and doing something special for them, whether that involves treats, extra attention, catnip or more time playing their favorite games.
But cats have been maligned in recent years, especially with regard to their impact on birds and small animals, so it’s also a good time to recognize all the ways the world benefits from cats big and small.
Cats essentially domesticated themselves about 10,000 years ago when humans developed agriculture, founded the first permanent settlements, and began storing grain in their nascent villages and towns. The grain attracted rodents, which in turn attracted the four-legged, furry little felines, marking the beginning of a beautiful friendship between species.
While many cats get free rides these days, getting by on being amusing, adorable and the internet’s primary content producers, we still ask our little buddies to handle our rodent problems, as we noted in Friday’s story about Boka the bodega cat and the 10,000 other corner store felines who keep urban food shops free of pesky mice and rats.
Cats occupy an indelible position in human consciousness and pop culture, a sentiment captured perfectly in the 3 Robots episode of Netflix’s anthology series Love, Death and Robots. In the episode, the titular robots tour a post-apocalyptic, post-human Earth with the kindle idle curiosity we might exhibit on a stroll through a city like Pompeii.
“What’s the point of these things?” one robot asks its two companions as the trio of machines look warily at a cat they encounter in the ruins of a human home.
“Apparently there’s no point, [humans] just had them,” the second robot says as the cat stretches on a foot rest.
“Well, that’s underselling their influence,” the third robot says. “They had an entire network that was devoted to the dissemination of pictures of these things.”
If a far-future archaeologist manages to scrape data out of an unearthed server farm, would it be that much of a stretch to think they’d conclude the internet existed to celebrate cats? (Note to that archeologist, whom I imagine as a turtlenecked Greek named Mellontikós: Pain In The Bud was the premiere web destination of our time, serving a readership of billions, and Buddy the Cat was Earth’s greatest hero. Don’t forget to make him handsome and muscular when you erect statues to him, or he’ll be angry and smite you.)
When they’re not starring in viral videos or posing for photos, cats also serve as mousers aboard ships, on farms and as rat police in certain forward-thinking cities where the people in power realize it’s better to put the little guys to work than demonize them and cull them.
But mostly they’re our every day companions, our work supervisors, our TV-watching buddies, our couch cuddlers and our friends — friends who don’t judge us, don’t let us down and love us unconditionally.
While house cats aren’t endangered, we’re at a critical juncture now, one that will determine if future generations put their kids to bed promising to take them to zoos to see tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards and cheetahs, or if they’ll kiss their kids goodnight after explaining, sadly, that the majestic animals in their storybooks were extirpated from the Earth a long time ago along with elephants, orangutans, gorillas, whales and virtually every other example of charismatic, iconic megafauna.
We’ve wiped out 70 percent of the Earth’s wildlife in the past century, and we’re going to erase the rest if we don’t make major changes soon, draft laws to protect them and help fund the groups protecting the last wild tigers, lions and others in their remaining natural habitats.
The world is a better place with cats, and we’re lucky to have them. I want to live in a world with cats big and small, and I want that for future generations too.