The Allure of Cats


Trent strode to the speaker’s platform and scanned the audience, which seemed to number in the hundreds and appeared to him to represent a cross section of the earth’s population. It seemed to him that everybody there was in a relaxed and expectant mood. He was vaguely disappointed, however, that in the sea of faces before him he recognized no one. Nevertheless, his mood was elevated by the pleasure he had found in preparing for task before him.

He adjusted the microphone and began.

“Ten thousand years ago, a farmer in a small village lying between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers left his mud brick home carrying a wicker basket in his hand and approached the rudimentary grain storage silo behind his house.

“As had happened many times before on his approach, small rodents
scampered from the stone and thatch structure, and darted for cover in nearby vegetation, But this time, to the farmer’s amazement, a creature about six inches high at the shoulders raced from the surrounding shrubs, pounced on one of the rodents, killed it with a bite to the neck and retreated at a leisurely pace to the cover of the shrubs with its victim dangling from its jaws. The farmer recognized the creature as one of the wild animals he had seen during firewood gathering trips into the forest about a half hour’s walk from the village


“Agriculture, with its fixed settlements, stores of foodstuffs and plentiful, freeloading vermin, spread from the Middle East throughout much of the world. As agriculture spread, so did a native wild cat whose line extends directly to most of the domestic house cats of the world today.

“Man domesticated the cow, the goat and other farm animals by captivity, conditioning and selective breeding, but he can take only partial credit for his relationship with the cat.

“The cat is ‘self domesticated.’ It chose to form a partnership with Man. That partnership has grown in the past ten thousand years such that today the cat is the most popular pet in the world and most of today’s cats are virtually indistinguishable, from a genetics perspective, from the wild cats of the Middle East. Those wild cats flourished through the transition from hunter gatherer societies to agricultural societies, and their successive generations cast their lot with the new settled way of life.


“Cats, for the most part, are solitary hunters that rely on their individual stealth, speed, and native abilities for their success as hunters. The lion is the exception. Lions enjoy remarkable success in feeding because of their social tendencies to hunt in prides.

“I had the captivating experience of witnessing the marvel of a lion hunt while on a trek in a vast South African game preserve. As we arrived in the territory of the lions, we could see that they were just waking from their afternoon nap. First the cubs and then the adults awoke.

“From the vantage point of our safari vehicle, we could see a herd of water buffalo approximately two miles beyond the lions. The lions knew the water buffalo were there because they could hear the noises of the herd. After the lions were fully awake and had cleaned themselves, they set out on the hunt as we watched from our vehicle.

“Our presence was of no concern to them as they executed the strategy of their attack. We watched them pair off and move to one side or the other of the grassy plain that stretched from our position to the location of the water buffalo herd. They moved toward their prey, nodding to each other, sending signals that only they could understand. As they encircled a portion of the herd they targeted their intended victim, a female weighing about a thousand pounds that was grazing alone at some distance from the balance of the herd.

“One of the crouching lions, which had been working its way with the others through the tall grass toward the buffalo, suddenly sprang to its feet and charged toward the unsuspecting female. In an instant, it seemed, all the lions were clinging to the terrified buffalo. She fought the lions heroically, but their power was too great.

“It was one of the most horrifying things that I have ever witnessed, but it was nature. The rule of cats is not gentle.

“Everyone here has at least one cat as a pet and no doubt has seen the slinking, stalking, charging, and subduing behaviors that are innate to an animal that hunts for its food and lives exclusively on meat. Your cat exhibits this behavior, even though it may have never seen a prey animal, because it descends directly from the wild cats of millions of years ago with instincts still intact.

“Your cat also displays social behaviors normally reserved for a mother and her offspring in the wild. She rubs your legs, or your face, with her face to mark you with her scent and to absorb yours. Lacking a feline mother to lick and clean her, she loves being stroked by her human mother and rolls over on her back displaying complete vulnerability and conveying total trust and friendship.


“We love our cats for their independent yet amiable behavior, for the companionship that they choose to bestow upon us and for the glimpse of a wild and forgotten world that they give us. Victor Hugo said, ‘God made the cat to give man the pleasure of caressing the tiger.’ We take pleasure in caressing our miniature tigers and delight in their soothing and mysterious response, the purr.

“Exactly why cats purr remains a mystery. Clearly, cats convey satisfaction and contentment when they purr, and you may have used the analogy of purring to describe something that pleased you greatly.

“Beginning as newborns, kittens purr while suckling the one teat that they’ve claimed exclusively for themselves, conveying to their mother that all is well while she keeps watch for any harm that might befall them.

“Being perpetual kittens, our cats purr when we show them affection, but our cats also purr when they are in pain, and some cats have even been known to purr on the brink of death. On the one hand, purring conveys contentment, but on the other, it beseeches us for help and compassion.

“When cats beseech us for help they make the contented purr, but also, when the urgency is great, they add a high-pitched whine, a whine reminiscent of a human baby’s cry. The effect of a low rumbling purr combined with a high-pitched whine is a sound that is sure to move the most reluctant cat owner to action


Copyright © F. Wyman Morgan 2011

Buy PurrBuy_Purr,_the_novel.htmlBuy_Purr,_the_novel.htmlshapeimage_8_link_0
Featured on Book Club Reading List