Fact or Fiction? Cat Myths Debunked

“A clever writer has stated that  ‘the human race may be divided into people who love cats and people who hate them; the neutrals being few in numbers.’ ” -Frances Simpson

 Book of the Week: The Book of Cat by Frances Simpson

If you are part of the majority of people who are “dog people” this post may not be for you. Please redirect to our dog book of the week post here. Neutral folks, you can stick around. Now that we have weeded out all of those pesky dog lovers, let’s get on to a book that is the cat’s meow! Frances Simpson, author of several books on cats at the turn of the century was a serious feline aficionado. Author of The Book of the Cat (1902), Simpson put together one of the most comprehensive resources on cats around. Who knew you could write 32 chapters on cats? Besides the 362 pictures mostly of cats, our favorite parts of the book were the chapters on:
Chapter 1, Cats of the Past. Very interesting to see how cats have interacted with humans over the past 10,000 years. It has been a tumultuous relationship indeed, vacillating between extreme love and extreme hate.
Chapter 29, Cat Photography for Amateurs. Have you seen all of the pictures of cats on the internet? This chapter is really relevant to the contemporary needs of internet users.
Chapter 32, The Cat’s Place in Nature. The grand prize goes to this chapter. A must read for taxonomists and natural history buffs who are interested in cat classification and physiology. Have a look at the anatomy of the cat’s eye:
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The third eye-lid is called the plica semilunaris or nictitating mebrane. This is found in mostly nocturnal creatures and regulates the admission of light whilst protecting from injury.
Book of the Week’s Pictures of Cats!

Because we all need a daily cat pic fix: See more cat pics on Flickr and also don’t forget to re-pin from our Book of the Week Pinterest Board!

Time to Play Fact or Fiction
  • The ancient Egyptians worshiped cats and used them as hunting “retrievers” 

Fact: According to Horopollo, the cat was worshiped in the temple of Heliopolis, because the size of the pupil of the animal’s eye is regulated by the rising and waning of the sun. Additionally, long before dogs ever retrieved the kill on human hunts, cats did:

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  • Cats have nine lives

Fiction: Ms. Simpson explains that “Cats probably owe this reputation to their extraordinary powers of endurance, and certain it is that they have a greater tenacity to life than any other animal. At the Battersea Home a dog and a cat have been placed in the lethal chamber, and it was observed that the dog died in five minutes, whereas the cat breathed for forty minutes longer.” Do the math, 45min/5min = 9X the will to live. Cats are survivors.

  • The black cat is a bad omen 

Fiction: If you haven’t heard this superstition before, it finds its origins in the Middle Ages, a time when demons inhabited bodies and witches were burned at the stake, it was also believed that the devil borrowed the coat of a black cat when he wished to torment his victims. A strange departure from worshipping cats, as the Egyptians had done.

  • Women are generally cat lovers while, men tend to like dogs: 

Fiction: Not necessarily true. Winston Churchill’s cat Jock was one of his favorite pets. Bill Clinton brought his adopted stray cat Socks with him when he moved to the White House. Victor Hugo had a favorite cat name “Chanome,” whom he slept with. Among the most powerful men the world has ever seen, Cardinal Richelieu and Napoleon counted themselves as cat lovers.

  • Domestic cats are almost identical to their wild counterparts, with few biological or genetic variations
Fact: Yes, a very strange fact indeed. Cats have been domesticated by humans for over 10,000 years yet, the human interference in breeding unlike with cows, has not resulted in significant genetic changes for the species. Top cat expert, Carlos Driscoll, explains that “cats can survive with or without us” and that they don’t rely on humans the way that other domesticated animals do — rather they coexist with humans.
  • Social media aka Web 2.0 was invented so that we could share pictures of cats. 

Arguable: Well, according to Ethan Zuckerman, Internet Activist and Harvard Berkman Fellow: “Web 1.0 was invented to allow physicists to share research papers. Web 2.0 was created to allow people to share pictures of cute cats.” (Cute Cat Theory) Yes, we know the Internet is used for so much MORE these days but, sharing picture of cats on internet forums truly is a weekly phenomenon. Every Saturday dubbed “Caturday” is a day in which global cat lovers post pictures of cats, en masseLOLcat has its own Wikipedia entry. If you didn’t know it was a thing, it’s definitely a thing. The internet chose cats, what can we say?

Who are we as Librarians and traditional lovers of feline companionship, to argue with popular demand? People want their pictures of cats and they want them every Saturday. We are service oriented here at the BHL and providing you with a fresh supply of cat pictures could be a considered a loose interpretation of our mission. Enjoy!

And no matter the day, let’s love cats and dogs, and all members of the animal kingdom in equal measure. Every living organism is part of the amazing tree of life.

We hope you enjoyed this post. Interested in guest-blogging for the BHL? We’d love that! Natural history, biodiversity and conservation topics are especially welcomed. Email us your ideas at feedback@biodiversitylibrary.org

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JJ Dearborn (née Ford) is co-owner of the Makers Guild, Inc., a Design+Build firm focused on biophilic design solutions. Formerly, she served as the Digital Collections Librarian for the Biodiversity Heritage Library at Smithsonian Libraries and Digital Projects Librarian at Harvard University's Botany Libraries.