The Best Idea

How the invention of cat litter brought the cat indoors

By Dusty Rainbolt

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Who knows where humanity would be if felines and pharaohs had never joined forces? In a time when the Egyptians had begun to explore agriculture, civilization balanced on a precipice. Without crops, humans couldn’t live in large communities. Egyptian granaries stored tons of wheat and barley to feed the growing population, along with a thriving population of vermin.

Enter the cat, which eked out a meager living in the harsh desert. In a sudden windfall, cats simply waited near the granaries. As thanks for saving Egypt from famine, Pharaoh promoted cats to demigods. Thousands of sacred feline mummies bear silent witness to Egypt’s adoration. Mummified mice also found in the tombs likely provided food for the little gods in the afterlife.

The little exterminators spread around the globe, eventually coming to the New World with the Puritans. People welcomed cats wherever food attracted rodents. 

"They were part of the working equipment,” says Katherine Grier, Ph.D., professor of history at University of Delaware in Newark. “Cats had a really important job in the human settlements: vermin control.”

According to Grier, as young America grew and as human populations expanded, cats stood sentry over stores, restaurants, stables and trains, anyplace where food attracted rodents. She says even the United States War Department and U. S. Post Office budgeted for funds to pay for meat to feed the mousers.

**Get the August 2010 issue of CAT FANCY to read the full article.**

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