Cats! by Jeramy Freimuth Bezzlethorp and Umbatta had been orbiting a small moon of Jupiter for 23 milosecs (three thousand years) observing the planet known as Earth. Finally came the time for first contact and Beezlethorp and Umbatta flew down to Earth. They arrived in a small field outside a small town in Nebraska. Beezlethorp and Umbatta exited their craft and slithered across the dry ground to hail the conquering species of this tiny planet called Earth. “Molo, Earthling. We have come in peace. We have been observing your domination of the land of Earth over what seemed to be more intelligent creatures and are impressed. We have come to offer you technology to advance your race.” There was no reply. Bezzlethorp tried again, “Earthling we mean you no harm, we intend to assist your race.” Still the stalk of corn made no reply. “Perhaps this is not the dominant species on Earth, we will try the second on the list.” Beezlethorp and Umbatta locate the next species and approach with the same offer “Molo, Earthling. We have come in peace. We have been observing your domination of the land of Earth over what seemed to be more intelligent creatures and are impressed. We have come to offer you technology to advance your race.” The cat replied, “It is good to be recognized, and thank, but we’ve got this under control.” Cats are our furry little companions that adore us and are definitely not plotting to kill us, they pretty much hang on our every word. Or do they!?!? What makes an animal a pet? Is it our domination over them? Their apparent submissiveness? They have to stay in the house when we tell them to, they mostly can’t poop where they want to. But then again, they don’t really have a job, we feed them, look after them, make sure they have a dry place to sleep, clean up their poop, buy them toys, worry about them. Who is really in charge here? Our story begins about 8000 years ago when the first ancestor of our modern day domesticated cats appears (Ottoni, Neer and Geigal, 2017). The beginning of the relationship between humans and cats was probably based on rodent control. The cats lived outdoors but because they would kill rodent’s humans allowed them to come around (Driscol, C., Macdonald, D and Obrien, S., 2009). It is actually thought that the cats slowly domesticated themselves and this is the first lineage of our modern-day cats (Ottoni et al., 2017). The second lineage happened in of African cats that made it to Egypt spread into the Mediterranean and would accompany ships presumably to be their rodent control. What is somewhat surprising that when comparing the modern-day cat to these ancient cats the DNA hasn’t changed (Ottoni, et al., 2017). This is a stark contrast to how dogs have been domesticated, their DNA mixed so many times with wolves and dogs bred for specific traits its hard to tell where they came from (Driscol, et al., 2009). Over the years cats have held an interesting place in human society. Egypt was especially dedicated to cats. Male cats were sacred to the sun god Ra and female cats were sacred to the fertility goddess Bast. (Kitchener, 1991). It was actually illegal to kill cats and if a household cat died all the members of the household would shave off their eyebrows as a mark of respect (Kitchener, 1991) Dead cats were mummified and sent to massive cat cemeteries. Apparently at one point there were so many dead cats that they used them as ballasts for ships and ground them up as fertilizer (Kitchener, 1991). Cats eventually spread from Egypt throughout Europe, in Rome we find them popping up as good luck charms. During the middle ages in Europe though they began to be seen as bad omens and parts of witchcraft (Kitchener, 1991) As recent though as the seventeenth century cats were found built into the walls of buildings which is thought to have been done for good luck (Kitchener, 1991). Now we arrive at the current day relationship that the world has with cats. In this paper I will take three lenses to see the relationship that cats have with the environment, with the current culture and personal. The question is though, do cats rule the world? The first lens that is used to see cats is their effect on our current culture. It is a debatable claim but possibly the most influential technology to ever grace the planet Earth is the internet. The internet as we know it began around the mid to early 90’s. Its initial version was used through dial up access that took (compared to today’s internet) and incredibly long time to access. Getting any pictures to load in 1995 could take upwards of 10 minutes where as these days you can watch a multi hour movie instantaneously. It’s a pretty remarkable leap in a very short amount of time. One animal that has moved into that spotlight as a part of this technology leap is certainly the cat. You can’t spend five minutes online without running into some cat related picture or video. The first cat video went up on youtube in 2005 and now there are about 2 million and they average approximately 12000 views each (26 billion views total) (Myrick, 2015). It is said that cats own the internet, or maybe they dominate it. A website launched in 2017 called Crypto Kitties. This website allows you to purchase and take care of little virtual kitties. Aw cute, but so what? In just a few days’ time there was over 1.3 million dollars spent on virtual kitties (Tepper, 2017). The most expensive single transaction was a whopping 113, 000 dollars with multiple kitties being sold for around 23,000$. One of the interesting aspects of the game is the breeding process where “each kitten has a 256-bit genome that holds the genetic sequence to all the different combinations kittens can have. These include things like background color, cooldown time, whiskers, beards, stripes and so on. Some of these genes can be recessive, meaning a kitten without stripes could still breed one with stripes” (Tepper, 2017) Sure it’s interesting, but could it possibly be 113, 000 dollars interesting? What do people get out of these interactions? A study called Emotion Regulation, Procrastination, and Watching Cat Videos Online: Who Watches Internet Cats, Why, and to What Effect? By Jessica Myrick (2015) attempted to find out just that. There are a few theories as why people engage in such acts as watching cat videos or sharing cat memes. One of those theories is called the mood management theory (MMT) Basically MMT says that the type of media a person selects to interact with online is used to regulate their moods. It says that media is chosen based on its “based on its excitatory potential, absorption potential, semantic affinity, and hedonic valence” (Myrick, 2015). So basically if this theory is correct it should align with Myricks study. Another theory says that people do these things to procrastinate and that if that’s true there may be some guilt associated with the experience. Myrick polled about 11000 fans of a famous internet cat (Lil Bub) and donated a little bit of money for everyone that completed the survey. About 70000 completed the survey and the results were interesting. The strongest predictor that a person would interact with cat media online was emotional enjoyment before and after the video. That being said the strongest “motivation” for interacting with cats was happenstance and not some intent to get online and do it. When the content is interacted with though people tend to do it it multiple ways from commenting on it and sharing it to liking it. This result is in line with the mood management theory. They also found that though some did use cats to procrastinate it ended up being more like a guilty pleasure. They would get the guilt relative to whatever they were trying to avoid but when they got happy from watching the cat media and they would share the media with others and this would sort of alleviate some of the guilt because they were sharing their good feelings. Cat crack! So there is almost no downside to watching cat videos constantly on youtube while the world burns as long as your sharing. This leads us to the next lens; how might these furry little emotion regulators be affecting the environment? Cats are listed among the 100 most invasive species on the planet. It is estimated that cats kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds each year and 6.9 to 20 billion mammals each year in the U.S (Loss, Will, Mara, 2013). It is also estimated that cats kill 258 to 822 reptiles and 95 to 299 amphibians each year (Loss et al., 2013). The U.S. has a bit of an issue with unowned feral cats. A feral cat is a cat that has little to no contact with humans and the generally won’t allow themselves to be touched by them. It is estimated that there are nearly 50 million to 150 million unowned cats in the United States alone (Williams, 2013) They can roam around in colonies of up to about 300 cats (Loss et al., 2013). One difference between the feral cats and owned cats is the feral cats spend more time in a high activity state. What that means is the cats spend more time hunting or just running around (Zeilinski, 2011). They also spend more time awake at night and sleeping during the day because it tends to reflect the pattern of sleeping of their prey. One concern about these massive feral cat colonies is that cats can carry rabies and although its been a long time since someone has died from a cat giving them rabies it is a concern (Weis, 2013). Humans come into the picture now when we start to talk about disease and colonies of cats roaming around at night. Traditionally the way we dealt with stray animals, especially potentially diseased ones was to euthanize them. With cats though there is a pretty strong movement to register the cat colonies and control them (have them fixed). There is even a pretty famous cat colony living in the last place that you would expect them, with Mickey Mouse! A colony of about 100 cats that moved in to Disneyland around 1955 when they opened (Jaeger, 2014). They probably came originally to snack on the little leftovers left by guests, but they are now maintained by the park. They are neutered, tagged and vaccinated by the park There are feeding stations and the employees and local vets keep up with the cats needs (Jaeger, 2014). This is what is called the trap-neuter-return (TNR) approach to feral colonies. There are opponents to this who cite that the cats can carry disease and should be killed or like PETA who says the cats should be handled and given to homes (Jaegar, 2014). An interesting little study watched a feral cat feeding station that was maintained by a community (Urban Wildlife Research Project, 2013). A person would put a pound of food there a every few days, they set up a camera to see who was eating the food. It turned out that feral cats only actually ate 4% of the food. Most of the food was eaten by raccoons and angry skunks. The people who did the study hypothesized that this could have a negative impact on the local wildlife by introducing this strange food that these other animals weren’t use to eating. They also hypothesize that with so many mouths eating from the same bowl it could also spread disease more rapidly if there was disease to spread. How else might cats be impacting the environment? Another way that cats impact the environment is through the owned cats need and consumption of cat food. Cat and dog food both contain a certain amount of meat. It is estimated that in the U.S. there are about 163 million owned dogs and cats (Okin, 2017). There is more meat in the dogs and cats diets so it is estimated that they consume about 25 percent of the total calories derived from animals consumed in the U.S. If they were their own country they would rank fifth in the world in total meat consumption (Okin, 2017). This meat production has been estimated at causing about 64 million tons of greenhouse gasses a year which is equivalent to 13.6 million cars (Okin, 2017). On top of all that cats and dogs produce an estimated 5.1 million tons of feces a year which is equivalent to the amount of trash produced in the state of Massachusetts by humans for an entire year (Okin, 2017). One of the issues with this is that it would be unhealthy for the animals to switch to a more vegetarian diet so the meat is necessary. A solution that is talked about is called snout to tail. It is where the more unappetizing parts of animals are used for the dog and cat food. It is estimated that if just 25 percent of dog and cat food made right now was edible by humans it could 26 million Americans (Okin, 2017). The idea of using all of the animal means that less animals will be used in overall production so that will reduce the waste and the energy needed in the long run. Another thing suggested by the researcher was that Americans could reduce their pet ownership in general. This however seems unlikely. The final lens I would like to explore is a personal one. My mother was a magical creature. One of her charms was that she always had the most enigmatic cats around her. It didn’t matter how many litters of cats they were always unique and awesome to be around, it was a reflection of her. I had a few cats after she died and I will say that they were pretty amazing. I always felt like it was a reflection of my connection with my mom or a little bit of her in me. Cats are kind of my symbolic animal as well. The way that cats act is kind of the way that I am, aloof, independent and a bit mischievous. I would like to share a story about a cat I had named Dilemma. First off Dilemma was one of my mom’s favorite words so the cat was named in honor of her. Dilemma was part Egyptian cat, she was white, tiny with slender legs and tall ears. She could do things I have never seen a cat do. I’ve seen plenty of cats run up trees, which she did, but I’ve never seen them run down them, which she did. She could leap up to this ridiculous height, like weird high. Two massive snub tail neighbor cats bloodied her eye once and chased her around. She singled both of them out and kicked both their asses (she was always super tiny too) in the weeks to follow. She was also the best mother I have ever seen. She was dedicated to getting pregnant, more dedicated than I was in getting her fixed. She got pregnant immediately one litter after another and she would get all fat and happy laying on the cool floor with her massive belly. Her kittens were so freakin amazing and enigmatic, some of the happiest moments in my life so far were spent with them. The relationship I had with this cat was of mutual respect, I don’t know how else to describe it. She embodies what a cat means to me. Cats are here to stay. They found a beneficial situation with humans and have managed to make themselves valuable, first through their ability to control vermin and then through just being themselves. Cats do however have an effect on the environment and it seems like the unowned cat situation in the U.S. could be a not so subtle attempt at world domination (starting with the birds). Who knows, the world might be a better place with cats running things. Grumpy cat would definitely be president and I gotta say I think it would be an improvement.