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First named pet in Britain was a cat called Mite in the 13th century?

The Daily Telegraph reports that the first named pet in the UK has been revealed as a cat called “Mite” who lived in a 13th century Hampshire monastery. The author claims that that is the first naming of a British pet i.e. companion animal. The cat lived in Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire in about 1270. It was recorded in an illuminated manuscript. The author of The Animal’s Companion: People and Their Pets, the historian Jackie Collis Harvey, apparently uncovered the manuscript. The information I have is sketchy because you have to subscribe to The Daily Telegraph.

Cat named Mite from 1270 in Britain. Picture in public domain due to lapse of time.

The story is interesting because domestic cats were introduced into Britain with the Romans at around 200 A.D. as I recall. A thousand years before the naming of this cat. It is difficult to believe that this was the first time a domestic cat was named. I am sure that the Romans named their cats just like we do today.

In fact, personally, I’m convinced that people named their cats from the very inception of the domestication of the cat going back about 10,000 years. So I not sure of the significance of this discovery. I think we can say that it is perhaps the first recorded naming of a pet cat in Britain that we know about.

The Daily Telegraph author says that the naming of a pet cat indicates that at that time they began to regard them as companions and friends rather than simply as possessions. I agree with that in principle but even today the law states that domestic cats are possessions. And even today a lot of people still regard them as possessions and worse: as trash. Yes, I know it sounds harsh but it is frankly absolutely true. We don’t have a percentage of the people who regard animals as possessions rather than family members but I suspect it is a significant percentage judging by the lack of concern and poor quality caretaking that some people bestow upon their pet cats.

I’m sure that well before the 13th century in Britain many people regarded their pet cat not as possessions but as a companion. After all, it is the reason why on many occasions people adopted or acquired a domestic cat. They wanted a companion. I know that in the early days they were utilitarian animals (mousers) primarily but they were also companions with varying levels of attachment. I would argue that the relationship has developed over the centuries whereby more people regard the cat as a friend and indeed as a family member but the concept of the cat not being a possession has been around for many thousands of years.

P.S. We mustn’t forget dogs. The domestication of the dog started perhaps 20,000 years ago, well before that cats. It is certain that pet dogs were named many thousands of years before the cat was even domesticated. Once again dogs were treated as utilitarian animals but that doesn’t mean that they were not sometimes named and treated as friends.

Some pages on cat history

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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