There was a time – and it lasted for thousands of years – when people believed in a hierarchal order of animals. A lot of people still believe it, which can encourage animal abuse, but they are living in the past. In the 19th century domestic cats were below dogs and horses in this hierarchy.
Animals were there to serve humans and although domestic cats were ‘pets’ in Britain in the 19th century they were regarded with a certain amount of contempt. Even the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal neglected to include a cat in a picture of animals on its Queen’s Medal for Kindness. Queen Victoria insisted that a cat be added to the foreground to try and change public opinion. She felt that cats ‘were generally misunderstood and grossly ill-treated’.
Nowadays in the West, but conspicuously less so in the developing countries, we prefer to see cats as individuals and family members. Educated people have to a large extent ditched the concept of a hierarchal order of animals with humans at the top. Domestic cats are our equal and not dependant inferior creatures.
We grant them rights even if those rights are not written into the constitution. Although The Animal Welfare Act 2006 (UK’s major animal welfare law) is drafted in a way which recognises the rights of animals. In fact all the best animal laws are underpinned by animal rights.
The law regards cats as chattels, a personal possession, but cat lovers and the well-informed don’t. We see them as companions equal to human companions.
And thus it came to pass that it became inappropriate to refer to people as ‘cat owners’. This clashes with modern thoughts on the place and role of the domestic cat in modern life. ‘Cat guardian’ is more accurate. It reflects a relationship of equals but one in which the human provides an oversight of their cat in terms of security and sustenance.
Note: the reference to 19the century Britain was written with the aid of a book called ‘Cat’ by Katherine M Rogers.
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