The Blog

America's Fascination with Cats

October 29 is National Cat Day which has now been celebrated for 10 years. For those of us who love animals, we should not just be rejoicing only one day this month, because it is our duty every day to help these defenseless animals who have no voice for themselves.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Last month I was watching my hometown baseball team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, play the San Francisco Giants. And when it came time to throw out the first pitch, it was thrown out by Grumpy Cat (also known as Tartar Sauce), an Internet celebrity cat known for her grumpy facial expressions who has over 8 million likes on Facebook.

This is not the first time a cat has thrown out the first pitch at a ball game. Last year, Tara the Cat, who was made famous in a YouTube video that has had over 24 million views because she saved a four-year-old boy from a dog attack in Bakersfield, CA, threw out the first pitch at the minor league Bakersfield Blaze baseball game. Obviously these cats don't have the paw strength to reach home plate, so to have these cats honored in this esteemed American tradition says a lot about our respect for these pets.

Domesticated cats have a long and rich history according to the Smithsonian. Cats were first domesticated 12,000 years ago in the Middle East as people abandoned their nomadic lifestyle and settled permanently to farming and storing grain, which attracted rodents. The wildcats preyed on the rodents and stuck around these early towns. In Egypt, the African Wild Cat was domesticated to control the vermin that was harming the crops and causing diseases. These cats controlled the rat population, reducing deaths, and allowed a larger supply of food for the poor. Because they changed the quality of life for Egyptians, cats became sacred creatures representing life and associated with the goddesses Bast, Isis and Pasht. If an Egyptian killed a cat, they were immediately given the death penalty.

Egyptian traders brought cats to Europe, Greece, and the Romans. All of these civilizations used the cats to control the pest population and the King of Wales also made killing a cat punishable by death. But during the Middle Ages, cats were associated with superstitions and witch craft, sin and Satan. When The Plague started in 1348, the rulers ordered the killing of cats that were thought to carry the devil's disease. Ironically, because of the mass killing of cats, the rodent population exploded and worsened the spread of disease. The mass killing of cats costs millions of lives in Europe.

Cats were used on ships to control the rodent population and when Christopher Columbus discovered America, cats on board of his ship were left behind and flourished to become the American Shorthair cat. Fast forward to today and in the 1990s, cats overtook the dog as the world's most common pet where there are now 500,000,000 domestic cats worldwide!

In the USA, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), there are 86 million owned cats compared to 78 million dogs. Thirty-nine percent of American households own a dog compared to 33 percent owning cats. The oddity in the numbers here is because 52 percent of cat people own more than one cat, while 40 percent of dog people own more than one dog. A total of 70 million US homes own at least one companion animal which is 63 percent of homes. There are 54,000 veterinarians in the USA taking care of these animals which is a 55 percent increase in vets in just the last 15 years!

Back in 2012, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis started the "Internet Cat Video Film Festival" to showcase the best in cat videos. They receive 10,000 submissions annually of one-minute videos and pick the top 70 which are shown at the film festival. When over 10,000 people showed up for this event, it became so popular that it has led to international tours of the program and they had their 2015 edition launch a couple of months ago. We noticed on our Facebook page that every time we post a picture of a cat, it is liked or shared thousands of times. So if so many of us take the time to smile, laugh and gush about cats, why are so many of them in trouble?

There are over 5,000 animal shelters nationwide according to Statistic Brain. Five-million animals enter these shelters and 3.5 million are euthanized. Sixty percent of dogs are euthanized and 70 percent of cats entering shelters are euthanized. Only two percent of the cats are actually returned to their owners. Two billion dollars of taxpayer money is used annually to round up, house, kill and dispose of homeless animals.

October 29 is National Cat Day which has now been celebrated for 10 years. For those of us who love animals, we should not just be rejoicing only one day this month, because it is our duty every day to help these defenseless animals who have no voice for themselves. There are plenty of concerned organizations that need our support to help reduce the staggering amount of neglected pets. Donate to great nonprofits like the ASPCA, the Humane Society, the American Humane Association or to go local, find a shelter near you through The Shelter Pet Project to help fight animal abuse and neglect. And at DollarDays on our Facebook page, we are giving away $5,000 in products to animal shelters, so make sure you nominate your favorite shelter that can use our help. If you cannot support these helpless animals with money, donate your time to help care for them at the shelters. All shelters welcome people who will feed, walk and groom these ignored cats.

Cats provide therapeutic benefits for many of life's invisible scars. They help us socially and emotionally. The unconditional love cats give us transcends work issues, family conflicts, and death. Cats don't care about the color of your skin, whether you can read or not, or if you are missing a limb. So not only during National Cat Day this month honor your best friend, but all year long do the right thing. Donate to cat shelters and organizations that care for these innocent animals. Volunteer at your local shelter to help cats cope with being alone. No one wants to be alone, and your simple act of kindness goes a long way for cats that can't speak up for themselves.