Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/101

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I HAD for ten years a cat whose intelligence interested me greatly and was considered remarkable by all persons who took notice of her. Her confidence in her master and mistress, her evident enjoyment of their society, her happy faculty of putting herself upon an understanding with them, her familiar interest in matters of the household, the shifts and devices of which she was master, and her sagacity manifested in ways as various as the exigencies she had to meet, evoked frequent admiration and praise. These manifestations led me to look into the subject of knowledge in cats, and I have found that she was not singular, or even exceptional, in the quality of her faculties. She appears to have been a type to which a great many of the more happily trained members of her race can easily measure up. My observations have been naturally extended to other animals, and have led to the conclusion that most domesticated species and many wild ones are capable of and often manifest equally high degrees of mental development. But cats—and dogs too—are more at home with us, have more opportunities to learn, and come under closer and more constant observation than the others.

The cat belongs to a large and highly specialized family; to one that is clearly distinguishable from the other families of animals, while the resemblances between its own members is so strong that even the careless, unprofessional observer will hardly fail to assign at a glance an individual of any of its species to it. All the members of the family are, according to Wood, light, stealthy, and silent of foot, quick of ear and eye. They are exceedingly graceful in form and movement, have flexible bodies and limbs—walk, we might say, on tiptoe—are alert and swift in action, and are exceedingly cunning. Between many of them and the cat itself there is hardly any prominently visible difference except in size. Curious resemblances in features of line or expression may be remarked between the portraits of the Felidæ in Wood's Natural History and cats with which the observer is acquainted. A copy of the photograph of the head and breast of a tiger at rest, in a portfolio by our side, might be easily mistaken, except for a few differences in the shading of the hair, for a life-size portrait of the cat that has given the occasion of this article. St. George Mivart recognizes fifty living species of the cat family, forty-eight of which he includes in the genus Felis.

The history of the domestic cat has been traced back to the ancient Egyptians, among whom the earliest notices of it appear