Don't judge by appearances

Local | Georgina Shellum 31 Mar 2020

Reading an article about DNA made me look carefully at my riffraff collection of cats and dogs. Oddly, science seems fairly sure that domestic cats have a more recognizable ancestry than dogs.

Anything up to 12,000 years ago, cats stopped living alongside us and started living with us (allowing us to look after them) and so far science believes that all domestic cats appear to be descended from African wildcats.

All the more amazing when you see how many shapes, sizes, colors and characters are found today, at least 60 or so that cat experts recognize.

Domestic dogs, on the other hand, appear to have been among us for closer to 20,000 years and their DNA is as contradictory as a basket of worms.

No two experts seem to agree on their genus. However, most experts seem to agree that the original belief that dogs descended from wolves might not be accurate. At least DNA seems to prove today's dogs are not related to today's wolves.

Nature works hard to design/evolve each living thing to survive, based on its abilities or appearance or genetic makeup. Man, however, works on designing for a specific purpose, hence the wide variety of dogs bred to suit man's requirements. But leave dogs to breed themselves and you end up with something that reverts to closer to the original canids.

Watching Amber, the once-feral cat, stalk, crouch, assess, prepare and pounce, it's not hard to imagine her in a lush jungle setting hunting for her dinner. However, two minutes later she is all cute and domesticated as she kneads and curls and shimmies until she finds a comfortable position on the most comfortable chair in the room - a chair she has jumped into as soon as a human moved out of it.

On the other side of the room, Sassoon, closer in appearance to a wild dog from pre-domestic history, is so domesticated that she allows us to clean round her sleeping body, pass heavy objects over her head as she eats or drinks and sleeps through having her nails clipped. As far from wild as it is possible to be, despite her appearance.

It would feel very different sitting beside a puma, in comparison to having a typical domestic cat on my lap. However, walking with a wolf feels the same as walking with a German shepherd.

Georgina Noyce is an equestrian judge, and has a menagerie of adopted four-legged waifs and strays.

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