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From part of an article I read today.|
Cats and the Black Plague
Updated on February 4, 2010
Interestingly, the fate of mankind was curiously linked to that of the common house cat. When the cat populations rose, the pandemic ebbed, and when the cat population plummeted, the black plague made a resurgence. Why?
Remember that the plague was spread by fleas that lived on rats. A viscious cycle kept the disease going. Infected fleas would bite a rat, and the rodent would become infected. Then other fleas biting the infected rat would become infected themselves. Once the host rat died of the plague, any fleas living on it would find themselves homeless and would go in search of a new host. Unfortunately, this often took the form of a human. When the sick infected fleas bit the human in order to feed, the human would become infected. So why didn’t the Europeans just keep plenty of cats around to kill the rats and thereby reduce the incidence of the plague? They had cats at the time. They were originally brought to Europe by the Romans, who had discovered the felines in Egypt. Keeping pet cats as mousers had become popular in Europe by the time of the first plague.
To fully answer that question, you need to understand the belief system of medieval Europe. Based on historical accounts and medieval art, people during this period were prone to many superstitions. The Catholic Church was the most powerful entity in Europe at the time, and the masses were consumed with the presence of evil and eradicating it in any form it might be believed to take. Because of their secretive nature and their ability to survive extraordinary circumstances, the general population came to fear cats as consorts of Satan. The innocent cats began to be killed by the thousands.
The cats ultimately got their revenge, of course. Since there were few felines left, the rat populations increased unchecked, and the plague grew even more widespread. You’d think that the humans would make the connection by this point, but instead, they made things even worse. They began to associate the plague’s new vigor with the cats and even with dogs. They believed that since both of these animals typically harbored fleas, they must be the cause of the plague. Subsequently, cats were outlawed in many parts of Europe, and huge numbers of cats and dogs were killed. In fact, at one point in the middle ages, there were barely any cats left in England at all.
Even though cat ownership was illegal in some regions, a few people kept their felines. Other people finally noticed that these cat owners often seemed to be immune to the black plague. Word spread quickly, and more observations of this phenomenon were noticed. This resulted in research, crude as it was during the time.
Eventually, it was decided that the rats, not the cats, were responsible for spreading the black plague. Then, of course, everyone wanted to own a cat or two. And since cats are prolific breeders, it didn’t take long for the demand to be satisfied. The laws which had been the cats’ death sentence were repealed. In many regions, a new law took its place – one that protected felines instead of banning them and almost causing their extinction in Europe.