A brief comparison of their relative merits


Look at a Great Dane, then at a tiny Chihuahua -- and it's hard to believe that they're the same species.

It was long thought that the dog was descended from the wolf. But recent genetic evidence indicates that dogs and wolves belong to the same species -- dogs are actually domesticated wolves. Their sizes, colors and temperaments are shaped by thousands of years of selective breeding.

Wolves are social hunters -- pack members work together to bring down prey. Perhaps this social quality is what first brought humans and wolves together about 40 thousand years ago, archaeologists believe. Wolves live in a hierarchical society -- that's why a pup raised by humans could be taught to regard its owner as the dominant pack member.

It's this trait that allowed dogs to become domesticated. Early dogs probably served different functions -- just like dogs today -- depending on the way of life of their human communities. It wasn't until the industrial age that dogs became popular as household pets.

And that's when the trouble started. The formerly noble animal became--through careless breeding and pampering-- a friendly clown instead of a servant; a shameless lackey instead of a stalwart protector. Dogs are meant to be fearless, not laughable.



Cats and people are depicted together in Egyptian art from nearly 4,000 years ago. Archaeologists believe that the human- cat relationship might have started 4,000 years before that. The first cats wandered into early human settlements as scavengers -- and started preying on the rodents that raided food supplies.

Both dogs and cats are descended from a small shrew-like animal. Our modern house cat is derived from an African wildcat. In ancient Egypt, cats were held in high regard -- even associated with gods. Cats were raised by the wealthy and buried in special cemeteries. Anyone caught ill-treating a cat was severely punished.

But it was the cats that were punished in Europe during the Middle Ages, as they were associated with witchcraft -- and tortured and killed. By the mid-17th century cats were once again accepted in human society. Cat breeding became popular about 150 years ago. While domestication sapped it of much of its god-like bearing, cats haven't sold out nearly as much as dogs have. They still have the noble curiosity of the ancient breed, and retain a strong memory of their grandeur and power.