When a stray cat wandered onto the tracks of a midtown 7 train last month, the MTA halted the entire subway line until the animal was out of harm’s way. At the same time, the U.S. government euthanizes millions of stray cats each year. They’re a disaster for the environment: One conservancy organization has called cats the “ecological axis of evil.” American cats kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds each year, and they’ve been implicated in dozens of mammalian extinctions. (The Australian government has funded research into the most efficient methods of cat control — yielding products like a poison-laced kangaroo sausage called “Eradicat.”) Nearly half of house cats have physically attacked their owners.
Humans’ relationship with cats is rife with paradox. There are an estimated 100 million pet cats in the U.S., and their ranks are only growing. “Cat culture” flourishes online. The cat-less can get their fix at “cat cafés” opening across Asia, Europe, and North America.
In The Lion in the Living Room: How Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World, journalist Abigail Tucker traces cats’ journey from fearsome Near Eastern predator to global intruder, shedding light on how this baby-sized beast worked its way into so many homes. Science of Us spoke with Tucker about the disturbing similarities between cats and lions, the reason cats failed to uphold the Rabbit Suppression Act of 1884, and the somewhat baffling question of why people put up with them.