The Many Roles of Cats in Human Society: From Cathedral Cats to Therapy Cats

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Kris Hill from the Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS) considers the roles cats play in human societies.

Cats need between 12–16 hours of sleep a day, and kittens much longer. This is twice the sleep requirement of humans, and to get enough shut-eye cats take frequent 15-30 minute “cat naps”. So besides sleeping, what does your cat do all day? Eat, Sleep, Meow, Repeat? For some fun light entertainment, follow Simon’s Cat on his daily shenanigans. Is this relatable?

We might sometimes joke about our cats being “lazy” or “pampered freeloaders” (and we love them for this!), but have you ever wondered what other “vocation” might be suited to your cat?

Let us consider some historical (and contemporary) roles (or “jobs”) our feline friends might apply for:

Cathedral Cats

If your cat had a time machine, she may be able to find gainful employment in medieval Britain!

For centuries it was common practice to keep cats around to reduce the rodent population that pillaged food stores, damaged buildings, and spread disease.

Exeter Cathedral’s records include quarterly payments of 13d (one penny per week) for “the cat” during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. There was a brief period when this was doubled which may indicate that sometimes two cats were on the payroll.

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However, Cathedral Cats are still around to this day. For example, Budge of Norwich Cathedral and Hodge of Southwark Cathedral have their own webpages and social media following.

Interested in reading more Cathedral Cats? Check out this book by Richard Surman.

Temple Cats

Hop back in that time machine, and Fluffy might find herself enjoying a regal position in an Egyptian temple. In ancient Egypt, cats were worshiped as embodiments of the goddess Bastet and cared for in her temples.

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Bastet, Cat goddess

(Pixabay, free for use)

However, the Temple Cats of Philae seem to be enjoying a similar lifestyle in the 21st century. Hopefully without the worry they might be prematurely mummified and sold to pilgrims (as is speculated to have occurred in ancient times).

The Ship Cat

Ship’s Cat: Until relatively recently, both the US Navy and the British Royal Navy employed a feline crew member. Check out these famous ship cats.

Seafaring cats can still be found today. While we do not recommend you force your cat aboard, for those whose cat appears interested, check out this guide on how to safely bring them aboard.

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Looking for employment?

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Government positions!

Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, a position which has been held by Larry, a brown and white tabby, since 15 February 2011. Larry has a large following on Facebook, X, and Instagram (@Number10cat). Despite many requests, Larry has not yet run for election as prime minster!

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Official Portrait of Larry

(Wikimedia Commons)

Café Patron

Café cat: Cat cafes (that feature resident cats) are increasingly popular, although Cat’s Protection warns of potential welfare issues.

Unlike the Cat Cafés, where cats are kept as part of the business model, many eating establishments in the Mediterranean are regularly visited by a particular street cat (or cat family) that entertain guests while acquiring crumbs (or being fed leftovers from the kitchen). These “self-employed” cats endear themselves to many (but not all) tourists and restaurant staff and are for the most part happy healthy cats.

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Therapy Cat

Therapy cats: Cats are also “employed” in Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) contexts, but cat welfare should be at the forefront and not all cats are suitable for this role. See here for SCAS’s AAI Code of Practice (UK).

The most important role is for cats to be cats!

The role of cats as companions should not be underestimated! SCAS understands the importance of the human-companion animal bond and advocates for awareness and evidence-based research into the bond.

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Far from being a “freeloader” (not that anyone begrudges their cat), having a cat around brings many benefits, including improved mental and physical health. Cats may alleviate loneliness, especially in older adults. Cats can also be wonderful companions for children and provide emotional support for those with special needs.

Your cat is so much more than “just” a pet! There is increasing evidence of the health and other benefits associated with keeping pets for people of all ages and with diverse needs. Read more on the SCAS webpage.

What do you think is the most important role cats play?

Can you think of any other “vocations” for cats?

Follow us on FB and Twitter (@SCASuk), and be sure to retweet posts from us and our partners on #PetsInHousing

SCAS is the UK’s leading human-companion animal bond organisation through funding research, providing education, raising awareness, encouraging best practice, and influencing the development of policies and practices that support the human-companion animal bond. For more details check out our website at

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2 thoughts on “The Many Roles of Cats in Human Society: From Cathedral Cats to Therapy Cats

  1. Charles Stuart says:

    Also in the UK, from Victorian times sub-postmasters were paid sixpence (2.5p) per week to keep a cat. I do not know when or if the allowance was discontinued but two and a half pence would only buy about one twentieth of a can of the cheapest cat food today!

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