Skip to main content

Timeline: A History of Cats and Dogs

cat and dog
Bella, Max, and Lucy topped the list for popular pet names in 2012

Domestication of Dogs

human skeleton cradles puppy

(Image credit: (Credit: Davis et al., Nature, 276, 608-610))

30,000 BC The earliest potential evidence for dog domestication, based on archaeological finds. Other evidence suggests dogs may have been domesticated thousands of years later.

10,000 BC An elderly human in Ain Mallaha in northern Israel is buried cradling a four-month-old puppy. The find is the first suggesting a close relationship between humans and dogs.(Captions courtesy David Grimm)

Domestication of Cats

cat statue

(Image credit: Guillaume Blanchard / Wikimedia Commons)

7500 BC A cat is buried with a human in a Neolithic village known as Shillourokambos on the southern coast of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. The find represents the earliest evidence for cat domestication.

1950 BC Cats begin to appear in the art of ancient Egypt. Their proficiency at killing rodents and protecting Egyptian homes from death and disease would soon lead them to be revered as gods.

Companions or Agents of Satan?

painting of dog and owner

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

AD 200 Dogs are buried in Roman cemeteries with sentimental gravestones. One reads, “To Helena, foster child, soul without comparison, and deserving of praise.”

1233 Pope Gregory IX issues his Vox in Rama, which links felines to Satan and leads to the massacre of tens of millions of cats throughout Europe. Some scholars say the absence of cats led to an explosion of black rats, which brought the Black Death.

1500 Dogs begin to feature in scenes of domestic life in Renaissance art. In paintings from the time, canines take on human characteristics like love and sorrow, and feature as friends and companions.

Animal Cruelty Laws

aspca badge

1637 French philosopher René Descartes declares that animals are soulless machines, a doctrine that helps justify centuries of canine vivisection.

1822 The United Kingdom passes the first serious animal welfare law. Two years later, the world’s first animal welfare organization, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, is founded.

1866 Henry Bergh founds the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), America’s first animal protection organization. The society initially focuses its efforts on New York’s horses, but it soon turns its attention to the plight of cats and dogs.

Family Members

Beautiful Joe book

(Image credit: Zuglao24 / Wikimedia Commons)

Throughout history, cats and dogs have had an evolving relationship with humans. A new book by science writer and editor David Grimm explores how these creatures have changed from wild animals, to pets, and may one day even be considered legal persons.

1880s Early flea and tick products begin to bring dogs indoors. Pets start to be seen as members of the family.

1893 Margaret Marshall Saunders pens Beautiful Joe, the “autobiography” of an abused dog who finds a loving home, one of the first told from a pet’s perspective. Mark Twain follows with his own pet autobiography, 1904’s A Dog’s Tale.

Animals in Research

Canine Vivisection

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

1894 A Baltimore judge rules that a cat is not property and thus can be stolen without repercussion. Dogs are similarly regarded as “worthless objects” in the eyes of the law.

1907 The vivisection of a dog at a London medical school sparks the Brown Dog Riots. Decades of debate over the use of cats and dogs in biomedical research would follow.

Dogs with Jobs

service dogs

(Image credit: Joop Snijder Jr. | Shutterstock)

1929 The Seeing Eye, the first American guide dog school, is founded, ushering in an era of pets as assistance animals. Today, cats and dogs do everything from comfort children with autism to sniff out cancer.

1942 Dogs for Defense begins training canines to go to war. Today, canines are a critical component of the U.S. military. “The capability they bring to the fight cannot be replicated by man or machine,” General David Petraeus, former commander of US forces in Afghanistan, has said.

Animal Rights

1947 Kitty litter is invented, helping turn cats into indoor pets.

1954 The Humane Society of the United States is founded. Today it is one of the world’s largest animal welfare organizations.

1964 The Florida Supreme Court rules that pets are worth more than their market value. Cats and dogs aren’t just property in the eyes of the law; they begin to be seen as a special type of property that has interests and feelings.

1979 The Animal Legal Defense Fund is founded and campaigns for the rights of cats, dogs, and other animals in the legal system.

Shelter Animals

Cat in shelter

(Image credit: Lisafern / Wikimedia Commons)

1990 The Americans with Disabilities Act requires hotels, restaurants, and other businesses to admit service animals, even if customers have allergies to or a fear of dogs.

1993 A wave of states begins adopting felony anticruelty laws; today, forty-nine states have such legislation. The legislation imposes penalties of up to $125,000 in fines and 10 years in prison for anyone who harms a cat or dog.

1994 San Francisco ends the euthanasia of healthy dogs and cats in its three shelters, sparking the No Kill Movement.

Animal Cognition

dognition test, dog intelligence

(Image credit: Brian Hare)

1998 Scientists Ádám Miklósi and Brian Hare publish studies showing that dogs can understand human pointing, an ability not seen in chimpanzees. The work prompts several more labs to begin studying the canine mind.

2000 Stanley and Linda Perkins’s legal battle over their dog, Gigi, becomes one of the most expensive pet custody battles in US history. Judges begin to consider the “best interests” of pets in custody cases.

2000 Boulder, Colorado, becomes the first city to use the term “guardian,” in addition to or instead of “owner,” in its pet-related ordinances. Nineteen other cities and one state follow suit.

2000 The Uniform Trust Code allows owners to leave money to their companion animals after they die. Because the trusts are legally enforceable, animals denied their inheritance can theoretically be represented by lawyers in a court of law. The Uniform Trust Code has brought pets closer to being seen as “legal persons” than any other legislation.

Pet Offenders

pit bull

(Image credit: Jim Pennucci / Wikimedia Commons)

2004 The largest veterinary malpractice damages in US history are awarded: $39,000 for the death of a dog. Critics say the rising legal status of cats and dogs could flood the courts, put veterinarians out of business, and even threaten industries like agriculture and biomedical research.

2006 The U.S. federal government passes the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, which impels rescue agencies to save pets as well as people during natural disasters. The act was inspired by the many owners who lost their lives during Hurricane Katrina, refusing to evacuate without their pets.

2009 Suffolk County, New York, creates America’s first animal abuser registry. Offenders are listed on a public database, just like sex offenders.

2012 The Maryland Court of Appeals rules that pit bulls are “inherently dangerous.” Hundreds of cities across North America ban the breed or impose tough restrictions on the dog. Some pit bulls are put on trial for biting people.