The typical adage is that cats are independent creatures that often rebuff the affections of their owners, but in fact, the domestication of cats was born of a mutual need between humans and felines. As agricultural life replaced nomadic, for the first time people began to have stores of food to protect from small but destructive nuisances in the form of vermin. Cats adapted, to an extent, to life with humans to gain access to a plentiful source of food - namely, those vermin - and humans welcomed their services, and eventually their companionship. Experts traced the origin of cat domestication to the Near East after remains of a cat were found deliberately buried with a human, dating their domestication to more than 8,000 years ago. Elaine A. Evans, Curator of the McClung Museum at the University of Tennessee, explains that ancient Egyptians kept and prized cats specifically for their hunting skills, which enabled them to control and eliminate vermin. Their agility, soft fur, nuzzling tendencies, and endearing purring eventually elevated them from pest control to revered animal and companion. With the rise of Christianity, the status of the cat began to decline. The association of the cat with a pagan religion was the animal's undoing. Before long, cats in Europe were associated with the devil and witchcraft. Their popularity and numbers dwindled dramatically in the time leading up to and during the Great Plague of England in 1665, when killing cats was encouraged. So effectively targeted were the cats that their rapid decline likely allowed the spread of the plague to reach the epidemic proportions it did. The rats that transported the plague-carrying fleas were allowed to multiply and roam freely without intervention by their natural predator, the cat. Modern U.S. families in the 21st century are back to doting on the furry feline. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, in 2004, 37.7 million American households owned cats as pets. The American Bird Conservancy has launched a campaign entitled "Cats Indoors!" to discourage free-roaming cats from preying on birds. According to the conservation group, "scientists estimate that free-roaming cats (including owned, stray, and feral) kill hundreds of millions of birds and possibly more than a billion small mammals in the U.S. each year." Those numbers are, among other things, testimony to cats' abilities. According to the late Dr. James Richards, former Director of the Feline Health Center at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, "members of the cat family are among nature's most successful predators. Predation was one of the traits (along with the purr, the snuggle, and the half-closed contented eyes) that made domestic cats such desirable companions during the earlier years of human existence." It's as natural for a cat to kill as it is for one to purr. Not every frisky feline is a skilled hunter - some are better than others. For those who wish to allow their cat to flex their hunting muscle while undermining their cat's success, researchers at the University of Glasgow offer some hope. The results one of their studies showed that cats wearing bells on their collars killed only half as many rodents and other small mammals and birds as they did when not wearing bells. The statistics also revealed, however, that there was no significant impact on amphibian prey, presumably because they could either not hear the high frequency, or did not associate the sound with danger. For indoor cats, toys that mimic their predatory chasing behavior may offset boredom and weight gain from inactivity. Anything that creates a stimulating game of chase, from dangling string to a laser pointer, will potentially satisfy your cat's innate desire to hunt. It's just who they are.