Think about it — the Siamese cats from “Lady and the Tramp,” Sylvester, Tom of “Tom & Jerry,” and many a villains’ sidekick. If we learned one thing from movies and television growing up, it’s this: cats are bad. Hell, the cat in “Cinderella” was named Lucifer! But no cat gets a worse rap than the black cat. Especially this time of year, as I was so pointedly reminded during a Halloween movie marathon this past weekend:
Now, this movie is ridiculous, but it does get a rise out of people, with reactions like: “This is why I’m not a cat person.” But let me just say, I have a black cat of my own, and he’s far from villainous. He mostly likes naps, cuddles, and salmon — not plotting murders. And so it’s clear, the time he chased down a mouse in my apartment, I was not rooting for that rodent.
Black Cats Throughout History
For better or for worse, black cats have held cultural significance throughout history in many parts of the world. In Western and Southern European countries, and the United States, black cats have frequently been seen as symbols of evil or bad omens, thought of as familiars to witches. During the Middle Ages, some groups even rounded up black cats and killed them in mass numbers because of these superstitions. In the process, out of ignorance, they exacerbated the spread of the Black Plague by reducing the cat population. In the New World, when witch hunts and staunch Puritanism ran rampant, cats were even burned alongside accused witches.
However, not all black cat superstitions are negative in nature. In Britain and Ireland, for example, black cats have historically been seen as symbols of good fortune, thought to bring fishermen home safely from sea. In fact, black cats were even known to fetch exorbitantly high prices from fishermen’s wives hoping to buy their husbands a bit of good fortune. In Japanese culture, black cats are also considered lucky, believed to have the power to stave off evil and sickness in children.
Black Cats at Halloween
Unfortunately, due to superstitions and the fear for the animals’ safety around this time of year, many shelters and foster groups do not place black cats close to Halloween.
“We withhold black cats from adoption for the last two weekends before Halloween,” explains Tammy Crenwelge, president of HOPE, the Homeless & Orphaned Pets Endeavor. “We also give our foster parents the right to withhold their black cats all month if they choose. The same is true for other ‘Halloween’ colored cats like red tabbies, torties, and solid white cats.”
Animal welfare groups also recommend that black cat owners keep their cats inside during this time, to protect them from individuals who might try to use them in rituals or other abusive situations. And as sad as this seems, this is a wise precaution.
Black Cat Adoptions
Even after the Halloween season passes, black cats in many shelters across the U.S. will face much lower odds of being adopted than other pets. This is in part due to preconceived negativity surrounding black cats, but also because of the large population of black cats.
“Since the gene that produces a black cat is a dominant gene, it means that there are typically more black cats in our program than any other color,” explained Crenwelge. “Currently 14% of the cats in HOPE inventory are black.”
In addition, many people are not as drawn to black cats, because they lack distinctive features. And with many prospective pet parents looking to the Internet to do their research on available animals, black cats are often overlooked for those that photograph better, as superficial as it seems.
“Many people think all black cats look alike,” explained Crenwelge. So, when it came time for her to put a number of black cats she had rescued from a feral colony up for adoption, she took extra measures to help them stand out. “I put brightly-colored decorative ponytail holders on them as collars so they would get noticed,” she notes. “It worked like a charm. In a matter of four months, all but two had gotten adopted. Those two were also adopted before their first birthday.”
So the next time you are thinking about bringing a pet into your home, consider a black cat. After living with one for seven and a half years, I can promise they are not bad luck. And next time you watch Cinderella, cut Lucifer some slack. Last time I checked, real mice are more likely to break into your pantry and steal your Keebler cookies than sew you a ball gown.