For millennia, myths and stories have linked black cats to witchcraft and evil. Today, those ideas still influence the way some see the animals.
MU junior Adrianne Bruchner saw that firsthand with her grandmother.
“She would chase the black cats away,” Bruchner said. “She didn’t like them when we would have the outside cats that would come up that we would feed. My grandpa had to make her keep the one black cat that they had but she hated it.”
Old superstitions did not stop Bruchner from adopting her 6-month-old black cat, Francesca, but it does still impact the adoptability of black cats. Right now, with many shelters not hosting in-person events, adopters tend to look at pictures online before ever seeing the animals in person.
“One of the typical photos that you’ll see online is a black cat that is in the defensive position,” cat geneticist Leslie Lyons said. “So, when it’s trying to look very big, it’s all hunched up, its back is arched and its tail is all flailed out.”
As a result, that image tends to be associated with fear and Halloween. According to Becky Krueger, a representative from the Humane Society of Missouri, these superstitions began in Greek mythology.
In one story Zeus, the Greek God of the sky and thunder, turned a slave woman into a black cat as punishment for trying to prevent the birth of the god’s child.
“She was turned into a cat and sent to the underworld, where she was to become the goddess of death and queen of the witches,” Krueger said. “It’s really interesting how that legend over time led people to believe that [black] cats were evil or that bad things happened if they were around.”
Throughout history, superstitions around black cats emerged in other regions and time periods besides ancient Greece. “Cats got into a lot of trouble in the Puritan era, during the era of witch hunts,” MU religious studies professor Signe Cohen said. “They were regarded with a lot of suspicion. People believe that maybe they were witches, shape shifting cats. In general, there have been some superstitions in Europe in the Middle Ages that cats were unlucky.”
Beliefs from the previous eras, such as in Puritan America, the Middle Age Europe and ancient Greece continue to color the way black cats are seen online today.
Out of all stripes and shades, black cats took the longest to adopt on PetFinder, according to a 2015 Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Service research study. Black cats stayed on the site for 22 days, while the average for all colors was 20 days. These views then translate to how people treat black cats around Halloween.
Teresa Chagrin, animal care and control issues manager for PETA said the holiday tends to bring out “devilish” behavior. She said costumes give inpiduals anonymity that allows them to engage in malicious acts without consequence, including cruelty towards black cats.
“Around this time of year black cats are sought out by people who want to sacrifice animals, thinking that it’s an evil thing to do,” Chagrin said. “They will seek out specifically black cats for that kind of cruelty.”
Some shelters pause adoptions of black cats entirely during the month due to the association with bad luck and witchcraft. During October, Chagrin recommended adopters carefully consider whether they want to adopt a cat.
“No shelter wants to put an animal through the trauma of being adopted out and then returned, because they were adopted for all the wrong reasons to fill out a costume, or pose as a decoration at a party or something,” Chagrin said.
However, other shelters offer specials on black cats during the month of October nationally. Second Chance Animal Shelter in Boonville offers a $31 special on all cats this month, but chooses not to focus on black cats specifically to avoid bringing extra attention to them. Both Chagrin and a representative from Second Chance worry that promoting black cats during October could bring people to adopt with the wrong intentions.
Specifically, Chagrin said people applying to adopt cats during October may not take the commitment as seriously as other applicants if they are attracted to black cats because of the holiday.
“A lot of people won’t return them and instead they’ll just give them to someone else,” Chagrin said. “The animal is given to someone or another person who’s not prepared to make a commitment.”
While October may showcase black cat mythology, many still choose to adopt for reasons that have nothing to do with witches or Halloween. Bruchner adopted Francesca because she thought she was the prettiest in the litter.
“We’ve always had cats around in my family,” Bruchner said. “It’s more or less like we find the cat, we come across the cat, we take in the cat. We don’t really worry about what color they are or what they look like.”
Although Halloween may complicate the adoption process, animal shelters will continue trying to place black cats in good homes.