2016-10-27 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Black cats get a bad rap. Based on color, black cats have the hardest time finding homes, and the greatest chance of being euthanized in shelters. To make their situation worse, for years many humane societies prohibited the adoption of their black cats and kittens around Halloween to protect them from evil people who may be planning to hurt them.

Thankfully, this thinking is changing. The ASPCA states: “There’s no evidence Halloween cat adoptions are less safe or successful than those at any other time of the year.” Many shelters and rescues have lifted the Halloween ban on black cat adoptions, especially since they are screening all cat applicants throughout the year.

Despite superstitions, black cats aren’t bad luck, but they have the worst luck finding homes quickly. There are several reasons why black cats linger in shelters, none of them the fault of the poor cats. Petfinder, the online adoption service, did a survey and found it takes black cats (and dogs) four times longer to be adopted than pets of other colors. Cat adopters tend to focus more on color than behavior or rapport seen at the shelter than dog adopters when choosing a new pet.

“Henrietta” in her fall ensemble at Last Hope. “Henrietta” in her fall ensemble at Last Hope. First, there seems to be a disproportionate number of black kittens born, more so than other colors. Put them together with the many tuxedo (mostly black with some white) cats, and all the black fur blurs together. Potential adopters don’t notice specific black cats because there is so much “sameness.” Dark cats and kittens are in competition with each other for homes.

This is similar to the phenomenon of not spotting a “special” Pit Bull in a municipal shelter filled with up to 100 Pit-type dogs. It’s hard to notice individuality drowning in a sea of sameness. People tend to walk through the kennels quickly because no dog stands out to them in such a crowd.

Unless you are a skilled behind the lens, black cats are not as easy to spotlight in photos as cats with unique markings or tabby patches. Solid black kitties need a splash of color, possibly a cute toy or bright blanket to accentuate their coats, especially if they squint so no one sees their magnificent eyes. Some cats allow you to put a bandanna or colorful outfit on them. Also, all cats have thin coats from the corner of their eyes spreading outward toward their ears. On black cats this eye area can look bald which may deter some adopters.

The stigma of superstition remains. Cats went from being gods in Ancient Egypt to being villains in the Middle Ages with black cats demonized the most. Dur- ing the 10th century in Wales, there were laws against the killing of cats. The ruler recognized the value of cats, as rodent control, and decreed stealing them was a crime. But in 1232, Pope Gregory IX suggested cats were allies of the devil. Religious zealots then killed cats, often by burning them alive. Black cats were especially hard hit, being Satan’s sentries in the minds of many.

The Puritans brought this mindset to America, preaching black cats were in cahoots with witches. Those caught with black cats faced severe punishment, even death. Of course, we know black cats do not have “sympathy for the devil” to quote Mr. Jagger, but the diabolical association remains in our culture and Halloween decorations. It’s hard to erase centuries of supernatural lore.

Shelter personnel and rescue volunteers use creative campaigns to promote the attributes of black cats- Black Cat Fridays, Black Cat Balls, reduced fees and top 10 lists are just a few ideas. Below is a sample “Top 10 Reasons to Adopt a Black Cat”:

1. Black cats are always dressed for a formal event.
2. Black cats look sleek and sophisticated.
3. Holding a black cat is very slimming.
4. Black cats will match any décor.
5. A lint brush isn’t required for a black-tie affair.
6. Black cats are really mini-panthers.
7. Black cats are like onyx, a beautiful gem.
8. They don’t care what color YOUR hair is.
9. Love knows no color.
10. Adopting a black cat may be lucky for you, and it’s
definitely lucky for them.

Owners of black cats are in interesting historical company. Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill, John and Yoko Ono, Fred Astaire, Calvin Coolidge, Ernest Hemingway and John Travolta are among famous black cat owners. Oops, I almost forgot (intentionally) - and also Edgar Allen Poe.

In reality, black cats often have the most endearing “purrsonalities.” Even when we work harder showcasing black cats, people are not quick to run down and adopt them. In August, Last Hope filmed an online TV show called “Hanging Out with Heather.” I chose “Nigel,” a six-month-old black kitten, as our feline guest because his temperament is incredible. “Nigel” was born to love. He was in the studio in a carrier near our dogs for several hours. When it was his turn for the camera, Nigel sat on the volunteer’s lap during the interview as calm as a seasoned celebrity. Several months later, Nigel is still waiting in Last Hope Wantagh for a home.

I also try to feature certain black cats on Last Hope Facebook. “Henrietta” was rescued with her infant littermates after their mother was killed by a car. She was so cooperative when dressed in a crinoline, fall ensemble. I took photos of her as if she were modeling for Vogue and turned them into a Facebook slideshow. Poor “Henrietta” still waits in one of the Last Hope monkey cages for someone to adopt her.

For Adoption: This week’s column features a black cat at Babylon Shelter (631-643-9270), Lamar St. W. Babylon “Baloo” 6-303, a handsome longhaired kitten, and “Nigel,” the TV star at Last Hope (631-671-2588), Beltagh Ave., Wantagh. These two “black beauties” represent the multitude of black cats hoping to become cherished pets. Happy Halloween!

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