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Black cats and Halloween

Is your shelter clinging to a debunked myth?

Black cats are steeped in superstition. Depending on where you live, it is either good luck or bad luck to have a black cat walk either toward you or away from you. Whether they are feared or revered, one thing is for sure: Black cats and witches go hand-in-paw as spooky symbols of Halloween. But as the icons of a holiday with roots in pranks and hijinks, concerns for the safety of black cats loom large as soon as pumpkins begin to adorn doorsteps.

The idea that shelters should suspend black cat adoptions around the holiday is widely considered a myth. Even (a website that investigates rumors and urban legends)  aimed to set the record straight a decade ago when many shelters were citing the need to protect black cats—and possibly white cats and black dogs—from the dangers of satanic cults, youths inspired by horror flicks and folks who just needed a black cat to complete their Halloween costume masterpiece. The sheltering community has shifted from rigid standards to welcoming all potential adopters and using conversational interviews to counsel them about prospective new pets and screen out those with nefarious motives. Some shelters have swung to the other side of the pendulum, promoting black (and orange) cat adoptions in October. With so many black cats and black cat fans, why miss an opportunity for matchmaking?

Despite a clear lack of evidence that black cats are at increased risk of harm during this time of year, there is still lingering concern about their safety at Halloween. Even such sources as the Smithsonian perpetuates the myth when it's been debunked over and over and over again. Media reports of actual incidents of Halloween-related animal abuse are few and far between, although not every grisly incident seen by animal shelter staff makes it into the popular press. Most of the anecdotal stories are about outdoor cats who have allegedly been abducted or have simply gone missing. Since there is no National Center for Missing Cats collecting and analyzing data to demonstrate or refute the increased dangers to black cats outdoors in the days or weeks leading up to October 31, I can’t give you the stats. And I can’t tell you if any of those cats were adopted from the local shelter at Halloween time. But it does make me wonder how a ban on black cat adoptions could have kept these cats safe, if indeed they were in danger. Is that person who makes time to sit down with an adoption counselor, provides you with their personal details, then takes possession of a cat who can be traced back to them via microchip—is that the person who is going to commit an act of cruelty against the cat? I say we trust our judgement when dealing with folks one-on-one rather than implement broad policies based on something that might maybe happen.   

So tell me, what do you think? Does your shelter restrict black cat adoptions around Halloween? If so, is that decision based on actual experience with an increase in harm to black cats at this time of year? Do you experience a spike in black cat returns in November?

Has your shelter changed its policy on black cat adoptions? Do you now promote black cat adoptions at Halloween? What results have you seen? How has your community responded?


About the Author

Danielle Jo Bays is the Community Cats Program Manager for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), utilizing her skills in public policy, hands-on TNR, networking and resource development to expand The HSUS’s community cat work nationwide. Prior to rejoining The HSUS, Danielle served as the Program Manager for the community cats program at the Washington Humane Society in Washington, D.C. and continues to be a strong and passionate voice for community cats in her neighborhood and city.