National Black Cat Day: The History Behind Black Cats and How You Can Help

National Black Cat Day: The History Behind Black Cats and How You Can Help

If you took a poll of cat fanatics everywhere, most would admit to a soft spot for a cat of a particular color. For some it is because of a favorite childhood companion and others just because of personal preference. The truth is, each cat color has a particular reputation and is generally based on an individual’s memories. One feline of a particular pigment has a unique reputation based off a long history of both myth and chance encounters. Black cats are possibly the only domesticated breed in the world to have just as much good superstition behind them as negative.

With National Black Cat Day taking place on October 27th, it’s a good time to take a look behind the cat whose reputation really started to take off at Plymouth Rock. Here is the history behind the stories, the situation for black cats currently, and how you can help out your favorite shadowy feline.

Black Cat Superstitions and Where They Came From:

When looking into reputation of black cats throughout history, it is apparent that few people could make up their minds about them. Since the Egyptian times, cats of any color were viewed to be sacred and, infamously, the Egyptians handed out death sentences to those who killed cats. With time, black cats’ reputation wavered between omens of good fortune or bringers of bad luck, sometimes even having both reputations in the same culture at the same time. Here are some of the examples of a black cat’s wavering reputation with different cultures, as reported in an article for Mental Floss in 2013:

  • Celtic mythology: The Celts believed in a fairy called Cat Sidh, who was able to change into a large black cat with a white spot on his chest and stole people’s souls before they were collected by the gods. This led to the ritual of keeping a late wake in order to scare away Cat Sidh from the recently deceased.
  • Scottish: Black cats arriving to the home signaled the arrival of good luck, a superstition shared by the English in the Midlands where a new bride was given a black cat to bless the union.
  • Europeans: Most citizens of the EU share the belief that a black cat crossing your path will signal bad luck, whereas those in Germany believe only black cats crossing your path from right to left signals your doom. Confusingly, the English believe a black cat crossing in either direction will bring good luck, it’s when they turn away from you that you should be worried.
  • United States: Continuing the superstition of black cats being a witch’s companion, an idea brought over by the Puritans, Americans confirmed this belief when a black cat circled the playing field and stopped to stare at the Cubs dugout during a game, signaling their turn of luck for the season and failing to win the Series in 1969.

Tracking the start of black cats’ poor reputation is not possible due to the conflicting reports from each region, where they often believe black cats are good luck tokens in some circumstances but harbingers of doom in others. The most notable change in their spotless reputation, though, started during the Black Plague in Europe around the 1340’s, when people thought cats were spreading the illness and started killing them. Ironically, cats were keep down the rodent population which was actually spreading the plague, so killing the cats of the village caused more illness instead of preventing it. From the Middle Ages on it was difficult for cats to shake this reputation, though, and they became permanently linked in people’s minds as negative influences.

Once pilgrims came over to the US, black cats’ situation became much worse. With the difficult conditions and hardship experienced by the settlers, many looked for a cause to their misfortune in supernatural influences. Older single women, who were common in the colonies due to the dangerous life there, often took in stray animals as a form of companionship and were first to be blamed for things going wrong in a village. Once these women started to be accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death for their crimes, the poor outlook reflected on their animal companions. Many settlers began to believe black cats were transformed witches who had escaped their death penalty. For black cats who were still living inside the village, many were considered to be the way witches contacted the devil. The pilgrims decided to solve both of these threats by rounding up all black cats in the area and killing them.

Despite this long history of being both persecuted and loved, black cats are still some of the most popular today. While it is not a commonly believed that black cats have anything to do with the supernatural (and we’ve learned to appreciate their pest eradicating powers) cats still have a reputation for misfortune that is a holdover of history.

Black Cats in Modern US

While the opinion of black cats has definitely changed in the last three hundred years since the Salem Witch trials, Americans still have some misconceptions about black cats today. The most popular of these is that black cats are the least likely to be adopted. While this is technically true, with the majority of cats left in shelters being black coated and black cats being the most likely to be euthanized according to one 2002 study from the University of California, they are also the most likely to be adopted.

As Emily Weiss, ASPCA Vice President of Equine Affairs, reported in 2016 with her article covering the experience of black cats in shelters, they are both the most likely to be adopted and the most likely to be euthanized due to simple numbers. As she reviewed the data from all cats being taken in by the ASPCA, she realized that black cats amounted to 30% of the total cats accepted. They also amounted to over 30% of the adoptions taken place. While the ASPCA is a no-kill shelter, their intake and adoption statistics can be considered the norm for both shelters who do not euthanize and those who do, lending confirmation to the 2002 study that black cats are still the ones most likely to be euthanized due to them representing a greater number of the population in shelters.

Unfortunately, due to human nature preferring to believe in myths over fact, even when presented with evidence to the contrary, we still believe in black cats being the least likely to be adopted. In fact, because black cats are the most common to be found in the shelter, they are both more likely to be adopted and more likely to be left behind.

How You Can Help:

Fortunately, this situation is easy to remedy. With the coming fall weather at our doorsteps, kitten season is over, but the shelters are still full of pets waiting to find their forever homes. By creating awareness of the need for cats to be adopted from shelters rather than purchased from breeders, we can make sure that fewer black cats (or any other color) wind up as long-term residents.

Richmond is lucky to have multiple animal shelters within city limits, many of whom are filled to capacity with cats of all ages this year. Here is are two of the local shelters offering specials on their cat adoption rates and where you can find them:

Richmond SPCA

Fall for a Feline Promotion October 15-19

Adult cats are discounted 25%

2519 Hermitage Rd, Richmond, VA 23200

Richmond Animal League

Cat and Kitten Adoption Special for October

Special priced adoptions at $25

With special thanks to Fi-Tech for sponsoring the adoption special

11401 International Dr, North Chesterfield, VA 23236

While there are more shelters who have excellent examples of the feline species available, these are two with specially priced adoption fees in October.

By Lauren Pescarus