Saturday, October 30, 2010
The jubilant holiday known as Halloween is a great time to be a kid – or a fun-loving adult. Halloween is not, however, a particularly good time to be a black cat. Like ghosts, bats, jack-o’ lanterns, skeletons and witches, black cats are a classic Halloween symbol. The difference is that black cats are also living beings. This opens the door to all sorts of problems for the black cat, ranging from teenage mischief to outright cruelty, to people using real black cats as part of their “spooky” Halloween décor.
It can be hard for responsible pet owners to fathom how such things could occur, because we’d never dream of doing them ourselves. It’s not hard for your local animal shelter to imagine, though, because many of them have seen it firsthand. The threat of danger to black cats on Halloween became so prevalent that a decade or so ago, many shelters instituted a policy that still stands today: no black cat adoptions during the entire month of October.
Before the ban, many shelters saw an increase in black cat adoptions just before Halloween. They also noted that many of those same black cats were returned to the shelter after the holiday, often with vague excuses. One can reasonably assume that these thoughtless humans simply wanted a “cool” Halloween decoration for their house or their witch’s costume. These types typically regard pets as property rather than living beings that would be traumatized by being adopted for a few weeks and given up once the holiday was over.
Ritual sacrifice stories involving black cats crop up in newspapers now and then, and although some people maintain these are mainly myths and “urban legends,” many others beg to differ. “There are satanic sacrificial rituals that still exist in our country and around the world,” said Karen Buchan, Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control. Her shelter not only imposes a ban on black cat adoptions in the weeks before Halloween, but also on any Friday which falls on the 13th of the month.
Pet owners who have black cats are also cautioned to keep them indoors around Halloween. If someone really wants to obtain a black cat for Halloween – for whatever reason – and they can’t get one from the shelter, it’s not inconceivable that they’d pick one up off the street. As long as the black cat continues to be associated with Halloween, it’s wise to err on the side of caution.
So how did the black cat become associated with Halloween? It’s not known for certain, but there are many different theories. One says that the Celtic Druids came to be viewed as witches by the Church. It was believed that witches could shapeshift and usually disguised themselves as cats. Black cats in particular were thought to be witches “familiars” (beings that aided witches in performing witchcraft). Some even believed that black cats were actually reincarnated witches.
It stands to reason then, that when our Halloween celebration evolved to include the iconic “wicked witch,” the black cat came along for the ride. In fact, black cats and witches are two of the most popular Halloween costumes year after year.
Another theory suggests that black cats may have become linked to Halloween as a result of folklore and superstitions. Even now, some otherwise intelligent people still believe that “all black cats are evil.” In the United States and many European countries, some people think that seeing a black cat signifies the coming of bad luck. Since I have two black cats in my family, I must be more like the Irish and the British, who generally consider it a sign of good luck when a black cat crosses their path.
Black cats will probably always be linked to the Halloween holiday. How it came to be is anybody’s guess, but it’s unfortunate for the black cats of the world. Halloween is a dangerous time to be a black cat – I’m keeping mine safely inside my home, where they belong.
Read more articles by Julia Williams