Halloween and the Black Cat Phenomenon

Autumn is perhaps the most favourite time of year for many, especially those of us lucky enough to live in the North East. The young and the young at heart with a penchant for dressing up and possessing a sweet tooth, will find Halloween a truly fun annual event.    

Halloween, a.k.a. Samhain per pagan and old Scottish-Celtic tradition, variously named Old Hallows Eve, Old Hallowmas; always celebrated on October 31; marks the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year accordingly to these “olde worlde” theologies.  

This one night of the year is a time when the separation between the physical and spiritual world is at its thinnest, a night when our departed loved ones in spirit form walk the earth, visit families and join in ritual celebration. Also considered a time of retrospection, and renewal, death and rebirth, the night is chock full of symbolism.  Celtic traditional happenings involve feeding the dead; food was routinely left on doorsteps for spirit travelers, guiding lights for our ethereal visitors accomplished with candles and lanterns.

Leaping forward into the 21st century Trick or Treat is eagerly awaited, and planned in detail by anyone enjoying a bit of fantasy.  Many folks stalk their neighbourhoods, and sometimes, so I hear tell, drive to other neighbourhoods, under the cover of whacky costumes with their pets in tow, also in Hobgoblin get-up, in the pursuit of candy.

It’s all very exciting.

While we consider our next sweet overindulgence, I’d like to address the ongoing folklore about black cats during a time when everyone is thinking about them anyway.

May I ask:  “what is the seeming aversion to black cats?”

On the one hand, are we so in touch with our early colonist days- the pious judgement based in fear of women who wouldn’t tow the line, who lived alone, perhaps were adept in the healing arts, possibly left handed, and they enjoyed the company of a cat or two. The less than flattering image of the crone sans broomstick with her familiar, the ever present black cat really does a disservice to cats in general. In the dark times of superstition and witch burning, in some regions black cats were considered a worldly embodiment of pesky demons, but in others a black cat crossing your path foretold good luck, not bad. Somewhere between the Mayflower and current times, good luck mythology was replaced with the bad luck charm.

On any given day at New Hampshire Humane Society we witness the cuteness of kittens quickly adopted who bear coat colours representing the full gamut of feline genetics, excepting the black ones…

Orange, Buff, Tortoiseshell, Calico, Tabby, Grey; all scooped up in record time, leaving behind in the sieve of human selectivity, one bewildered kitten in each batch. Guaranteed that little black rascal will be the last adoptee, or worse, completely overlooked and eventually paired up with another unrelated litter least that innocent soul become lonely and depressed without others to snuggle with. Dear reader, before you reach for a tissue to wipe your tears of sympathy, ALL our kittens do eventually find homes, but observing the rejection only because of shade of their fur, well it is sad to watch indeed.

Homeless and abandoned mother cats arriving with their little families – checked by the vet, tested for Feline Leukemia and feline AIDS, appropriately vaccinated and parasite treatments completed, out they go to foster homes until the kittens are at least eight weeks old. (NH State law prohibits animals under the age of eight weeks being sold or given away) Returning to the shelter once robust enough to be spayed and neutered – once recovered from surgery, all are available for adoption.  As already noted,  those adorable babies will be adopted quickly. What will take longer is finding a forever home for the black kitten, and so too, the mother if she too is attired in ebony.

In the world of sheltering, we call this the Black Cat Phenomenon”. Arguably website photography renders the true adorability of these creatures undetectable and thus accounts for slow adoption. Well, it’s a theory.

Public perception drives how successful we are at finding loving homes for so many.

Our administrative office cat Elle, is proof positive of this invisibility in the high stakes world of forever homes, relative to black cats.

Elle arrived back in 2011, angry, testy, hating the world after her owner passed away.

She was lonely and upset, wondering at the turmoil of her life without her human. She tried to take it out on the gentle hands that cared for her, literally biting the hands that fed her. Perhaps to avoid unnecessary claims and injury to staff, and certainly to offer some solace to this big black cat, we took that leap of faith and gave her room to roam.  

Now five years on, she has endeared herself to staff, volunteers, some of the public and certainly those of us who share our office space with “Her Majesty”.  Elle is mysterious and moody, slinky, and sensitive, life on her terms, her way. Her schedule is set and god help us if we deviate from her prescribed feed and cuddle times. Perhaps this is the year she finally finds permanent companionship and a home to call her own?

Lastly, please enjoy the fun and frivolity of Halloween with your family, two and four legged alike. If your cat or dog is calm, and accepting of strange things, by all means have fun with a store bought or home made costume. Exercise a little common sense in terms of not leaving your pet alone in costume, not sharing the spoils of your Trick or Treat evening loot, and protect them in the home from the trauma of a constantly ringing doorbell and humans looking very bizarre indeed on the doorstep.