Cats have always been associated with magic, haven’t they? Sometimes that magic has been white, and sometimes it has been black.
And come Halloween, we’ll see cards and decorations featuring that vampire/devil cat or black kittens sporting witches’ hats and gazing adoringly at you.
But there is a darker side to this fascination with black cats and magic. “The perception of danger to black cats on Halloween has become so prevalent,” says writer Franny Syufy, “that many shelters and humane societies refuse to allow adoption of black cats during the entire month of October.”
How It All Began
Cats had a lot of clout in pre-Christian cultures. They were gods in Egypt and sacred to the goddess Artemis in ancient Greece. They pulled the Norse goddess Freya’s chariot.
Enter Judaism and Christianity. Aside from that “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” proviso, the Jews weren’t about to wax wildly poetic about any animal their former enslavers had worshipped. The early church was determined to stamp out all vestiges of the pagan religions.
Somehow black cats ended up getting the worst of it. Throughout the Middle Ages and well into the so-called Age of Enlightenment, they were tortured and burned alive just for having fur the color of night — which was, after all, when most witchery and evil took place.
“For the Christian,” observes , “the black cat was always Lucifer’s messenger. And sometimes they revenged themselves on the black cat for all the fear they had of the Devil.”
Still, the black cat has managed to catch a few breaks over the centuries. He is regarded as lucky in the United Kingdom and Asia. And in parts of France, we find the matagot (magician-cat) and the chat d’argent — “black cats who have the power to attract wealth into any house where they are loved and well fed,” according to Dr. Fernand Méry, a veterinarian and journalist.
Not everybody believes that black cats are in danger on Halloween.
Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, scoffs at shelters that won’t adopt out black cats in October. These “black cat policies” are “based on urban myths [and] put pets at higher risk than they could ever be from people who’d adopt with ill intentions,” he says. This leads to overcrowded facilities or, in the case of no-kill shelters, puts the cats “at high risk of not being around when the ban is lifted.”
Maybe so. Still, as anyone who has ever done animal rescue work knows, some truly horrific instances of cruelty can and do occur.
However, there is “a more subtle cruelty” that goes on this time of year, says Syufy. It involves people adopting black cats as costume accessories, then returning them to the shelters or dumping them.
Safeguarding All Cats
In the end, your best bet is bringing all of your felines inside. The kid next door may not be into satanic rituals, but there are a lot of cars on the road, and coyotes are also a very real danger.
Think black cats are awesome? So does this video:
So how can you keep your cat safe on Halloween?
The coming-and-going of trick-or-treaters makes it all too easy for cats and kittens (and even dogs) to slip out. Try creating a “haven” and putting your cats in a separate room. Otherwise, trot your bowl of goodies outside and shut the door firmly behind you.
Other Halloween Dangers for Cats
- Candles and jack-o’-lanterns with candles in them: Don’t leave your cats alone with them. Electrical wires also present a problem, as I discovered when Phoenix happily chewed through the ones in my son’s Halloween village.
- Chocolate and other delights: Keep these as far away from Tigger and Hobbes as possible unless you like talking to the folks at the Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661). Make sure your children — particularly the younger ones who don’t know any better — don’t give any chocolate to the pets. The foil and plastic wrappers are a problem, too.
For more safety tips for all pets, see How to Keep Your Pet Safe on Halloween.