Black Cats and White Lies Around Halloween

By Rebecca MacGill

Every year around Halloween, black cats’ faces start popping up everywhere as the spooky season begins. Their mysterious reputation has gained them popularity in the media, but their yearly appearance on magazine covers and cheap Party City decals affect real cats waiting to be adopted in shelters. However popular their cute and quirky style may make them during the season, their presence also brings up many questions among animal groups: are black cats generally less sought after and do they remain in shelters longer than other cats? Are people kidnapping and sacrificing black cats and other animals around the holiday? Did the satanic panic truly end in the 80s or did it just re-manifest itself as a way to cover up growing police incompetence? While these questions are still widely debated, there seems to be a simple answer.

Every year around Halloween, shelters across the country will bar black cat adoption due to the fear of them being abused or killed by satanic cults as part of a ritual sacrifice, citing stories of cats who have gone missing or turned up dead to support their decision. Nancy Suro from Maxfund cites the reason for taking such strict caution, stating “some satanic cults sacrifice all-black or all-white cats as part of their rituals…I know such activity goes on. We absolutely refuse to take any chances with these cats’ lives”. Despite how adamant shelters tend to be, rumors and claims of black cat mutilation can be boiled down to anecdotes and old superstition. Looking into these claims, the ASPCA, Humane Society of the United States, and Best Friends Animal Society among others have found that there is no increase in reports of animal abuse or mutilation around Halloween. Though, it’s not to say that there is no harm in the holiday. Black cats are often adopted to serve as live props only to be abandoned shortly after, as with the abandonment of rabbits around Easter which had led to a similar ban in adoption. 

Superstition and urban legends may lead to many animals being left in shelters for a few more days, but for black cats the caution taken meant to protect them can often lead to them staying in shelters longer. Black cats have some of the lowest adoption rates, many remaining in shelters for two to three times longer than other patterned cats who tend to be more sought after for their unique colorings. Oftentimes, cults are blamed for an animal’s disappearance or death instead of focusing on plausible and addressable answers, such as larger animal attacks or an animal going missing for any other reason. Cults being used as an exhaustive explanation by low level police officers gives an excuse to dismiss the case, leaving the underlying problem unaddressed and left to repeat itself.

 The perceived threat of satanic cults and Satanic Ritual Abuse has created a long lasting effect on not just black cats but the country as a whole, generating a longer lasting moral panic in mainstream America than the AIDS epidemic of the same time. Similarly, both the fear of satanic cults and legends surrounding black cats are rooted in baseless anecdotes and the fear of harming the innocent. Shelters tightening adoption policies around Halloween may be doing so with kind hearts, and may as well be preventing cats from becoming props, though despite their best intentions they may lack the warmth and care cats wait for in a home. 

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