Why Are Black Cats Considered Bad Luck?

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It’s no secret that black cats are considered bad luck. And, sadly, they’re among the least popular pets at animal shelters throughout the US – with their colorful counterparts seen as more desirable. Being an organization committed to animal welfare and adoption (and with Halloween coming up), Activ4Pets decided it’s time to bust the myth. These beautiful creatures deserve forever homes just as much as any other shelter pet!

So what’s the history to support this seemingly irrational concept? Unsurprisingly the “evidence” is very thin on the ground. Cats had initially enjoyed many blissful years as human companions starting out in Ancient Egypt, over 6,000 years ago. Cats of all colors were regarded as sacred and even worshiped by the Egyptians – perhaps the origin of their regal, aloof attitude. Domestic cats eventually spread to Europe where they were generally well regarded thanks to their ability to catch rodents. But all this was about to change.

During the 13th century, Pope Gregory IX’s Vox In Rama associated all cats (and especially black cats) with the Devil, leading to the mass extermination of felines. Which, ironically, only served to increase the spread of the plague pandemic because, without cats to keep them in check, rodent populations grew – meaning more fleas to carry the deadly disease.

Sidenote: there is mythological precedent for black cats being foreboding creatures. One such example is the Cat Sith – a giant black cat that the Celts believed could come and steal the unclaimed souls of the dead before burial.

Clearly modern misconceptions are rooted in the black cat’s association with witchcraft, which date back to the European witch trials of the middle ages and those in Salem, here in the US. Witches were often identified merely by ownership of a cat or other animals, said to be their familiars (companions). Their association with Satan and their inherent nature – solitary, independent and nocturnal creatures – made cats the ideal identifier for witches. And, subsequently, ownership of a feline was often cited as undeniable evidence during witch trials.

The story best known story for demonizing black cats is the 16th century tale of an English father and son whose path was crossed by a black cat. Suspicious of the animal’s association with witches, they proceeded to hurl stones at the poor creature. One of the rocks struck the cat’s left leg, before it swiftly made its escape into the house of a suspected witch. The following day, the father and son encountered this woman who – it turned out – was limping on her left leg. So, naturally they assumed that witches could transform into black cats and back.

This may seem more than a little silly but these perceptions have endured and people still believe a black cat crossing their path signals bad luck. And, due to their relationship with witches, black cats are still common iconography during All Hallow’s Eve – can you think of a Halloween movie where there isn’t a black cat featured? (Answers in the comments, please). They’re practically as ubiquitous as pumpkins and trick or treating.

Question is – do these fallacies influence people’s decision making while choosing a cat to adopt? Hopefully not. Statistics suggest that cat adopters simply prefer colored and patterned felines. And, sadly, the same is true for black dogs too. As a result, black cats and dogs are among the most commonly euthanized animals at pet shelters, due to lack of desirability, for want of a better word.

If you’re thinking about adopting a new cat, please don’t overlook the black varieties. They’re just as deserving as any other pet – if not more so, thanks to their jaded history. And, if you’re adopting from one of our many shelter partners, be sure to opt into your Activ4Pets membership which provides all their medical history through our convenient mobile app. So there will be no spooky surprises during Halloween, or beyond.

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