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Black Cats: The Underdog of Adoption

By Dr. Patty Khuly

black cats

It is an age-old issue that black cats carry the weight of myth and fear with them. Many vets know from first-hand experience that black kittens and cats are the hardest rescues to place in homes. This begs the question, how did these myths begin and how can we overcome the superstitious habits?

Black Cats: A Background of Myth and Lore

Superstition has surrounded black cats throughout history. While we may think we have made leaps and bounds since the days of Salem, blackness in pets remains a common point of contention in our culture. Superstition is clearly alive and well in modern America –– more so in certain cultures (Hispanic ones like mine seem especially predisposed).

In researching some of the many myths and legends associated with black cats, it is a mix of good and bad. For example, although a black cat crossing one’s path in Japan is seen as good luck and good fortune, in most other parts of the world it is considered bad luck. Black cats are supposed to be familiars for witches, harbingers of disease and death, and, most often, the carriers of bad luck.

Obviously these customs are dated and hold no true standing apart from cultural traditions.

Do black animals really get ignored?

From the above information, it seems that black is out of fashion for pets. While it might work well for strong coffee, fast cars, little dresses, and patent leather, the color has its detractors on the pet front. Apparently, people don’t like to adopt black pets of any species.

Big black dogs have it bad, the fear factor being what it is, but black cats of any dimension arguably have it worse. There are just so many of them! It’s depressing enough to hear that people abandon or fail to adopt pets of any color. But for some reason it seems downright wrong that we might take special pains to avoid a subset of the needy.

Sure, it might be subconscious or something few will admit to; Nonetheless, the fact that adopters would actively select a beloved companion using criteria as superficial as pigmentation is disappointing. Especially when the adopter in question has been told that other people are likely to avoid the black ones.

So how can we help these overlooked, underappreciated pets?

Black Cat Adoptions

In researching black cat adoptions, Embrace writer Liz Palika, found there is a wealth of conflicting opinions and statistics. As a general rule, most people involved in rescue and shelters believe that black cats are usually the last to be adopted, often spending a longer time in rescue or in the shelter.

However, Emily Weiss, ASPCA Vice President, wrote in October 2016 that statistics don’t always back that up. In Black Is Still The New White she referred to statistics from a number of communities, almost 300,000 dogs and cats total, and found that more black cats were adopted than any other color.

However, it’s important to note that more black cats were also turned into the shelters than any other color. Were more black cats adopted simply because there were more of them? Was there color bias in turning in black cats? It must also be noted that while more black cats were adopted – because more were turned in – more were euthanized as well.

In discussing this issue with shelter managers, cat rescue groups, and fosters in several different communities, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami, and several other smaller cities, it was found that all of those involved felt that a tremendous bias does exist concerning black cat turn-ins and adoptions. They admitted that statistics might not back them up, but in talking with people daily who were either turning in an animal or looking to adopt one, they felt the bias was there.

Working Locally

Palika decided to turn to an organization in her community called SPOT: Saving Pets One at a Time in Oceanside, California. SPOT takes at-risk kittens from local shelters and places them in foster homes until the kittens are old enough and healthy enough to be adopted. Having fostered kittens for this group for several years (and adopting three foster fails from them), Palika felt this was a place that could do some good for black kittens.

In talking to Lori Quattrone, one of the founders of SPOT’s kitten program and still the program leader, they decided that a monetary fund that could subsidize the adoptions of black kittens might work. I set up an account with SPOT and we called it the “Black Kitten Fund”. After some social media publicity, other people donated to the fund as well.

When SPOT has a black kitten ready to be adopted, it is promoted via social media and the Black Kitten Fund is mentioned as well. Potential adopters are made aware that the kitten can be adopted at a lesser price, with the Fund making up the difference.

What are the results?

Several months have passed since the formation of the Black Kitten Fund, and although long term results won’t be available for a couple of years, Quattrone feels that, in the short run, the fund is doing some good. “I think it’s working,” she says. “We have been very successful adopting out black kittens this year, and as a result have pulled more from the local shelters than we otherwise would have.”

She added, “One lady who adopted a black kitten at a local adoption event was very excited about it.” One family who heard about the Fund went to an adoption event expressly to adopt a black kitten. They ended up adopting two black kittens without using the Fund and made a donation to the Fund as well. Quattrone also said she’s heard from other rescues who think the Fund is a great idea.

While the Black Kitten Fund is working here in San Diego County right now, every community is different. In helping black kittens (and other animals in need) the best idea overall is to talk to those actively involved in rescue work as Palika did with Lori Quattrone. Share ideas, think outside the box, and be willing to try new things.

While patterned kittens or bold-colored cats may be appealing, the main aspect one should be looking into when adopting is personality. Let’s make an effort to not overlook the elegant black cat in the corner due to simplicity yet focus on how that cat would make a great companion.

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