BY ALAINA LEARY
The first thing I learned at my friend Emma’s house was that she had seven black cats. They varied greatly in their personalities and appearances, including one small kitty with only three legs that was constantly zipping around the house at top speed.
I studied veterinary science in high school, but I didn’t realize how bad of a reputation black cats had until I met all seven of Emma’s. “They have a much smaller chance of being adopted, so we just take them in,” she would tell me. Emma and her parents volunteered regularly at the local shelter.
Black cats are less than half as likely to be adopted as gray cats, and 26.1% of people consider fur color when adopting a new cat. Many organizations don’t allow black cats to be adopted during October because of mistreatment and abuse. Volunteers like Emma keep black cats safe during these months – and sometimes fall in love with the ones at the shelter and take them home.
Historically, black cats have had a slew of myths associated with them, not all of which center around bad luck. In Ancient Egypt, all cats were considered good luck, and according to Scottish folklore, having a black cat in your home would bring you great wealth.
Freya, the Nordic goddess of love, marriage and prosperity, was said to have her chariot pulled by pairs of cats with black fur.
However, there are also negative portrayals of black cats throughout history, including the Greek myth about Galenthia, who was turned into a cat and became a priestess at the Temple of Hecate (the “Dark Mother”), sometimes known as the mother of witchcraft.
During the 12th and 13th centuries, black cats were synonymous with witches’ “familiars” in Europe, and in the 17th century during the witch-burning era in America, cats were often burned alongside the supposed witches. It was said that witches could also turn into black cats themselves, which added to the fear associated with them.
In the Middle Ages, black cats were akin to Satan himself, leading to the capture and slaughter of the animals. Black cats are also commonly used in ritual sacrifice, which is enough of a problem today that it hinders shelters from openly adopting them out.
When I publically shared my concern for other animal owners to keep their black cats indoors for October, one of my friends told me that she had witnessed a black cat’s brutal murder by neighborhood kids as a child. I’ve never been more struck than in that moment. The threat of harm to black cats always seemed like a myth to me, until suddenly it wasn’t. It was a distressingly real image in my mind as I petted my own kitty, whispering to her that she was loved and safe.
Today in England, giving a bride a black cat is considered good luck, and they are also considered lucky in Ireland as well. I would be overjoyed if someone gave me a free black cat on my wedding day – no, seriously, this is a hint to my friends for the future.
This year, I moved into an apartment with my girlfriend and my first thought was to adopt a cat, because my 12-year-old fat tabby had finally passed away at my parents’ home. Originally, I had my heart set on an orange kitten, but we took a spontaneous trip to the shelter one Tuesday afternoon just to take a look. It was the anniversary of my mom’s death, and my mom was the person who taught me to love all cats growing up. My girl and I met a pair of bonded cats - one round and tabby, the other fluffy and black - and we fell in love instantly. Within a few days, we had welcomed the two lovely kitties into our new home.
My black cat, named Blue, is often known for curling up in between us in bed, purring steadily and loudly, and for jumping at door handles to try to get into closed-off rooms. Her meow is tiny and kitten-like, and she looks at everything with wide inquisitive yellow-green eyes. I was surprised by the number of people who made seemingly harmless jokes when they found out I adopted a black cat – “Won’t she be bad luck? Don’t let her cross your path!” I thought those attitudes had disappeared, but they still lingered, even when my family and friends were unaware of the danger behind their words.
Shelters still have a harder time adopting out black cats, and the one where I got my cat had flyers hanging that described reasons why a black cat would make a great companion. I don’t need a flyer to convince me. All I have to do is peer into the basket in my room and find Blue cuddled up among the blankets, her head cocked in my direction, to know why.