Dark Delights – Thoughts about Black Cats

Black cats like Hannah need homes tooIn a wonderfully seasonal story for Halloween, this week the charity Cats Protection has put out an appeal to find new homes for black cats. Tragically, black (and black-and-white) moggies are unpopular with owners, taking 22% longer to rehome.

I find it bizarre that according to their surveys, when trying to decide which cat to take home, more people rated “appearance” the most important trait (34%) than “cuteness” (32%) or even “friendliness” (a mere 22%). Although I agree it’s harder to photograph a black cat (as witness the photo – best I could get in those light levels!), I’d strongly advise reversing that order when choosing a pet!

Why don’t people like black cats?

In their press release, the charity speculated that it was because people saw monochrome cats as being “boring”, but I think there might be more to it than that. Although more people admitted to thinking black cats were lucky than unlucky, the fact that 55% of the British population appear to believe that a black cat can affect their life in more mystical ways than just being a good friend (or a good mouser, for that matter) suggests that we haven’t quite shrugged off the old medieval superstitions*. In centuries past, an old woman (or man, for that matter) living alone with her cat was likely to be regarded as a witch. In this conception, the cat was her “familiar”, a demon or devil who helped her with her magic. If the cat was black, well, there you had proof – it must have been touched by the devil! Is it so far fetched to imagine that our modern obsession with “lucky” or “unlucky” cats is a vestige of this superstitious dread, and a reason why these poor moggies are left to the back of the queue?

Black is, of course, a perfectly natural colour variant for cats.

Like the tabby colouration, it helps act as camouflage when hunting at night. About 50% of cats in cat shelters are black or black-and-white, but unfortunately it isn’t clear whether this is representative of the population as a whole. My experience is that less than half, probably more like a quarter, of cats presented at the vets are black, but that might just reflect the areas where I’ve been in practice. However, the genetics of black cats are quite interesting – the B or Black gene is dominant over other colours (except ginger!) so black parents will usually have black kittens (75% of the time), although they may have white patches (if they have a dominant S, or Spot, gene too). So it would make sense for it to be a fairly common colour.

There’s also, of course, a question about temperament. Some people believe that different coloured cats are more likely to be playful, or aggressive, or friendly. Cats Protection pour cold water on this idea, with National Cat Adoption Centre Manager Danielle Draper pointing out that “Black cats are just as fun-loving, mischievous and playful as any other cat and have just as much to offer in terms of companionship.” I’m not getting drawn on this one (!) but I do agree that judging a cat (or anyone, for that matter) based on their colour is deeply unwise.

So, what am I driving at here?

Well, Thursday 27th October is National Black Cat Day. Cats Protection and International Cat Care are both holding online events to celebrate black cats, so we thought we’d support them! Send them a photo of your black, or black-and-white cats (http://www.cats.org.uk/black-cats); post photos on Facebook; or – ideally – visit a cat shelter and rehome one of these misunderstood moggies.

On a personal note, my old stable cat sadly had to be put to sleep a couple of weeks ago. Although he wouldn’t visit us in the house, he was a lovely old boy who lived in the hay barn and kept it rat- and mouse free, while we fed him and fussed him daily. Last week, I adopted two black cats from Cats Protection (Harry and Hannah, who you can see in the photograph) to take his place, and they’re settling in very happily.

So go on – give a black cat a chance!

*OK, historians out there, I know that the witch craze was more a product of the seventeenth century than the fourteenth, but I’m still calling it medievalism so there!

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