Are Black Cats Really In Danger During Halloween?

Halloween is all about safe scares that evoke laughs along with screams. There's always that sigh of relief when we see that the blood is just syrup and the zombie is just a Party City prop. But this time of year also brings reports of supposed real-life horrors: razor blades concealed in apples, poisoned candy, LSD in temporary tattoos, and kidnappers and murderous clowns lying in wait for trick-or-treaters, to name a few. One of the most gruesome stories that goes around at this time of year is that black cats are routinely tortured and killed on Halloween by modern-day witches or satanic cult members. The rumor is so persistent that some animal shelters restrict adoption of the felines around late October. 

It's just one more reason these beautiful cats have gotten a bad rap for centuries. With their dark coats and mysterious looks, they were long believed to be associated with sorcery. Medieval folks actually thought black cats were witches or demons in disguise; in fact, black cats were so reviled that they were actually hanged alongside the unfortunate people accused of witchcraft (via The Spruce Pets). Puritans emigrating from Europe brought their feline prejudice to America, and the stereotype lives on. Even today, black cats are a standard theme in Halloween décor and costuming, and some still get creeped out when one crosses their path

Every October, owners of black cats (and sometimes, dogs) are warned to keep their pets indoors on and around Halloween, or risk having their fur babies snatched up and used for evil ends. But is this really such a smart precaution?

The warnings are really an urban legend

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of Halloween bad luck for black cats are greatly exaggerated. The hoax-debunking site Snopes conducted research at numerous animal shelters and found that, while many had heard the stories of cats being used in Satanic rituals, they didn't have any first-hand knowledge of actual incidents. (Statements such as "I know such activity goes on" and "Cats are tortured around Halloween time" aren't the same as eyewitness accounts.)

The Humane Society of the United States offers additional perspective on the issue. For example, many of the circulating stories involve outdoor cats that disappeared around Halloween time, and there are no databases on missing cats to determine whether the pets were taken by cults or simply wandered off. The logistics of adopting a cat for evil purposes should also be considered. Potential cat parents have to meet with shelter counselors, fill out forms that list their name and address, and prove they can offer a safe and loving home. Shelters also microchip their animals to make them identifiable in case they get lost. How many animal abusers would go to that much trouble to commit a crime that could be traced back to them?

Black cat owners can still take steps to protect their pets

That's not to say black cats face no dangers at all at Halloween time. There are hazards at this time of year that threaten felines of all colors. For instance, the extra commotion around the neighborhood can be dangerous for cats who are allowed outdoors; they may become frightened and disoriented, or even dart into traffic. 

Families of indoor cats should make sure Halloween is safe for their pets, too. Keep lit candles — whether in jack-o-lanterns or candleholders — away from cats, particularly kittens (their rep for curiosity is well-earned!). Keep holiday candy out of paws' reach; chocolate, in particular, is a poisoning hazard for both dogs and cats. Don't force your cat into a costume if they don't like it. If they're okay with a dress-up, be sure the costume is loose-fitting enough to let them move and breathe (via the ASPCA). On the big night, put all your pets in a safe, enclosed place; even the most well-behaved house cat may dash out the front door when trick-or-treaters ring the bell. 

And if you're looking to add a new fur baby to your home, consider visiting a shelter for a black cat. These kitties can be just as playful and affectionate as a tabby, Siamese, or Maine Coon cat, and for the people who love them, they're anything but bad luck. Besides, you'll get to honor National Black Cat Appreciation Day every August 17, and who can argue with a reason to celebrate?