This Halloween, Protect Your Black Cat: Here’s Why!

Anyone who’s obsessed with Halloween must already know this season’s traditions by heart. After all, October is officially the month of superstitions: Passing under stairs brings bad luck, as well as breaking a mirror or crossing a black cat on the street... But, what some people don’t know is that, in this specific period, the bad luck, in fact, usually comes to the black kittens themselves. This is because popular beliefs involving these animals may feed prejudice and end up leading to mistreatment! 

So, if you have a black cat at home, it is advisable to invest in protection and care this month. Keep reading, because Her Campus Casper Libero explains why!

  1. 1. The origin of the superstition

    The prejudice against black cats is extremely old and goes back to the European Middle Age. The nocturnal habit of these animals, coupled with the blackened coat (which was a symbol of darkness), made many people of that period associate them with obscurity, evil, bad luck, witchcraft and pacts with the Devil. Because of this symbology, these animals were responsibilized by many mortal and catastrophic events of that time, including the plagues. 

    Another important fact is that the poor and homeless people used to have the company of these animals, which was one more factor to increase prejudice. Thereby, black cats were also linked with impurity and suspicious traits. In the 15th century, a time when Catholicism was fervent in its project of hunt and redemption of the heretics, the black cats were even included in Pope Innocent VIII’s Inquisition list. This made it legal to kill and burn these “sinful” animals alive. Tense, right? 

  2. 2. Cats, Women And An Ancient Prejudice

    It is impossible to unlink the history of prejudice against black cats from the persecution of women through centuries, especially during the Middle Age, when defying female standards and social beliefs were considered signs of witchcraft. According to Mary del Priore, author of the book “Uma Breve História do Brasil” (A Brief History of Brazil), “cats seemed to be the perfect companion for witches”. The people from that age used to distrust single and empowered women. Socially hostilized, many of them lived poorly and far from the main communities and, some, with black cats: the animals which were equally despised by society. These cats begin to be seen as the animal form of these witches, a creed that would be sustained for centuries, with the help of urban legends.

    One of these tales is popular in England. According to the story, some night a black cat was assaulted on the street and, afraid, it ran to the house of a woman who used to shelter abandoned animals. The following morning, the lady also appeared injured, and this was enough to make people believe that the woman was a witch and the cat, her nocturnal disguise.

    On the other side of the world, in Egypt, cats were considered sacred, since they helped to fight the rats that devastated the plantations. Because of this, the Egyptian fertility goddess is Bastet, a black cat. Many women of that age who worshiped Bastet were midwives and used herbs and the medicinal healing powers of plants and, for that reason, they were considered witches, endowed with magical powers.

  3. 3. Why do black cats still need protection?

    Although in 1630, the violence against cats was forbidden by decree of king Louis XIII, the danger for these animals remains, especially during the Halloween season. Mostly in October - but, also, every Friday 13rd -, bizarre crimes against cats are reported, including here in Brazil. Abandonment, aggression and organ removal are some of the crimes commonly related. 

    Besides that - and what’s even more worrisome -, many black cats are still being used (and, this means, most times, killed) in magic rituals. For some rites, killing a feline is a requirement to become a magician. According to a webpage, the sacrifice sometimes includes "throwing the cat (ALIVE!) into a pot of boiling water and letting it cook until the skin completely peels off the bones". Creepy!

    It is important to rebound that, according to a decision reaffirmed by the Supreme Federal Court in 2019, the ritual sacrifice of animals in religious cults is legal in Brazil, “in order to safeguard religious freedom”. However, it is also predicted that such sacrifices will be made consciously and without traces of cruelty - a definition that may end up not being followed in clandestine rituals.

    And although, according to The Nature and Environment Protection Service (SEPNA), reports of ill-treatment are usually punctual in less frequented forests and isolated regions, the problem can’t be ignored in large urban centers. In an interview to the Animal Rights News Agency, Juliana Bussab, the director of the NGO Adote um Gatinho (Adopt a Cat), testified that she has already met on the street animals in pitiful situations after one of these magic rites: “I found a black cat with stitched eyes fell in front of a cemetery in the West Zone of São Paulo city. It was then when we decided to not allow adoptions near Halloween season”. 

    This precaution is also followed by most Brazilian NGOs in Brazil, in order to preserve the health of the animals and ensure that they will continue well looked after. According to Jane Radhad, director of APIPA (Piauí Association for the Protection and Love of Animals), during this period, the adoptions aren’t canceled but the criteria for selecting adopters become much more meticulous. “We used to do an oral and a written interview and accompany the adaptation of the animal for a week. But this process takes much longer in superstitious times of the year…”, comments Jane.

  4. 4. The Black Dogs (and Cats) Syndrome: What it means and why it happens

    This is a term created after a research held in 2010 by the NGO Lucky Dog Animal Rescue. The institution, located in Washington D.C, United States, found out that, among the animals available for adoption, the number of black dogs was always bigger, and these pets took much longer to find a home. And so do black cats. They named this phenomenon “The Black Dog Syndrome”.

    And this prejudice isn’t restricted to United States adopters. A research headed in 2018 by the Britain NGO, Cats Protection, indicated that the black animals take 13% more time to be adopted in relation to the cats of other colors. In Brazil, the situation isn’t different: in that same year, at Catland, a NGO which acts for the rescue and the responsible adoption of cats, 60% of the animals that were still waiting for a home had dark colored coats. According to APIPA, 30% to 40% of the animals which are left in the shelter have completely or partially black fur and, most of them, exhibit signs of mistreatment. 

    Among the justifications given by the adopters for not choosing these animals, some point out that they find these animals scarier than the ones with light pelage (what’s a clear effect of that ancient mysticism that remains in our culture). Another factor that is identified as an obstacle to adoptions is that black animals don't appear so sharp and striking in the publicity photos of NGOs: their coat mixes with the background and their own face. This often causes a departure from adopters, who use to prefer the “photogenics” that stand out in the photos.

    In order to combat this stereotype, it was instituted the Black Cat Appreciation Day, which is celebrated virtually every year on October 27th. On the date, the black pets owners are invited to post photos and depositions in their social media profiles using the hashtag #BlackCatDay. The goal is to publicize mistreatments and prejudice, in addition to raising awareness.

Even nowadays black cats still suffer the effects of this ancient prejudice, including here in Brazil. As a country colonized in Christianity, the rejection to felines is still rooted in our culture - no wonder, one of the first songs that Brazilian children learn to sing is “Atirei o Pau no Gato”. In addition, a huge part of the responsibility for the perpetuation of this unfair association lies with the entertainment industry, which insists on producing horror movies exploring this stereotype surrounding black cats.

Fortunately, since 1998, animal abuse (which includes mistreating, hurting and mamaing) is considered a crime in Brazil. According to the Environmental Crimes Law (Article 32, Number 9605/98), this fault can lead to a fine and/or imprisonment for three months to a year. Even so, it is advisable to keep an eye on. If you see a situation in which a cat is in danger, don’t hesitate! You make a complaint at Ibama (0800 61 80 80), Disk Environment (0800 11 35 60), Disk Denunces (181) and, even, at the Military Police (190). We can - and should - do our part to change this situation and make life easier for these unfairly prejudiced pets.

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The article above was edited by Gabriela Sartorato.  

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