In the Black: Rescuing Animals out of Darkness
By Dana Lynn Thompson
eading into the Halloween season, our hearts and minds are filled with the ancient myths of the holiday. Lighting a jack o’ lantern on Halloween night is said to ward off evil spirits and demons. Burning a new candle and knocking on wood can bring good luck. Walking backwards with your clothes on inside out will help you to meet a witch. But possibly the most famous of these superstitions is the belief that when a black cat crosses your path, it is an omen of bad luck to follow.
As a result of this and other myths, the black cat has had to carry an association with evil that has been passed down over the centuries. In the Dark Ages many older, unmarried, or widowed women were accused of being witches. Often these women kept cats as companions and cats were said to be their “familiars,” or animals given to them directly by Satan. This story was carried over to America by the Puritans and the Salem Witch Trials reinforced the association of witches and black cats into Halloween lore.
So, what does this mean for the black cat of today, the one peering out of the cage at your local shelter, hoping to find its forever home? Shelter workers have said for years that black cats and their canine counterparts are the least likely to be adopted. The phenomenon was thought to be so common that it was even given a name: black dog syndrome. Reasons for this theory are many. Black dogs don’t appear as visible in shelters. Their features are not as easily seen and they are hidden behind the bars or wire cages of a shelter where people often walk right by them and don’t even notice they are there. Black dogs can get prematurely white hair on their faces or chests making them appear older. Black dogs don’t show up as well in pictures. And, like their black feline friends, black dogs suffer from an association with evil just by color. The symbolism of evil represented by the color black is predominant in Western culture, Darth Vader and the Star Wars movies being the prime example. In European folk lore, black dogs were a sign of the coming of death.
But recent studies by Dr. Emily Weiss of the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) analyzing data from the ASPCA’s “A Comprehensive Animal Risk Database” covering information from 14 communities and approximately 300,000 cats and dogs have shown a different picture. Weiss discovered that although the euthanasia rate for black animals is greater than that for other colors, their adoption rate was also higher than any other color. Thirty-two percent of dogs adopted in 2013 were black compared with 22 percent for brown dogs. In addition, more brown dogs were euthanized than black dogs. (25 percent vs. 21 percent).
The real reason it appears black dogs and cats are adopted less frequently comes down to intake numbers. Simply put, more black dogs and cats come into shelters than any other color. Thirty percent of the dogs surrendered to shelters in 2013 were black, with brown coming in second at 23 percent. Black cats made up 33 percent of the cat intake, with gray cats coming in a distant second, at 22 percent. Manned with this data we can assume that if three black cats and one grey cat come into the shelter and one black cat and one grey cat are adopted that day, there will still be two black cats left at the shelter. This means you will be seeing more black cats in the shelter on any given day. These numbers bear out in my personal rescue experience. I have four black rescue dogs and only one brown dog.
Even if it is a myth that black dogs and cats are less likely to be adopted, the most important thing to take away from this research is that there are more black animals in need of homes. This is a fact in our region where this summer dogs and cats came streaming into Rome/ Floyd County PAWS (Public Animal Welfare Services formerly known as Animal Control) at an alarming rate. In June 2017, 622 dogs and cats were brought to the shelter. Ninety percent of these were owner surrenders. Even with a beautiful new state-of-the-art facility which opened in December 2016 with 232 enclosures, the shelter is often full with rescue groups trying desperately to get animals out to new homes. Groups such as Claws for Paws are expanding their fundraising efforts to include low cost spay/ neuter options for pet owners and a community cat program to help decrease the number of animals coming into the local shelter. This year the group’s annual Rome for the Rescues event raised $62,500 which will benefit animal welfare efforts in Rome and Floyd County.
You can help by having your pet spayed or neutered and/or welcoming a new pet into your home. Fall is a wonderful time of year to adopt a new furry family member. The kids are back in school and schedules are set, making it an opportune moment to get a new pet acclimated to life in your home. The cooler weather makes it a perfect time to get outdoors for a walk with your new dog or to snuggle by the fire with a warm cat on your lap. As you make your choice, consider going with a black pet. This year, black is the new black!
Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF)
Cedartown Animal Rescue,
Education & Sterilization (CARES)
Good Shepherd Animal Rescue
Public Animal Welfare Services (PAWS)
Red Clay Equine Rescue & Sanctuary
Claws for Paws
Photo courtesy Chris Kerr.
Dana Lynn Thompson is a writer, web designer, and co-founder of The Pink Typewriter Project. She is currently working on a novel centered around her love of tennis. Dana lives on a small farm with her husband, two horses, and five rescue dogs. She can be reached at www.DanaLynnThompson.com.