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Halloween and the Black Cat: Superstition as Urban Legend?
October 19, 2008 4:43 PM   Subscribe

Were black cats ever in danger during Halloween? For the past decade or more, animal shelters have been holding back their black cats at Halloween, for fears of obsessed youths sacrificing them in ritualistic slaughter (or other cruelties, some involving duct tape). Some experts say it's a myth, or an urban legend with no basis in fact. The origins of the idea are often cited as ancient influence.
posted by Brian B. (46 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I knew a couple of people in New York who had rescued animals on Halloween - although I doubt that those animals had been adopted from a shelter for their abuse.

More likely lured out of the alley with food, and then .... well, you don't want to know.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:47 PM on October 19, 2008


.... well, you don't want to know.

More as if you don't want to tell.
posted by Brian B. at 4:50 PM on October 19, 2008


Satanic cults sacrificing black cats on Halloween? Not likely.

Sadistic fuckwits torturing defenseless creatures for laughs? Far too common.
posted by malocchio at 4:53 PM on October 19, 2008 [8 favorites]


Several years ago, my mother's boyfriend's cat was abused by some teens on Halloween. Luckily for the cat, it was nothing worse than stuff being poured in its fur, but the cat did have to be shaved mostly bald to get rid of the mess. It would not be hard to imagine far worse being done.
posted by briank at 4:54 PM on October 19, 2008


Satanic junk? Urban legends.
Torture of defenseless animals on or around Halloween? Unfortunately not. I have firsthand viewing of the after-effects.
posted by oflinkey at 4:56 PM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Between this and visiting my parents this weekend, I really miss having a cat.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:57 PM on October 19, 2008


When I was 8 or 9 our calico cat Puss-Puss had a litter of four, two of them solid black. When they were about eight weeks old we gave the litter to a local pet store and they had a vet give them some shots and put them in the front window. It was Halloween. The next day I went to look in the window and the two black ones had been adopted. I still wonder if they went to a good home.
posted by longsleeves at 4:59 PM on October 19, 2008


Yeah. Halloween gives adolescents a feeling of catre blanche to be assholes (even more so than normally) and animal torture will be part of that for the more fucked-up kids. The only thing that would surprise me is the kids being picky enough to care whether the cat is black or not.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:01 PM on October 19, 2008


I've often wondered if the eastern shore of Maryland has over abundance of black cats:

In 1847, Charles Carroll launched an enterprising business on an island in the Upper Chesapeake Bay: the Great Poplar Island Black Cat Farm. Carroll (son of Charles Carroll Jr., who built Homewood House on what would become Johns Hopkins' Homewood campus) had heard that there was a market in China for black cat fur, so he offered 25 cents apiece for female black cats. He shipped the cats to Poplar Island, paid a local waterman to deliver fish daily, and let the kitties have the run of the place. All was well until winter arrived. The bay froze, the fish couldn't be delivered, and the hungry cats made off across the ice to the mainland, thus bringing an end to Carroll's feline farm.

posted by 445supermag at 5:03 PM on October 19, 2008 [5 favorites]


Link for the black cat farm mentioned above.
posted by 445supermag at 5:04 PM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


And while I won't deny that there are certainly some evil miscreants out there, the handful of "Satanists" that I've known (few, but non-zero) tend to love cats.
posted by malocchio at 5:05 PM on October 19, 2008


we don't have halloween in australia, although it has started to take on a bit in the past few years. there has been one occasion in the past 10 years that some kids came to my door asking for lollies but, of course, i had nothing and, of course, they turned their noses up at fruit, even dried fruit. however, i thought america's halloween was a fun family thing so i'm v. sorry to hear that sort of stuff can happen.
posted by LiviaLive at 5:15 PM on October 19, 2008


they turned their noses up at fruit, even dried fruit.

American children are told to eschew fruit gifts because they will be laced with drugs or razor blades (or drug needles). Similar urban legend there, although everyone's heard of such pranks. I'm sure the candy companies had nothing to do with it. On that note, I tend to side with the skeptics on the black cat issue, and as a separate issue, I would bet even money that less cats are mistreated on Halloween night when it is dark and they are in range of their owners, while ruffian kids are focused on theft of candy and random cruelty to other children - than during the summer days when the same boys are roaming around the empty spaces looking for something to do.
posted by Brian B. at 5:25 PM on October 19, 2008


malocchio: And while I won't deny that there are certainly some evil miscreants out there, the handful of "Satanists" that I've known (few, but non-zero) tend to love cats.

This reflects my own experiences. While the 'satanists' (and the other occultist types) I knew in high school would have appreciated the timing in adopting a black cat over Halloween, the chief danger to the cat would be that it might get named 'Lucifer' or something similar. Or that they'd be too immature to care for an animal, I suppose, but that's hardly rare or limited by time of year.

I think the biggest danger to black cats over Halloween is not from satanists or such, but from stupids picking them up for holiday-related reasons and then abandoning them or neglecting them after the season is over. Kind of like how idiots are always picking up baby bunnies and chicks during Easter.

I'm sure there are a few cases of abuse over Halloween, but considering how rampant that kind of idiocy is during Easter, it seems like it has the potential to occur in much greater numbers.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:26 PM on October 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


We caught a white cat after H'ween one year and took it to the shelter. They had cut a cross in one eye, which had to be enucleated. I still can't stand to think about it. The shelter said this sor of thing was not uncommon.
If I were able to have cats these days, I would keep them inside for some time before H'ween, no matter what color. (I kept my cats in, but I understand not everyone does.)
posted by unrepentanthippie at 5:27 PM on October 19, 2008


sor/sort
posted by unrepentanthippie at 5:27 PM on October 19, 2008


I'm always extra careful to make sure my black cat doesn't get out around Halloween. I took him in as a former stray and he's the sweetest, most affectionate pet I've ever known.
posted by mike3k at 5:28 PM on October 19, 2008


Several years ago, my mother's boyfriend's cat was abused by some teens on Halloween. Luckily for the cat, it was nothing worse than stuff being poured in its fur, but the cat did have to be shaved mostly bald to get rid of the mess. It would not be hard to imagine far worse being done.

I suspect that this cruelty wasn't so much a result of genuine "black magic" influence but the influence of the idea that Satanists think that black cats should be killed (tortured? something) for magical effect at Halloween.

I could easily be wrong about this. But I do know that, last I checked, the only substantiated case of malicious candy tampering at Halloween was the result not of mysterious strangers, but of a father trying to murder his son for the insurance money. Even if propagated only in warnings, an idea can be powerful.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:30 PM on October 19, 2008


Having acquired (on Halloween) a black kitten from a neighbor's kid who had duct-taped a roman candle to her tail, I personally can report that it isn't the Satanists the black cats need to fear but the adolescents.

The cat's name is Boo, she's now 15 years old, and she was a point of contention in my divorce settlement. She lives with my ex-wife now, and pines for the comfort of my lap, or so I like to tell myself. Her tail fully recovered, and we NEVER let her outside on Halloween.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:32 PM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


13 years ago, we had four dogs, and a dog door. Well, a little black cat came in and we gave her some tuna, but didn't try to keep her. Well, she kept returning, so we figured we might as well give her a name (Cleopatra, or just Cleo) and get her fixed (she was just barely pregnant, we found out). The dogs loved her, and she loved them.

The dogs have all passed away, but we still have Cleo, now 13 years old. My significant other didn't like cats much until Cleo decided to move in, but now she sees the light, and we have five cats -- one more than our legal limit, so don't tell anyone! ;)

Oh, and we don't ler her outside anywhere near Halloween, because if someone did something horrible to her, I'd probably feel an overwhelming urge to blow someone's head off with a shotgun. And that'd be messy.
posted by jamstigator at 5:40 PM on October 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think the biggest danger to black cats over Halloween is not from satanists or such, but from stupids picking them up for holiday-related reasons and then abandoning them or neglecting them after the season is over.

I agree with this trend entirely, as the Dalmatian breeding phenomenon led to thousands of unwanted purebreds in shelters following the release of the popular Disney movie. But when considering the black cat in question here is sitting on death row, I wonder if it has better chances getting adopted on Halloween.
posted by Brian B. at 5:45 PM on October 19, 2008


As the owner (?) of an especially awesome black cat, I thank everyone who has taken pains to keep them safe and full of kibble.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:50 PM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I adopted this guy shortly after Halloween. He was the oldest kitten at the shelter by a month or two. I'd have to assume it was because they wouldn't adopt him around Halloween, because he's the sweetest cat you ever met. Unless he's tired of having his tummy rubbed, in which case he's a whirling mass of deadly claws and teeth.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:15 PM on October 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Just looking at that cat makes me all snootchie-wookums. Hm, maybe we should be afraid of them.
posted by JHarris at 6:36 PM on October 19, 2008


Oh yeah, he's got powers. The little one is just persistent, but he's got powers.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:48 PM on October 19, 2008


I would like to propose the abandonment of Halloween, and the extermination of children.

No, really, it's for the cats...
posted by pompomtom at 7:05 PM on October 19, 2008


This is a pretty poorly constructed FPP.

It doesn't matter whether the perpetrators are Satanists, cultists, grandmothers or green monkeys; the articles acknowledge that there is a not-insubstantial increase in abuse/torture cases of black cats around Halloween. Even if it's only one or two cases per year, it's enough evidence for shelters to make this nominal postponement in adoption procedures in order to safeguard the cats sheltered there.

I worked in an animal shelter for 8 years. I have seen the results of cat "pranks" -- cats set on fire, cats poisoned, cats with items shoved up their anuses, etc. Enough incidences to know that a)human beings can be sick motherfuckers, and b)where the shelter can take nominal steps to ensure the safety of the animals in its care, it most definitely should do so.
posted by CitizenD at 7:35 PM on October 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


A bigger issue seems to be that black cats (and black dogs) have a hard time finding anyone to adopt them at all.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:37 PM on October 19, 2008


It doesn't matter whether the perpetrators are Satanists, cultists, grandmothers or green monkeys; the articles acknowledge that there is a not-insubstantial increase in abuse/torture cases of black cats around Halloween. Even if it's only one or two cases per year, it's enough evidence for shelters to make this nominal postponement in adoption procedures in order to safeguard the cats sheltered there

Which article substantiated the black cat torture at Halloween? I think the Snopes piece summed it up when they quoted someone who tried to find a case in 1996 via a news clip service and failed. If one cat was not adopted because it was withheld, and killed instead that year by a shelter because its time ran out, then it wouldn't justify your argument at all.
posted by Brian B. at 8:04 PM on October 19, 2008


kittens for breakfast: I was told this about black cats the first time I went to a shelter.

Since then I have practiced a sort of black cat affirmative action policy. Each one is lovely and furry and wonderful as an individual, but as a group they have the added advantages of matching my furnishings and looking awesome dressed as small, sleek vampires during the Halloween season.

(NB: I am not a crazy black cat hoarder. Really.)
posted by ltracey at 8:14 PM on October 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


Once you've had a black cat use you as a futon you realize they're about as awesome as can be.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:33 PM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


The other thing I question, is how much abuse is perpetrated upon black cats because people started going, "Ooooooh Nooooooez, it's Halloween! Hide the black cats!"
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:51 PM on October 19, 2008


Much of this disinformation seems to have sprung from the hysterical allegations of satanic ritual abuse that reached a fever pitch in the 80's. The combination of fear and ignorance in the minds of a handful of religious zealots led to a conflagration of all that they hate and misunderstand. Seeing the devil's hand in every evil act of man, it was a very small step for them to misattribute all forms of abuse to "cultists." A child has been molested? Surely the work of Satan and his followers. An animal has been mutilated? Surely a sacrifice to the dark lord. "Evidence" is necessary only for those too cowardly to make the necessary (and oh! so obvious) leap of faith. The devil is all too real for these superstitious minds, lurking behind every corner and in every dark alleyway (and in every mosque or coven, and far too frequently, in every synagogue or Catholic church).

It's so much more comforting to think that the evil is "out there" in roving gangs, wearing dark trenchcoats and listening to Marilyn Manson. The reality that the child abuser may really be kindly Uncle Joe, or that the cat torturer may be innocent little nephew Joey is far too terrifying to contemplate.
posted by malocchio at 9:04 PM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I thought this myth went out of vogue back in '84. Good lord.

“Behaviorally, there’s no difference from the color of the cat. It’s tied into this whole mythology about the animal — don’t let it cross your path or some foreboding or foreshadowing of evil — and that’s an outdated superstition,” she said.

Best quote ever. As opposed to the up to date superstition that black cats cause tornadoes? Or what. I'm confused.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:52 PM on October 19, 2008


I'm gonna make me one of them there invisibilty bones.
posted by Artw at 12:01 AM on October 20, 2008


this is kinda off-topic, but tonight i saw patti smith at a screening of the new documentary film about her - dream of life - here in san francisco. she (and the filmmaker) answered questions after the screening.

a woman in the audience asked patti (in many more words) how she manages to remain hopeful. patti gave a very thoughtful and eloquent reply. but all i can remember is the last sentence - and i paraphrase:

how can you not be full of hope, when you see a perfect little kitten?

patti smith is awesome.
posted by lapolla at 12:13 AM on October 20, 2008


Black cats get quite the raw deal out of Halloween, it sounds. But really, aren't they asking for it by actually existing?

I mean, if there were really animated skeletons walking around, they'd be jumped and made to drink quarts of flaming gasoline for the amusement of bored teens. Witches would be broomjacked, ghosts incarcerated in vacuum cleaners, and no end of headless horsemen rounded up and placed in lockup overnight for riding without a helmet. But there aren't any. There's only cats*.

So really, black cats, what's it going to be? One night a year of dickheads getting all up in your bizness - or the gentle discorporation of MYTHOLOGY?

* And bats, which can fly away. And spiders, which are like, ewww, a spider, and are very hard to tie Roman Candles to as they keep breaking. This has been relegated to a footnote as it defeats my main point a bit, but if I use small letters, perhaps no one will notice.
posted by Sparx at 6:12 AM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


They say that white rabbits are also not given away before Halloween for the same reasons. I'm guessing that goats and black cockerels aren't common enough in animal shelters to be an issue.
posted by acb at 8:14 AM on October 20, 2008


I think the biggest danger to black cats over Halloween is not from satanists or such, but from stupids picking them up for holiday-related reasons and then abandoning them or neglecting them after the season is over.

That was my thought too - that some idiots may think that a black kitten is just the perfect accessory for their great Halloween costume. Certainly anything that lessens impulse-buys of animals is a good thing.
posted by different at 8:36 AM on October 20, 2008


Well, I can't speak for anyone else, but I personally torture a black cat every Halloween1. Generally I start by using him for a pillow, then I might run through the house with him held over my head yelling "You're a space kitty! Fly back to space!", then we nap for a bit, after which I might make him dance to some bad techno from the mid '90s, finally I'll humiliate him by making him chase the laser pointer across the hardwood floor.

I do this because I am a monster.

1: replace "Halloween" with "Saturday" for complete accuracy.
posted by quin at 9:39 AM on October 20, 2008 [9 favorites]


(NB: I am not a crazy black cat hoarder. Really.)

We are, ltracey! And we're about to adopt another one if the stupid fuckstick who's letting him roam around outside at this time of year with no front claws (that we can tell) doesn't cut it the fuck out.

I think anyone who knows eddiedevil and I even slightly has heard the story of how we came to acquire Spike, who was locked in a box in an apartment building basement with his brother (later adopted by our friends) at the tender age of 2 weeks. Only months after, when he was finally big enough to roam around the house instead of sleep inside my shirt all day did the vet tell us how close he'd come to dying.

Of course now he's just dying of different things...such as extreme cat mortification caused by someone lifting this picture off my knitblog and putting it on ICHC.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:38 PM on October 20, 2008


Brain B, as there are now several posts from people who work in animal welfare, I hope it's now clear that "you don't want to know" means "if you know anything about this you know that mouth-breathing stupid teens who live in the middle of Manhattan can get their hands on sterno and barbed wire."

Aren't you glad you asked?

I'm going back to yeswecarve to cheer up, now.

And will someone please think of the newts!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:00 PM on October 20, 2008


Aren't you glad you asked?

Did you prove the comments in the articles wrong then, lesser shrew? I missed that one. I think it is also apparent to the concerned reader that the people killing black cats in the old days weren't deranged pagans, ironically.
posted by Brian B. at 11:17 PM on October 20, 2008


Black cats in Aran-type sweaters. Be still my heart. Thank you.
posted by ltracey at 7:19 PM on October 21, 2008


If one cat was not adopted because it was withheld, and killed instead that year by a shelter because its time ran out, then it wouldn't justify your argument at all.

Horseshit. *Every* black cat is going to die eventually. I would MUCH rather that a black cat die painlessly and humanely by being euthanized-by-injection in the arms of a caring shelter worker. Are you *really* suggesting that it would be better for that cat to be tortured, set on fire, microwaved, etc. etc. etc.?? If you were the one making the decision, would you really take the chance? I've made that decision, about thousands upon thousands of animals. *I* was not willing to take that chance -- I'd rather that a kitty have to wait a few more days to be adopted than take the risk that it's going to be tortured.

If a person is getting ready to make a 15-20 year commitment of adopting a kitty, it doesn't speak very well of them if they're unwilling to wait a few days to take said kitty home. In fact, when I worked at a shelter, those people who *did* complain about having to wait until after Halloween to bring their kitty home got an extra dose of scrutiny.

Methinks you're one of those no-kill fundamentalists. But, whatever. Be sure to try the house wine with your extra-large portion of righteous indignation. The rest of us plebs -- the ones who *really* understand companion animal overpopulation -- we'll be over here working our asses off for little pay and zero respect. But I'm sure you're right -- I'm *sure* you know all the answers.
posted by CitizenD at 3:06 PM on October 22, 2008


I would MUCH rather that a black cat die painlessly and humanely by being euthanized-by-injection in the arms of a caring shelter worker. Are you *really* suggesting that it would be better for that cat to be tortured, set on fire, microwaved, etc. etc. etc.??

This is laughable. First of all, you are assuming that the same cat was saved from torture by being put down by the shelter. That conveniently assumes that black cats are being tortured without proving anything. I suggested that the odds of a cat being put down by being withheld by the shelter are infinitely greater than being tortured if adopted out, because of the urban legend factor and not being able to prove they are in danger in the first place. The fact that everything dies is irrelevant.
posted by Brian B. at 4:11 PM on October 22, 2008


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