Halloween Dangers and Black Cat Safety
Don’t worry, they are not permitted near the door while trick-or-treaters are knocking–I typically sit outside on my porch, and am inside for a break while they want to see what’s happening. They love guests, but at the end of this article you can see what they really look like when a few too many guests knock on the door!
Yes, that rich black fur does seem to hold a mystery, and the contrast of bright eyes like gems in that fur is positively enchanting. Each day a spell is cast upon me by one or more black cats, and I am helpless to resist their charms…
Certainly if black cats had some particular magic effect on humans I’d be experiencing the effects five-fold—or ten-fold as in the past few years most of my foster cats were also black. I admit, I feel a great amount of creative inspiration. Feels like magic to me.
Adopting black cats at Halloween
I’ve done it. Without fear. In fact, it happened October 2015 when little Alvina, now named Selina, went home with her forever family on October 20—frighteningly close to Halloween! Her adopters didn’t have any cats but wanted to adopt, and were determined to find a black cat. They saw Alvina’s photos on Pittsburgh CAT’s page and were smitten. They first came to meet her at the beginning of October and decided they wanted to adopt her then, but had planned a vacation out of the country and didn’t want to leave her home alone, so they came by to pick her up when they got back and had everything ready for a formerly feral potentially wary house panther.
Does it sound a little suspicious? Young couple, no cats, suddenly they want a black cat and aren’t going to pick her up until just before Halloween? Oh, don’t adopt to them!
Trust me, I would sooner put myself in danger than put one of my fosters in danger when most have been traumatized or feral and need special handling. A thorough adoption procedure including home checks and veterinary checks and gathering information about current and previous pets, and even sometimes a criminal background check, does far more good at protecting black cats and all cats at any time of the year. That’s what we do through Pittsburgh CAT, and it’s what many rescues and shelters do as well.
The traditional dangers
Whether people think black cats are messengers of Satan or symbols of bad luck or good luck or whether people are just plain disturbed and can bring themselves to torture or kill an animal for whatever reason they find, we’ve always been warned to keep black cats safe and indoors around Halloween. Stories of cats, often black, found injured or dead by apparently human means are reported to increase at this time of the year.
In Myth Buster: Adopting Black Cats at Halloween, Mike Arms, founder of the annual Home for the Holidays and Remember Me Thursday pet adoption promotions and president of Helen Woodward Animal Center has said in an article with Best Friends Animal Society, “I have heard this old wives’ tale more than once in my career. You would think by now that pet adoption agencies would be professional enough to be able to screen potential adopters in evaluating a good home life.” “America’s veterinarian” Dr. Marty Becker came in against the urban myth and said this unfounded fear only deprives black cats of perfectly good homes. Even National Geographic chimed in as long ago as 2007 with Ritual Cat Sacrifices a Halloween Myth, Experts Say (this article is no longer available online).
An article on Snopes looked into a long list of stories about black cats being mutilated on or around Halloween, finding that there was no basis to most of the stories. The explanation for the carnage was that prehistoric and ancient religions sacrificed cats for various reasons; some did, some did not, but most didn’t have anything to do with Halloween. The stories of modern-day torture and killing began targeting black cats, then also included white cats because they symbolized purity, then to dogs and other animals until nearly all animals were targeted, and worshippers of Satan and practitioners of Wicca were said to be the perpetrators. Most of the killing was tied back to teens who were not practicing any formal satanic rituals, but acted like they were. Wiccans make sacrifices or offerings to their chosen deities, but these offerings are usually bread, fruit, wine or flowers, according to “A Wiccan Bible” (Career Press, 2003). “Witches love animals. We never harm or kill them in our rites or spells. Blood sacrifice of any sort is against our law. That ‘eye of newt and toe of frog’ stuff is nonsense,” according to “The Wicca Handbook” (Weiser, 2000), can be found in this article on Live Science.
Often subjects of abuse are homeless cats, who’ve found themselves living on their own after being abandoned by humans or becoming lost, or even being born on the streets to these cats. People monitoring and caring for homeless cats already have their hands full providing TNR for these cats and removing the kittens for care and adoption if possible. Perhaps one of the best things we can do to keep our cats safe during Halloween is, all year round, doing our best to reduce homeless cat populations by spaying and neutering our own cats and supporting rescues and shelters in adoptions. And giving all cats a safe but satisfying indoor home.
Cats adopted as “decorations”
One other concern is that black cats may be adopted only to be a seasonal decoration. I know there is probably one person out there who would be so desperate for a clever addition to their display that they would go to the time and expense of adopting a black cat just before Halloween and expect them to sit in the centerpiece during a Halloween party, only to be returned or discarded on November 1. But is that a reason to deny all black cats a home at this time of the year? This is something a thorough background check, and a follow-up check, might provide clues to.
There have been reported instances but not any more than any other day. I’m ready to give it up because sick people don’t need a holiday to perpetrate their twisted need for cruelty, but there are other reasons for keeping cats, black and otherwise, safe and indoors around Halloween.
Real dangers: escape, food, decorations
There are three easily preventable dangers your cats face on Halloween, and only you can keep them from this danger:
- Escape into a night when there are far more people with more vehicular traffic than usual, sure to frighten and confuse a cat who doesn’t go outdoors.
- Candy and other foods that are not only not digestible by cats but are potentially toxic, like chocolate and foods with the sweetener xylitol.
- Decorations that are either not digestible or outright dangerous like fake cobwebs or scent diffusers, and more.
At the top, Mewsette, Giuseppe and Mr. Sunshine, and above Mimi and Bean join them, safely inside the storm door, and I’m inside taking a break. When I hand out candy I sit outside so the door doesn’t open and close, yet all the kids can see the black cats inside—until the cats decide this wasn’t as exciting as they thought and head for the kitchen because it is, after all, close to their dinner time.
If you hand out treats, the whole process can be either frightening or an opportunity for your cat. On the one hand, an open door to the night can look like a once-in-a-lifetime chance at adventure, or it can look like a means to escape this confusing change in schedule and the crazy activity, noise, funny smells, and strangers their person is greeting at the door. In either case, escape is entirely possible, and with the increase in foot and vehicle traffic on nights or days when Trick or Treaters are traveling, kitty may not be missed right away or may be nearly impossible to find in the dark on that particular night. If you do hand out candy from indoors, opening the door when someone comes to knock, lock your cats inside a room so they can’t even come near the open door. It’s generally only two hours long, they can live with that for their own safety.
And if you do let your cat out to roam, this is one night, or even several nights and days, you should keep your cat indoors. Cats of all colors can become a statistic if they are outdoors and convenient to people who are just plain sick.
Aside from the dangers of the great outdoors, the great indoors poses threats to their health. One might not think an obligate carnivore would find candy to be a food choice, but one might be surprised to know that some cats will eat anything. Chocolate in particular can be enticing for the smells of the ingredients, yet it’s highly toxic. Candy and snacks in general are typically not part of a cat’s diet and are difficult if not impossible to digest.
And even if they’re not eating the candy, the wrapper may be the target if you have a cat who likes plastic, or shiny things, or crackly things or any one of a number of attributes that makes candy irresistible to a kitty looking for entertainment along with garlands, strings of lights, bubbling cauldrons of…whatever.
Also read Pet-proofing for the Holidays which outlines possible dangers in food, decorations and lifestyle on any of our holidays, and the Pet Poison Helpline has an article outlining dangers from foods, costumes and other environmental dangers.
Below are four wise house panthers who got far away from the door—and me with my cape and cat ears! It’s a sketch I actually did on Halloween night in 2012 of The Fearless Four as I handed out candy. The following year I developed it into a design called “Happy Meow-lo-ween!” Safe inside but inspiring!
For a very interesting article on the myths and legends of black cats, read “The Black Cat: Myth, Mystery and Symbolism” by Sally Bahner.
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