On every Friday the 13th, children and believers in the metaphysical are thinking about things that bring them bad luck – broken mirrors, walking under a ladder, stepping on a crack and black cats crossing their paths.
The stigma surrounding black cats goes back centuries, all the way to Greek mythology.
In stories, a servant named Galinthias turns into a black cat before joining Hecate – goddess of death. Black cats became known as an omen of death.
By the Middle Ages, black cats became associated with black magic. Pope Gregory XI even published the “Vox in Rama” document in 1233 to deal with the topic of devil worship. In it, he claimed that black cats were the incarnation of Satan. Throughout the next century, black cats were slaughtered and their population dwindled.
Skip ahead to the witch-hunt era. Black cats were seen as being such evil companions and witches’ “familiars” that they were burned in baskets alongside their owner.
So, skip to 2014, where the stigma still exists, but is finally wearing off.
Up until the ’80s and ’90s, shelter workers and cat owners were horrified to hear about black cats being used for Satanic rites and being a target for people to hurt.
Black cats — and cats in general — are sometimes mutilated, with an increase in the months leading up to Halloween. Animal shelters across the country even make policies that restrict cat adoptions around Halloween and days like today.
Some smaller adoption centers in Las Vegas will mention that black cats still remain some of the last to be adopted, and that it’s rare for someone to come in asking for a black cat.
The darkest reality in Las Vegas is the abandonment of cats and dogs in the desert and in washes. Nevada SPCA executive director Doug Duke says that every day they have people leave animals outside for them. “If they can’t keep their animal, all it takes is a phone call. They leave them outside in the heat when air-conditioning is only feet or yards away.”
Some shelters have very lenient adoption policies, where it would be easy to walk in, ask for a cat, and leave. In recent years, this has tightened up, and Duke says that it’s all about the connection.
“We have staff trained to look for people that just aren’t making the connection. I’m less concerned of people getting them and hurting them in that way, but it is something we’re very aware of,” he said.
Duke says that, despite the fact that they will still look out for people coming to adopt an animal with the intent to injure, he’s confident that the myth surrounding cats and mutilation is known so well that it’s no longer an issue.
In June, which also happens to be Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month, the Nevada SPCA isn’t worried about these tales and doesn’t see any obvious trends with their black cats.
“It’s just a color. Just like people and dogs, each cat has an individual personality,” Duke says, “their hair color pattern is just genetics from their parents.”
The shelter even has a cheeky poster listing 10 reasons you should adopt a black cat, where one says the color black is slimming and holding a black cat will make you look thinner.
The biggest challenge for the SPCA this Friday the 13th is the abundance of kittens. That may not sound like the worst problem to have, but it plays into the larger issue of not spaying and neutering.
The period of April to August is when shelters in Las Vegas are at or over capacity – the SPCA currently houses 150 cats and kittens. Throughout this period, they expect to see more than 750 motherless kittens come to them.
Regardless of color, “people come here and it ends up being that the cat chooses them, even black cats,” Duke says, “We can’t wash over the evils and the reality, but there are so many amazing heroes in this city and that’s what keeps us going.”
The Nevada SPCA, which updates arrivals frequently on Twitter, has around 20 black cats they can almost guarantee won’t cause any bad luck currently up for adoption at their shelter at 4800 W. Dewey Drive.