Are Black Cats and Dogs Safe During Halloween?

By Dr. Patty Khuly

ThinkstockWith Halloween on the horizon, it's a great time to talk about pets - black pets in particular. Here's why: Blackness is a common point of stress for those who keep black pets and love them.

After all, conventional wisdom dictates that the witching season is none too friendly a time for pets whose coloration has traditionally been feared and shunned. Superstition, it's long been supposed, translates into mischievous behavior leveled against the darkest dogs and cats in our midst.

And yet, there are those who feel that our fear for their safety at this time of the year is less warranted than we've traditionally believed. They say black pets are not truly the targets of our communities' wrath. At least not so much as we'd formerly assumed.

And that's a good thing, for sure. But is it an apt reflection of reality... or just wishful thinking?

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Halloween Myth?

Since I didn't know the answer I did what any other self-respecting ignoramus would: I googled it. But after a brief search, I'd uncovered only the expected - ardent exhortations urging pet owners to beware. Black cats, especially, these sources urged, should not be left out during this time of the year. What's more, they should be carefully guarded lest Satanic cults target them for sadistic ritual murders.

But surfing further down on the list of hits revealed some contradictory information more in line with those who say we make too much of the black-pets-as-pariahs thing.

Turns out Snopes.com and other fact-checkers have come to the conclusion that there's little evidence to support modern rumors of mutilation and generalized bad behavior perpetrated against black pets during this time of year. In fact, you'll find no stats to indicate a higher incidence of any kind of animal abuse during this time of the year, be it against black, brown, white, calico, tan, tabby, buff or brindle.

Halloween may breed mischief, but not against pets - much less against black pets in particular. Nonetheless, the misperception persists that black animals are singled out for discrimination... and not just during Halloween.

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Adoption Prejudice?

"Big black dog syndrome" is what some shelter workers call one version of this kind of bigotry. According to these firsthand observers, there's something that makes us more likely to cringe when we see a big black dog headed our way. And small dogs along with black cats, it's supposed, are likelier to earn a wary look than their nonblack counterparts.

If true, this phenomenon has implications for more than your stress level. Indeed, for years it's been claimed that adoption rates at shelters are significantly lower for black pets than for others.

Though no one keeps firm stats on pet colors in shelters, black cats and black dogs are anecdotally reported to be harder to place. Which means our cultural biases may be responsible for the death of millions of pets every year.

But, as with the unsubstantiated notion of Halloween abuse, it turns out our black pets may not be so unlovable after all.

After years of hearing about biases against black pets in shelters, some researchers took it upon themselves to investigate the issue. And black pets, they found, aren't really so much less adoptable as all that.

In fact, the small differences in adoption rates, they discussed, might be chalked up to the difficulty inherent to photographing dark pets. Because without proper lighting and good photographic technique, black pets can look blah compared to their shelter mates. Hence, the lower adoption rates in this new age of online adoptions.

What's more, as some black pet defenders have explained, it does black pets a disservice to characterize them as inherently less adoptable. That's because pets that are tagged as culturally undesirable are less likely to be talked up and placed in forever loving homes, thereby unnecessarily perpetuating an unfair stereotype.

Equal Opportunities for All

Now, I'm no shelter worker, but here are my two pennies' worth as someone who finds homes for about 10 or 20 pets every year:

1. Black pets may be just as adoptable as pets of other common colors, but it's nonetheless true that pets of uncommon colors are easier to find homes for. Why else would last year's batch of five white kittens find homes in less than two weeks?

2. In the absence of definitive evidence one way or the other, it makes sense that we allocate just as many resources to finding homes for black pets as for those of all other colors.

After all, why risk being wrong for the sake of biases that are merely perceived and not measured? Because while it may not hurt anyone to take extra care with black pets during Halloween, it hurts quite a bit to assume that potential adopters harbor similar biases.

How's that for a post on black pet politics?

Now it's your turn... are black pets truly at a disadvantage, or is our misperception of their cultural desirability fueling an unnecessary outlook on black pets everywhere?

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