Black cats and the flip side of superstition
On this Friday the 13th, superstitious people will want to be particularly careful not to go under a ladder or break a mirror. If these symbols of misfortune may seem innocuous, it is something else when we talk about black cats, who can suffer from these old beliefs.
Also associated with witchcraft, black cats are said to spend more time in shelters before being adopted. “There are 5 to 7 times more black cats euthanized than any other color, and therefore 5 to 7 times less likely that a black cat will be adopted,” says feline behaviorist Daniel Filion, alias l 'Educator, who also made a video where he explains the origins of the myth.
There are several versions of the genesis of the myth, but the preferred one is usually the one involving the poem Metamorphosis of Ovid. Written at the beginning of our era, the story is about the Roman goddess Diana, who hides from her fellows by transforming herself into a cat, an image taken from the representation of the Egyptian goddess Bastet.
In the 4th century, Emperor Theodosius I banned pagan religions, including the cult of Bastet, opening the door to early links with Ovid's poem and black cats. But it was in the Middle Ages that the myth took on its full force, when Pope Gregory IX published Vox in Rama. Positioning itself against witchcraft, the papal bull declares war on cats, and particularly black cats, which it involved in devotion to the devil.
There is a big effort being made by vets and shelters to change this view a bit. But it's still a big problem, even after all this time.
L'Éduchateur also mentions that the cat's appearance is often the main criterion for adoption, whereas it would be better to rely on its behavior, as we are used to doing with dogs. That said, there is evidence that there is no relationship between cat color and behavior, contrary to popular belief. So that means that a black cat is not necessarily more aggressive or gentler than an orange cat, for example.
But this popular idea that attributes certain behaviors to black cats is not enough to explain their unpopularity when it comes to adoption. “If it was something other than the myth that they bring bad luck, it would not be so observable, explains Daniel Filion. In North America, tortoiseshell cats are often perceived as more aggressive (even if this is not true), but there is not really an impact on their adoption, unlike black cats.
According to the specialist, every year there are cases of persecution of black cats because of this association with the devil and witchcraft. If these occurrences remain rather rare, the difficulties of adopting black cats are very frequent and quite observable.
“I think that explaining where the myth comes from helps to demystify it and to understand that it is really the human who created it”, concludes the Educator, who gives the mission to adopt as many black cats as possible whenever he has the opportunity.