With Halloween nearly upon us, what better emblem to discuss than the black cat?
Since the Middle Ages, the black cat has been seen as an animal of mysticism, the dark arts and witchcraft, with many interpretations depicting a black cat on the end of a witch’s broomstick or gazing out through the misted window of a haunted house.
And this age-old view of the black cat as a bringer of bad fortune doesn't stop there. For many people who refuse to adopt black cats and dogs from shelters, it is easy to see that this unfounded superstition continues.
Karen Green, the executive director of a cat adoption shelter discusses, “we definitely find that our black cats and kittens stay with us longer.” Of the 43 kittens available for re-homing in their kitten nursery at the time, 28 of those were black. Some claim that being in a poorly-lit enclosure makes the black cat more difficult to see, while others believe prospective owners avoid the black cat either for superstitious reasons, or because they consider it too boring.
In a similar way, black dogs are often overlooked in sanctuaries in favour of dogs with more colourful or uniquely patterned coats. When questioned about their decision to adopt a non-black dog, many people said that the black dogs were too imposing, too ‘ordinary’ or that they considered them to be bad luck.
So why is there a stigma attached to black cats and dogs, or is the whole thing just a bit of a myth?
Having never even heard of the issue before now, I would be inclined to reject the idea as myth, deeply rooted in old folkloric traditions and mythology in which the colour black is associated with death and dogs are imagined as grim guards of the Underworld.
Not only this, but fiction and film has a negative take on the black cat or dog, with towering black dogs appearing in Sir Arthur Conon Doyle’s novel The Hound of the Baskervilles and in the Harry Potter film The Prisoner of Azkaban. When it comes to Great British Nordic tradition, the black dog especially is subjected to many adverse associations.
But across the world, the black cat or dog is far from being considered bad luck. In fact quite the opposite is true in many cultures, with black animals being revered as signs of good fortune, health and prosperity.
For instance, in French legend, plucking a hair from a black cat is believed to bring good luck, while in Latvia, glimpsing a black cat at harvest time is said to signal prosperity and growth. In Japan it is widely accepted that owning lots of black cats means a woman is guaranteed to receive proposals of marriage from many suitors. In Scottish lore - something a bit closer to home - having a black cat enter your home is believed to signal great wealth or an imminent monetary windfall.
The idea that black animals are at a disadvantage because of superstitious prejudice is baffling, but it clearly still presents an issue for many people. Not only are black cats and dogs beautiful and inherently the same as their colourful counterparts, but being steeped in so much ancient legend and folklore, must surely only add to their charm?
If you own a black cat or dog, please tell us about them! Feel free to comment below or email me directly: [email protected]
Written by Hannah Dyball