Why do black cats have a bad reputation?

Momochi has green eyes and a character as atypical as it is endearing, from which the few people to whom she deigns to grant her company benefit. When she was born, a little over six years ago in the summer, those around her already knew who to offer her to spend the rest of her life: Samuel*, a big fan of metal and a fan of dark outfits.

It was better to go ahead, because here it is: Momochi’s coat, too, is completely black. The little female would therefore probably have had to wait longer than the rest of her litter before finding her future home.

Objects of many superstitions for centuries, black cats still suffer from prejudices about their color, which results in a lower rate of adoption in foster families and shelters.

Cats walled in against bad luck

The bad reputation of the black cat was born from the hand of Pope Gregory IX, in 1233. In his bull Vox In Rama, he describes the diabolical ceremonies of the heretics as being orgies mixing humans and animals, including a large black cat, the object of deviant devotion by the followers of these supposed gatherings.

Therefore, cats, especially black ones, are considered as incarnations of the evil one. “We will believe in the existence of a relationship between cats (catus) and Cathar heretics (cathari). And make the cat an agent of the devil, explains historian Éric Baratay on France Inter. In Europe there is the idea that on the eve of Saint John (June 24), cats disappear from cities to follow witches. With them, they foment great plans to fight against humans with various evils.

Thus, for several centuries, people come together to burn cats, preferably black ones, in order to protect themselves from evil forces.

For the same purpose, it also happens that the felines are immured alive. This was the case in the castle of Combourg, where Chateaubriand lived, and which the writer evokes in his Memories from beyond the grave (1849): the place was, at night, supposedly haunted by the wooden leg of Count Malo-Auguste de Coëtquen, the prosthesis being reputed to be walking around “alone with a black cat”.

It was only after the death of the author that work unearthed the mummified body of a cat in a wall of the tower of the castle, confirming the existence of this cruel practice. The poor animal would have been sacrificed in the XIVe century.

Even today, these practices are perpetuated: a few years ago, a refuge in Budapest had to protect its black-haired residents from ritual murders.

Famous but still demonic

Pop culture’s best-known black cat is undoubtedly Salem Saberhagen, a sorcerer condemned to be the domestic companion of the Spellman sisters and their famous niece, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. His cynical spades marked an entire generation, and for the reboot of the series on Netflix in 2018, the interpreter of this talkative character was entitled to his passage on the black carpet during the premiere.

Unfortunately, this popular rehabilitation of the black cat is done at the cost of maintaining preconceived ideas that are harmful to it.

Samuel, the owner of Momochi, has already observed suspicious reactions at the sight of his cat, simply because of its color. These reactions are not uncommon. They are inherited, consciously or not, from centuries of beliefs with dubious foundations.

However, the coat of black cats does not influence their character or possible paranormal powers in any way – although Momochi knows how to turn off the alarm clock on the telephone with a flick of his paw. Alas, nothing helps: black cats remain the least adopted.

There are no statistics on black cats abandoned at the SPA. But on the site of the Breton association Mustaches & Compagnie, out of 21 kittens available for adoption presented on the site, 13 are black at the time of writing these lines. “And the last reserved kittens are of another color. We also have black adult cats who have been waiting for several months”confirms the association, which notes that black cats are the most neglected, whether for emergency care or adoptions, the demand being sometimes “of any color except black”. Reluctance as common as it is unexplained by the people who formulate it.

Less Instagrammable

The other argument against black cats would be their lesser photogenicity. Their face would be more difficult to promote on adoption sites, as well as on social networks. Oriane, from the association Mustaches & Compagnie, thinks that “as it is more difficult to take a picture of them, perhaps it attracts less attention from interested people who look at our advertisements”.

The very photogenic Momochi. | Lucie Inland

Ophélie, foster family for kittens in the Val-de-Marne, talks with humor about “blob with eyes” to describe the complexity of making a beautiful black cat portrait, restoring all the volume of their dark face. However, she always succeeds, taking her time, so that her charges quickly find a new home.

Aware of the highest abandonment rate of black cats (70% in Great Britain), people testify to having chosen a cat of this color precisely for this reason. Some even have fun with the stereotype of the diabolical cat, like Sylvain, another fan of metal and the clichés surrounding this culture, delighted to live with Neurone, his “witch cat” –and last adopted of his litter.

The associations are also betting on the attraction that these “black pearls” can arouse in the hope of relocating their proteges with unjustly unloved coats, as well as on the international day of black cats, set for August 17.

Adopting a pet is creating a real and lasting relationship; it shouldn’t be an impulsive act with superficial motivations, like buying a pair of shoes. Samuel knew he would take Momochi home once weaned as soon as the kitten was slipped into his hands.

Even if the black cat doesn’t have the most photogenic face without good light, you have to give it a chance, not just in the catalog, but to meet it, spend time with it before deciding, as much as possible – like with any cat.

Let’s hope that the implementation of the certificate of commitment and knowledge of the specific needs of the species will make the difference with the thoughtless adoptions, even if no legal measure encourages us to question our archaic prejudices. As already pointed out in 2020 Anne Puggioni, manager of the 30 Million Friends of the Tuilerie refuge (Seine-et-Marne), “in reality, it is being superstitious that brings bad luck to black cats”.

* The first name has been changed.

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