Our good friends at the ASPCA have recently released the results of two studies on reasons for adoption and length of stay at shelters. The findings, they say, show that despite the common belief, potential adopters’ prejudice against black animals is merely a myth.
Oh, really? I call BS.
First of all, the length-of-stay study was done on dogs, and we all know that the black Labrador Retriever is the most beloved dog in the United States. Black Labs and Lab lookalikes are bound to be adopted in droves because of that fact. Also, as we all know, dogs are not cats.
Secondly, the study on reasons for adoption cites appearance as one of the most important factors in kitten adoptions. Appearance does include fur color, guys!
I’ve volunteered in shelters for the past five years, and do you know what I’ve seen? A disproportionately high number of black cats on the adoption floor. A look at their information sheets generally reveals that those cats have been at the shelter for longer than their colorful peers.
I’m willing to admit that since my shelter experience is in Maine, it may not be reflective of the rest of the country. New Englanders can be a little bit weird about superstition, after all.
But even in New England, I don’t think the black cat thing is about superstition: I think it’s more likely to be related to the difficulty of capturing the true beauty of a mini-panther in a photograph. Animal shelters are not renowned for their great photographic lighting, after all, and most of the time the photos you see on shelters’ websites are taken by non-professional volunteers or shelter staff — so, typically, photos of black cats end up looking like blobs with golden eyes peeking out, probably with "laser eyes" because people use the flash to make up for the poor lighting.
Because black cats are hard to see in real life, potential adopters may not even notice them, especially if they happen to be shy or they’re taking a nap in a cubby somewhere.
And then there’s all the histrionics about "don’t adopt black cats out near Halloween BECAUSE SATAN!!!!" If black cats are off limits for adoption for at least one month of the year, how can that possibly help these ebony beauties find their forever homes. (I still maintain that anyone who’s going to sacrifice a black cat to the Elder Gods of Darkety Doom or whatever is not going to go to a shelter, get an adoption screening and background check, and then pay an adoption fee for a cat they’re planning to sacrifice. Why bother, when there are plenty of "free to a good home" cats listed on your favorite online classified site?)
Yes, black cats do have a harder time finding their forever homes. I don’t think the prejudice is conscious on the part of potential adopters or shelter staff, but it’s there.
So what do we do about that?
First of all, take extra time socializing the shy ones so that their shyness doesn’t make them invisible to potential adopters. Bring them out from their corners and cubbies by playing with them while potential adopters are visiting.
Get some tips from professional photographers about taking pictures of black cats. Their advice has worked very well for me. My personal advice: Capture the essence of the cat. Is she goofy like Bella? Get a shot of her doing something silly. Is she a cuddler like Dahlia? Potential adopters would just melt over seeing two kitties snuggled together — and they might even adopt the pair. Is she laid back and mellow like Samuel L. Catson? Take a photo that exemplifies this characteristic. Is she regal like Siouxsie? Take a picture of her surveying her domain.
Have some fun and get creative with black cat adoption promotions. I’ve seen flyers for "Black Cat Friday," for example.
Think positively about the black cats at your shelter or rescue. I think there’s some truth to the New Age saw that our thoughts and beliefs can have an influence on what happens to us and those in our care.
Try not to think negatively about the people who want to adopt black cats. Sure, there are creeps out there, but we need to avoid being suspicious of everyone who says they want to adopt a black cat. Most of those people are like me: They just have a special place in their hearts for mini-panthers.
And finally, when studies like this come out, let’s put our energy into using this publicity in a helpful way. Maybe your shelter’s next adoption event can be something like, "The ASPCA doesn’t think there’s a prejudice against black cats. Come on in and prove it by adopting one the ebony-coated beauties in our care."
What do you think? Is there a bias against black cats in the U.S.? Have you seen it in action? What would you do to remedy that situation? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice column, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.
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