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Why do black cats have a bad reputation?

Momochi has green eyes and a character that is as atypical as it is endearing, which the few people she deserves to give her company take advantage of. 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.

Better move on, because here it is: Momochi’s coat is also all black. The little female would therefore probably have had to wait longer than the rest of her litter before she found her future home.

Objects of many superstitions for centuries, black cats still suffer from prejudice about their color, resulting in a lower adoption rate in foster homes and shelters.

Cats walled in against misfortune

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 satanic ceremonies of the heretics as being orgies mixing humans and animals, including a large black cat, the object of deviant devotion from the followers of these supposed gatherings.

Therefore, cats, especially black ones, are considered incarnations of evil. “We will believe in the existence of a relationship between cats (catus) and Cathar heretics (cathars). And make the cat an agent of the devil, explains historian Éric Baratay at France Inter. In Europe, there is the idea that on St. John’s Eve (June 24) cats disappear from cities to follow witches. With them, they instigate grand plans to fight against people with various evils.

For several centuries, people have joined forces to burn cats, preferably black, to protect themselves from evil forces.

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

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

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

Famous, but still demonic

Pop culture’s most famous black cat is undoubtedly Salem Saberhagen, a sorcerer doomed 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 had the right to his passage on the black carpet during the premiere.

Unfortunately, this popular rehabilitation of the black cat comes at the cost of perpetuating 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 questionable foundations.

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

There are no statistics on black cats abandoned at SPA. However, on the website of the Breton association Mustaches & Compagnie, out of 21 kittens available for adoption presented on the website, 13 are black at the time of writing these lines. “And the last reserved kittens are of a different color. We also have black adult cats who have been waiting for months”affirms the association, which notes that black cats are the most neglected, whether for emergency care or adoptions, as the demand is sometimes “of any color except black”. Aversion as common as it is inexplicable by the people who articulate it.

Less Instagrammable

The other argument against black cats would be their less photogenicity. Their face would be more difficult to promote on adoption sites as well as on social networks. Oriane from the Mustaches & Compagnie association thinks so “since it’s harder to take a picture of them, it might attract less attention from interested people looking at our ads”.

The very photogenic Momochi. | Lucie Inland

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

Knowing the highest abandonment rate for black cats (70% in the UK), people testify to having chosen a cat in this color for this very reason. Some even have fun with the stereotype of the devil cat, as Sylvain, another fan of metal and the clichés surrounding this culture, happy to live with Neurone, his “witch cat” –and finally adopted by its litter.

The associations are also betting on the attraction that these “black pearls” can arouse in the hope of moving their proteges with unfairly unloved coats, as well as on the International Day of Black Cats, set for August 17.

Adopting a pet creates a real and lasting relationship; it should not be an impulsive act with shallow motives, like buying a pair of shoes. Samuel knew he wanted to take Momochi home once the kitten was weaned as soon as the kitten slipped out of his hands.

Although the black cat doesn’t have the most photogenic face without good lighting, give it a chance, not just in the catalog, but to meet it, spend time with it before you decide, as much as possible – preferably with any cat.

Let’s hope that the implementation of the proof of commitment and knowledge of the specific needs of the species will make the difference with the mindless adoptions, even if no legal measures encourage us to question our archaic prejudices. As already pointed out in 2020, Anne Puggioni, head of 30 Million Friends of the Tuilerie refugium (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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