Black pets in advance of Halloween: Should you worry?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Black cats and Halloween. It’s a common point of stress for those who keep them and love them. And yet, there are those who feel that our fear for their safety at this time of the year is not so warranted. They say black pets are not the targets of our communities’ wrath as much as we’d been previously led to believe.

And that’s a good thing, for sure. But is it wishful thinking? A quick Google search offered the obvious: Black cats should not be left out during this time of the year, and they should be carefully guarded lest Satanic cults target them for sadistic ritualistic murder. Yes, even I’ve been known to urge owners of black pets to keep their pets indoors during the month of October. Why take the risk? Yet Snopes and other fact-checking parties have come to the conclusion that there is little evidence to support modern rumors of mutilation and generalized bad behavior perpetrated against black pets in advance of [and especially on] All Hallows Eve. In fact, there are no stats to indicate greater animal abuse (of any color) during this time of the year. It's all anecdotal. But that doesn’t mean black pets get a pass year-round. Indeed, two years ago, the Associated Press offered us a story on the sad state of affairs regarding unwarranted fear of big black dogs. Apparently there’s something about these guys — or about us — that makes us more likely to cringe when we see one headed our way during a sidewalk stroll. Similarly, black cats are more likely to earn a wary look. Yet, what’s more alarming than just basic black pet angst is that adoption rates at shelters are statistically lower for these pets (dogs and cats) than for others. Though no one keeps firm stats on pet colors in shelters, black cats and black dogs are anecdotally reported to be harder to place. According to the ASPCA, shelter workers call the canine version “big black dog syndrome.” If we’re to believe this (and I have little doubt it’s true), what is it that makes us fearful? Is it the actual aggressive tendencies of traditionally black dogs like Dobermans and Rottweilers? The lack of attractive coloration among the cats? Or is it more likely a purely human phenomenon? If the latter, is there something hard-wired into our brains on the issue of color, as it has been postulated to explain our common fear of spiders and snakes? Or is it more likely the result of sensitization to the aggressive traits of certain breeds? Perhaps it’s a cultural bias left over from our witch-hunting days? Though I can’t answer these questions any more than the ASPCA could in the AP report, I do know one thing: Those of us who are more likely to think rationally on the issue of coloration should actively seek to adopt dark colored dogs and cats. If we know the rest of the world has a distaste for them, it behooves us to take it upon ourselves to increase adoptions, if possible, and leave the lighter ones behind for the less enlightened among us to snap up. But then, that doesn’t exactly help us sort out what we should do with our black pets during the Halloween season. Here's my solution: Keep all of your pets indoors. Better yet, keep them with you at all times. I mean, who wants to live outside the presence of their loved ones, anyway?

Dr. Patty Khuly

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Black pets in advance of Halloween: Should you worry? originally appeared on petMD.com

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