No holiday for black cats

As Halloween nears, some say the felines are at greater risk

The black cat was carried into the woods near a Clayton County, Ga. apartment complex, sprayed with flammable liquid and set on fire.

In Stockbridge, Ga., someone tried to chemically burn a devil caricature, horns and all, into the face of a black kitten.

As another Halloween approaches, animal activists and animal shelter officials say black cats, always shrouded in superstition, always linked to bad luck, again are at risk for twisted holiday rituals.

"I think more happens than we know about," Deborah Rumbold of PeachState Pet Partners said.

Black cat abuse can involve anything from the aforementioned life-threatening injuries — the Stockbridge feline survived, the other didn't — to the animal relegated to a Hallo-ween accessory and callously discarded once the holiday has come and gone.

For these reasons, Clayton County prohibits the adoption of black cats around Hallo-ween, said Capt. Mark Thompson of Clayton's animal control unit. "We do what we can to respond to animal abuse. We don't want to contribute to that."

Rumbold's group — which rescued the disfigured Stockbridge black kitten last year, nursed it back to health and put it up for adoption — remains vigilant in screening people before allowing adoptions. PeachState Pet Partners makes prospective owners undergo a home inspection, submit references and sit through a lengthy interview.

Other shelters require people to spell out their reasons for wanting to adopt a black cat, hoping to avoid a situation that the Georgia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Suwanee, Ga., had. "We had one woman who brought in a cat after Halloween; she just wanted it to make her house more spooky," said Chandler Lumbatis of the Suwanee shelter, which has a dozen black cats in its care.

At least that woman brought the black cat back. Other people have rid themselves of these animals by dumping them in wooded areas, even though many are domesticated and can't survive.

People who want to adopt a black cat, and do so around the holiday, will find that policies vary. Some shelters won't consider handing over a black cat until after Halloween. Similar to adopting a pit bull dog, interviews more extensive than usual can be required.

Adding to the black cat mystique, some animal shelters simply don't believe these incidents occur enough to restrict adoptions. Some metro Atlanta shelters are lifting their restrictions. There are shelter officials who no longer believe the stories of neglect. They have never personally handled a case of black cat abuse. Checks with local law enforcement agencies reveal few incidents in recent years. "We just don't see it," said Don Bruce, operations manager for Cobb County (Ga.) Animal Control. "It's like an urban myth."

After seven years of banning black cat adoptions around Halloween, PAWS Atlanta is permitting them this year. Tara Mitchell, director of operations, doesn't deny that black cats have been abused. However, Mitchell said it's also important to find good homes for them.

Robbin Yeager, shelter manager for Good Mews in Marietta, Ga., said she hasn't heard of a credible story of black cat abuse in years. It's been harder to find homes for these animals because of people's concerns about superstition, Yeager said, and the shelter needs to take advantage of interest in the cats brought by Halloween.

Good Mews actually has a sale on black cats in progress. To spur business, workers wear shirts that argue against the negatives that surround these animals, pointing out that some cultures believe black cats are good luck.