TORONTO - Don’t judge these felines by the colour of their fur.
Bans on the adoption of black cats at Halloween were commonplace until a few years ago as many worried the animals would be harmed by pranksters or animal abusers.
But animal welfare activists say the dark coated felines are proving they aren’t as much of a target this time of year as previously thought.
Now, at least two major animal welfare groups are deliberately promoting the adoption of black cats in October, saying the furry felines could use the marketing boost.
"Realistically, we've consulted with our investigations department and they don’t see an increase of cat cruelty cases," said Allison Cross, senior communications manager at the Ontario SPCA.
The group is offering a $5-discount on black, orange and calico cats in the days leading up to Halloween this year and dismisses concerns about the dark furred felines being particularly at risk this month.
"It’s more of a myth," said Cross. "So we said ‘OK, why discourage the adoption of animals, why not encourage it.'"
Rather than hearing about feline cruelty in October, Cross said the Ontario SPCA gets more reports about cats being spooked or running away while trick or treating is in progress — all scenarios for which it offers pet safety advice.
The organization maintains that it has a rigorous screening process in place which should be able to flag those looking to take away a black cat without the intention of giving it a good home.
"We always have a lot of cats in our care and really we’re just going along with the theme of the holidays," said Cross. "It’s just a fun way that allows us to promote these cats that are constantly looking for homes."
The Nova Scotia SPCA takes the same approach, encouraging the adoption of black cats around Halloween in all its branches.
"We don’t have the luxury of including barriers to adoption when the demand for intake and the demand for services is so high," said executive director Kristin Williams. "We have great faith in our adoption process."
But while it appears the majority of Canadian shelters are doing away with seasonal adoption bans, some organizations aren’t going as far as deliberately promoting black cats around Halloween.
"We’re just not quite ready for that yet. I think we still have a little bit of that concern," said Barbara Steinhoff, communications director for the Toronto Humane Society.
The independent non-profit exerts extra caution for black feline adoptions all through the month of October and guards particularly against those searching for a live Halloween accessory rather than a long-term companion.
"It still does happen where people are coming in and literally looking for an animal and it turns out what they’re looking for is black cats to act as a Halloween party prop," said Steinhoff. "It’s becoming few and further between, but it can happen."
The British Columbia SPCA exerts similar caution in October but says its new screening and matching programs have made the organization confident that its adoption process works in an animal’s best interests.
"You hear the occasional news story about people using animals in cults and sacrifices and things, certainly our staff would be more on alert this time of year," said Lorie Chortyk, general manager of community relations.
"But the chances of someone just coming in and quickly taking off (with) a black cat with less than honourable intentions, it’s very unlikely."
That’s exactly the point the Windsor/Essex County Humane Society in southern Ontario was trying to make when it abolished a Halloween-based black cat adoption ban about five years ago.
"All this urban myth was doing was preventing us from getting black cats into homes and it wasn’t actually doing anything to deter people who are trying to get cats for bad purposes," said executive director Melanie Coulter.
"There’s enough cats out there that are easy for someone to obtain. If you want a cat for a Halloween sacrifice, you can get one on Kijiji for free," she said.
Instead of focusing on fears, the society uses the Halloween period to highlight the visibility issues faced by black cats, and dark-furred animals in general.
Black animals often tend to get adopted last for a number of reasons, said Coulter —they’re less visible in kennels, don’t photograph as well, sometimes aren’t considered as pretty and, in the case of black cats, may still be considered bad luck by some.
"We are able to use this Halloween season to talk about the issue facing black cats and black dogs in shelters," she said. "That’s something we’d like to raise awareness of."