Despite Cats Protection reporting that their campaign to promote black cats has been successful and that they now spend 11 days less on average in their care before they are adopted, in general we know that the public is prejudiced against black cats at animal shelters. This means that they stay longer in the shelter as indicated by a study of shelters in Colorado which found that black cats took an average 26.55 days to be adopted compared to 20.64 days for other cats. This leaves them more vulnerable to contracting diseases and also to being euthanised because of a failure to adopt them.
There are many potential reasons for this prejudice, as I have described it. It is called “black cat bias”. Here’s a list of reasons.
That cats are more difficult to photograph. This is certainly true. It is certainly harder to take a good photo of a black cat. Shelter cats are often “advertised” online through photographs and often photographers don’t cope that well when photographing black cats. The images lack clarity and definition. Good photography is important when attracting adopters. For black cats, the trick is to employ good lighting, even a flash on the camera will greatly benefit image quality. Just using available light is a bad idea unless there is plenty of it. Here is a photo by a professional photographer, Helmi Flick, of a jet black cat. You can see how it is done. I understand that not everyone can be bothered to build this sort of set up or have the resources.
Superstition is clearly a major factor. This is a reference to the negative associations of black cats with witchcraft, witches and devil, a ghastly throwback to the Dark Ages when domestic cats were persecuted for hundreds of years. A sad reflection on religion. Also a sad reflection on how deeply ingrained superstition is in the 21st century. The fact is, though, that witches’ familiars were not always black. And neither does a black cat crossing your path always bring bad luck. It depends where you live and they can bring good luck! At the first official trial for witchcraft in 1566, Angnes Waterhouse and her daughter Joan were executed as witches. It is reported that Waterhouse had a “whyte spotted cat”. They “feed the sayde cat with breade and milkye”. This cat was white with spots not black and the diet was crap 🙂 .
Black cats can be seen as being less playful and less friendly. In other words people can think that they are more aggressive. This is an interesting observation. This may be due to difficulties in reading their facial expressions. That is the suggestion. I’m not sure about this because domestic cats are pretty impassive looking creatures in any case. They are not known for their wide range of facial expressions, let’s put it that way.
In an extension of an above-mentioned reason, people might think that they cannot read the emotions of black cats. If they can’t read the emotions then they find them less friendly and therefore more aggressive and in turn less adoptable. This must be to do with black fur masking facial expressions. This, though, is a poor reason I feel because it’s hardly valid if we are honest. You can see facial expressions in a black cat as well as you can see them in a tabby cat in my opinion. Note: you can tell a cat is in pain through their facial expression.
Further possible reason why black cats are harder to adopt at shelters is that people are racially prejudiced against them. In other words black cat bias is an extension of prejudice by people against black people which seems extraordinary. If it happens it’s got to be because some people are incredibly racist. How else are they able to transfer racism against people to a cat? And illogical too.
A recent study by Jones and Hart in 2019 looked at black cat bias. They concluded that although the participants, of which 83% were women, rated black cats as less friendly and more aggressive, and connected their superstitions with black cats, and had difficulty reading their emotions, they did not demonstrate a bias against them in terms of adoption. Perhaps people are becoming more enlightened?
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