A study conducted in Colorado, USA at two animal shelters, Dumb Friends League and Larimer Humane Society, confirmed what is often discussed anecdotally, namely that black cats are harder to adopt out from animal shelters. They made some suggestions which may help get them out of the shelter and into good homes.
Scientifically speaking black cats are definitely harder to adopt out at shelters
They found that there was a statistical difference in the time it took for a black cat or kitten to be adopted compared to cats who were black and another colour or other coat colours and types.
Sometimes people in the cat rescue business call the difficulty in adopting out black cats the “black dog syndrome”. That phrase or saying clearly refers to dogs but it also refers to cats sometimes. Incidentally, black dogs suffer exactly the same prejudices against them as black cats and as a consequence they are euthanized at a much higher rate than other dogs.
The difference in time to be adopted
The study found that it required approximately three more days for adult black cats to be adopted than cats with black as a primary coat colour e.g., tuxedo cats, and 2 to 6 more days than cats of other colours. It was the same for adults or juvenile cats. For black kittens it took 2 to 3 days longer to adopt them out than for kittens whose primary colour was black and 2 to 4 days longer compared to kittens of other colours.
The importance issue regarding this delay in being adopted is that it exposes black cats to more chances of contracting a disease at an animal shelter or becoming ill through stress.
The scientists said:
“It is important to note that just a few additional days at a shelter carries serious ramifications for the health and ultimate fate of a sheltered cat.”
And because they are more likely to get ill or become stressed and behave unacceptably, they are, in turn, more likely to be euthanised rather than adopted. Their colour can lead to their premature death.
Suggestions to improve the adoption rate of cat black cats
One well-known issue with black cats is that it is difficult to photograph them well. It is hard to create clarity in a photograph of a black cat so that an online viewer can see the cat precisely and fully. The essential issue is that black cats need to be lit properly and/or the person producing the photograph should be familiar with photo-editing in order to lighten the shadows.
The scientists said that black cats should be photographed in brightly lit areas e.g. where there’s lots of windows, and the photographer might dress up the cat with a bright collar or ribbon.
The point here is that black cats require a bit more effort by the photographer to maximise their potential. Although, a good photograph of a black cat can exceed aesthetically a good photograph of a non-black cat if it is done with skill.
Another possibility is to photograph a black cat against a white background; clean, white background and then try to create a nice shape with the cat ensuring, at all times, that the fur is lit to avoid becoming a black blob without any detail.
We all know the association between black cats and witches which harks back to the Middle Ages. Halloween perpetuates this superstition. One way that this negative portrayal of cats might be offset is to ensure that they are given names which are much lighter and less evocative of witchcraft. It seems that there might be a natural tendency to name black cats “Gypsy” or “Blackie” or “Midnight” et cetera. Cute and human names may help lighten the mood and the perception of black cats by potential adopters.
Another mitigating action might be to place black cats at the top of the adoption list or on the front page of the websites to increase their exposure.
Another suggestion is to arrange black cat events such as black cat adoption days, or they suggest “black-tie affairs”. They do suggest that a background of light-coloured bedding and/or toys might help enhance the visibility and appeal of black cats.
Clearly, the suggestions will take some effort and perhaps some resources. But they may save lives and they will probably free up some space at a shelter that is not a no-kill shelter.
Time it took for black cats to be adopted at the participating shelters
They present a table on which they tell us how long it takes for a black cat that’s been spayed or neutered to be adopted. The average at the Larimer Humane Society was 19.16 days on average for a male neutered cat and 16.42 days for a spayed female. At the Dumb Friends League shelter the average for a black, neutered male was 25.08 days and for a spayed female the average wait to be adopted was 27.79 days.
The study: Cats in Animal Shelters: Exploring the Common Perception that Black Cats Take Longer to Adopt by Lori R. Kogan, Regina Schoenfeld-Tacher and Peter W. Hellyer of Department of Clinical Sciences, Colorado State University, Campus Delivery 1601, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA.
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