Four years ago I was moved to adopt an adult black cat after learning they’re the most likely to be overlooked and live their entire lives in shelters compared to all cats of any other coat color and age.

Trasser Cat

This was both sad and strange to me, as I could find no purpose to justify their being disproportionately overlooked compared to other homeless cats. The bizarre reality black shelter cat's face piqued my curiosity and I wanted some kind of explanation. What logical reason could there be to not adopt these gentle whimsical balls of raven-haired fluff?

To my surprise, and a bit of disbelief, my research led me to an unexpected reason…and it links all the way back to the 13th century! Black cat superstitions! I found myself reading about this phenomenon and thinking “seriously? We’re letting these innocent fluffs get euthanized over a superstition?”

It simply didn’t make sense, and when I really thought about it, who decided they’re embodiments of evil? Call it self-destructive, but I was more determined than ever to adopt a black cat after all I learned, no matter how many times it might cross my path. But I wasn’t going to stop there, I also made the decision to take the power from superstition and in turn, help others realize the power of black cats…and maybe even save their lives.

The history of black cats is filled with many myths, legends and spooky superstitions. A majority of these negative links to black cats date as far back as the 13th Century, starting with a document from the Catholic Church which linked black cats to Satan. From this spiraled many superstitions and fears surrounding black cats, including one of the most popular and oldest – that a black cat crossing your path will bring you bad luck. However, it doesn’t stop there, as even to this day they are unfairly linked to being symbols of evil, omens of bad luck and a foreboding Halloween icon.

Over the years, black cats have gotten a bad rap, being blamed for a variety of peculiar events. As a result, they have a harder time being adopted at shelters, preventing them from sharing their magic with human companions. However, most of us do not know where these stories began, or how this history negatively impacted these majestic little house panthers in both their ability to be adopted, and their overall safety.

If you’re like me, you’re probably asking yourself by now, “Where did these superstitions all begin, who started them, and why do we still hold onto these superstitions?”, and that’s a valid question. Let’s look into their history and see how it gave them this reputation.

The connection between humans and cats can be dated all the way back to some of the earliest civilizations, and to be fair, not all of them inauspicious. Some of the earliest documented civilizations revered cats to be divine beings, and worshiped them, notably Ancient Egypt, where domestic cats were thought to be good luck and were treated like royalty. According to National Geographic cats were so well respected that even accidentally killing a cat would result in being sentenced to death. However, the Egyptians weren’t the only ones to see black cats as tokens of good luck. According to Massachusetts Maritime Academy sailors and fishermen believed having a black cat aboard your ship would bring good luck to both the vessel and all those who sailed on it. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History even notes Welch folklore which credits black cats with bringing your home good luck, and being reliable weather predictors.

Early links between black cats to magic and witchcraft go as far back as the Greeks who linked them to Hecate. As the goddess of magic, sorcery, the moon and witchcraft, it was early fodder to what would fester into a deadly association. Over time, European folklore evolved the concept of magic and sorcery that was being associated with cats into claiming them to be “familiars” – meaning supernatural beings that assist witches.

By the Middle Ages, black cats were on the fast track to entering a dark period that would ultimately threaten their safety. On June 13, 1233, the Catholic church released an official document titled “Vox in Rama.”  This document's release followed fears of evil cults in Germany, and concerns about the Pagan Church becoming a leading power of the people. According to The History Collection, this document detailed the initiation of novices to the coven, which included paying homage to a black cat – where kissing its behind was a fundamental step that led to the emergence of the devil whose lower body was cat-like and covered in black cat-like fur. These accusations against black cats solidified a rapid evolution of fear. What began as an attack on the Pagan Church, quickly spiraled into an attack on black cats. Civilians began to use witchcraft as a means to settle grudges, and cats were often used as proof to ordinary people having connections to the devil. As a result, a number of cats, still unknown even today, were killed due to links made to them between witchcraft and “Vox in Rama” which proclaimed them as a “Vessel of the Devil” as stated by The Great Cat.

This depiction of black cats was so severe it ignited almost ritualistic killings of black cats. As stated by The History Collection, the killing of black cats was believed to have the power to break spells. In Denmark, Lent was based around the idea that for spring to begin, all evil had to be banished. Since black cats were the embodiment of the devil, they would be beaten to death to purge all evil. In other parts of Europe, such as France, black cats were burned alive to rid the area of evil, while in Belgium they were .hurled from the belfry of local churches and then set on fire during “Kattenstoet” or “Festival of Cats.” This festival is still present today, but they now use stuffed cats. As a result of all of this by the 1300’s, Europe's cat population had significantly decreased.

This superstition followed black cats into the Middle Ages, where they were often killed. As a result of their mass killings, the Bubonic Plague began to spread, which they were also blamed and killed for, not realizing, black cats, great night hunters, would actually have helped prevent the rapid spread of the disease.

Sadly, the hysteria of black cats didn’t stop in Europe. With the Puritans' arrival to the New World and settlement in Salem, the fear of black cats came too. According to The History Channel, as the persecution of women accused of witchcraft became rampant, it led to more fear and burning of black cats as well. People who owned a black cat were subject to persecution for being a witch, practicing witchcraft or association with the devil. The evolution of black cats being “familiars” with witches was rooted in the belief that witches were able to use cats for spying and other dark magic. Believing that witches could take the form of their black cat companions, the superstition that a black cat crossing your path was bad luck materialized. This was due to the fear that the black cat in question might be carrying out a task of its witch, or worse than a witch, that it might be the devil in disguise. This fear continued into the Renaissance, where by then it was also believed that a black cat crossing your path was in fact sent by a witch to bring you harm.

While the document “Vox in Rama '' isn't referred to today, black cats are still feeling its effects. While the fear of witches is mostly nonexistent and you’re likely safe from being put to trial if you’re accused of being one, black cats remain a distant mascot of evil from that time, and to no fault of their own! We still see black cats portrayed as these spooky sorcerers in pop culture and media, from fiction like Sabrina The Teenage Witch, all the way to sports. In 1969, the Chicago Cubs lost a major game following a black cat crossing their dugout. According to CBS News, it was the bad luck that was brought to them by this black cat, an omen of bad luck.

This has impacted black cats in a significantly heartbreaking way. According to the National Library of Medicine, of all cats in shelters, black cats have the highest rate of euthanasia at a rate of 74.6%, and the lowest rate of adoption at 10% of any cat. Even as kittens, those with a black coat are the last and least likely to be adopted compared to all other kittens, which is extra alarming since research shows that kittens are adopted at a rate of 82% compared to adult cats who are 1.5 years or older being adopted at a rate of only 60%. This puts black cats not only at a higher risk of living out their entire lives in shelters, but of also being euthanized. With the odds already stacked up against them, the outlook for black cats finding a forever home is very bleak.

But what’s worse is that a huge contributor to this is superstitions and bad reputation they can’t shake, and did nothing to earn. That, combined with the fact that they’re also harder to photograph and might blend into the shadows in already crowded shelters put them at a significant disadvantage. This so sad, because black cats have their own superpower and want to share it with others, but rarely are given the opportunity.

One of the most popular black cat breeds is the Bombay, a sleek, social, playful and smart little house panther, with a look and personality that makes it stand out unique in comparison to other cat breeds. They’re unique in the way that their hair is black all the way to the root, have a wet black nose, and even the pads of their feet are black. They also have a signature set of green eyes that look like a striking set of gemstones. They’re social, loving and loyal companions. They’ll follow you around like a shadow and enjoy talking to those around them. They love to play and cuddle with their human companions – quite contrary to the bad luck and evil rap they have been given!

The Bombay is just one of many notable black cat breeds that can be found in shelters waiting to be given a chance, and show the magic they can bring to your life.

As important as it is to help black cats through both adopting them to reduce their risk of euthanasia and debunk the fear that plagues them, it is also important to adopt responsibly. Before adopting, you should always make sure you understand the responsibility that comes with it. Cats have an average lifespan of 15-20 years--that’s a long time! Before adopting, you should make sure that you can commit to caring for your pet for their entire life. Additionally, you should make sure that you’re able to provide veterinary care, medical treatment, vaccines, spay/neuter, testing and emergency services when applicable. All of this you can get an estimate from a vet local to you. Lastly, make sure that you have adequate time to dedicate to your new little apex predator. It’s a common misconception that cats do not need much care or attention. While it is true that cats are fiercely independent, they are still a living and breathing animal. Make sure that you will have a work, social and home life balance that ensures you have dedicated time to be home with your pet and play with them to keep them active, happy and healthy.

If that sounds like a lot, and you can’t adopt, there is still an opportunity to help black cats…and all their other colorful feline friends currently in shelters! Most animal shelters are nonprofit and volunteer-run. If you have a few hours each week to assist, you can donate your time. If you can’t find time to volunteer though, don’t fret. Most shelters depend on donations, and while they would love to be able to use everything that they are donated, not everything can be used that is donated, and sometimes must be disposed of or re-donated to other organizations. One example of this is pet food. While it seems like a great thing to help out, most shelters have a contractual agreement to feed the animals a specific diet, and are unable to use donated food. This is also not ideal, as some animals need dietary specific food, or do not react well to their food being consistently different. So, to make sure that your donation counts the most, here are a few things that you cannot go wrong with: cleaning supplies (such as bleach, Dawn dish soap, paper towels & laundry detergent), pet carriers, gently used towels and blankets, cat litter, litter boxes, cat trees, office supplies, newspaper, pee pads, toys and most of all, monetary donations so that they can get the specific supplies they need most or to improve their facilities and pay vet fees for the animals in their care.

Black cats are ready for their comeback that they shouldn’t have had to face, but are so deserving of. These lovable little loafs come in 22 officially recognized breeds and have such spunky, fun personalities. They’re a symbol of resilience, endurance and overcoming the perception others put on to you. From personal experience, I can say they have the capacity to bring much joy and love into your life, and that helping them to debunk the superstitions they’re up against, and quite literally saving their lives is very fulfilling. The next time you’re at a shelter or see an adoption event, stop to pet the little black cat--you might be surprised by the bit of luck it brings you.

Sidney Trasser, a double major in graphic design and photography, served as Art Editor for Dateline. She is now a Brand Expression Designer at Procter & Gamble.