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Myth, Mysticism and Misconceptions About Black Cats

macbeth

MacBeth, an all black boy who was adopted in the summer of 2014, and has brought only good luck to his family!

Black cats are probably the most iconic feline.  Their mysticism permeates the beliefs and folklore of many cultures across the globe, and can be found in music, literature, even comic books.  Due to their association with witchcraft and the spiritual world, much of the folklore about black cats is ominous.  Although these beliefs have roots that are thousands of years old, some have lingered and continue to haunt- not us- but the black cats of today.

In America those that are superstitious tend to associate black cats with witches and bad omens.  In Greek mythology, there is a story about Galinthias who, in one story, is turned into a black cat before being sent to the underworld with Hecate, the Goddess of death and witchcraft, thus making black cats an omen of death.  A common superstition in India is that if a black cat crosses your path, you will have bad luck (many people think this superstition stems from the Americas, but it does not!).

It only gets worse in the Middle Ages when cats were closely associated with heretics (heretical groups prayed with, and sometimes to cats), and so leaders of the Catholic Church at the time spoke out against them.  In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII went as far as to declare that “the cat was the devil’s favorite animal and idol of all witches.”  For many, this solidified the feline/devil connection without question.

During the Black Plague, people eagerly accepted this scapegoat and cats were rounded up and killed. Of course, we now know that the Black Plague was spread by fleas that thrived on rats, so killing the cats led to a sort of Bubonic boom as the rat population prospered.  The few people that did keep cats (sometimes doing so against the law), often did not fall victim to the Plague. It is possible that people were skeptical of their powers of immunity, thus strengthening the distrust of cats and their familiars.  We don’t know the exact number of cats that were murdered during this time, but the bones of 79 cats (whose remains were dated 13th century) were found in a well in England, suggesting mass killings.

Fast forward to the witch hunts in Europe and Salem, Massachusetts where many presumed witches simply took in or cared for stray cats, but the association with the devil was still lingering in the minds of many.  During this time, the belief that witches could transform into black cats to escape death also took hold.

YOUR LUCK HAS CHANGED

These are certainly the most negative anecdotes of black-cats superstitions throughout history, but they are not the only ones.  In fact, they might be outweighed by the positives ones: tales that see black cats as good luck are present in many, many cultures.   For example, in the United Kingdom, seeing a black cat means your luck will change for the better.  In Japan, this is especially true for single women, since black cats are thought to attract suitors. In Scotland,a black-cat visiting your porch is a sign that prosperity is in your future.  In Italy, a sneezing black cat is considered good luck.

THE MODERN BLACK CAT

For the most part, people have accepted these myths for what they are- nothing more than ancient superstitions.  Still, one  in ten people still believe black cats are unlucky.  If you ask me, its people that are bad luck for black cats, not the other way around.  Many adoption groups and shelter volunteers, including here at Pet Adoption Network, truly believe that black cats are more likely to have a long wait before being adopted.  National studies have proven that black and dark cats are more likely to be euthanized.

Chances are its not due to the ten percent of people who are superstitious about them, but rather to other factors like the fact that black cats are harder to get good photos of, they may be considered ‘boring’ or ‘plain’ by potential adopters, and simply get overlooked when the cat in the cage to their left is an orange tabby or Siamese mix.

BlackCats

Anyone who has ever been owned by a ‘mini-panther’ knows how wonderful they are, and that the stigma surrounding them is simply nonsense.  However, the fact remains: black cats need YOU to help dispel the myths, and find them the homes they deserve.  Share this info-graphic and check out our adoptables’ stories.

 

**At PAN we believe October should be a month for celebrating black cats, not for fear mongering… so unlike some organizations, we do not hold black cats back from adoption during the month of October.  Withholding black cats implies that any old witch can fly in on her broomstick and take home a cat from us.  On the contrary, we hold our adoption applicants to the same high standards any month of the year, for any cat.**

 

Two Cats are Better Than One!

Thana & Tarot sittin' in a tree!  These two are not related, but bonded in their foster home.  They were adopted together and couldn't be happier (or more spoiled!)  Photo Credit: T. Shparaga

Thana & Tarot sittin’ in a tree! These two are not related, but bonded in their foster home. They were adopted together and couldn’t be happier.

Just about everyone who adopts a cat says,  ‘Oh, I wish I could just take them all home!’ If only!   Very few people are in a position to care for a cluster of cats, but opting for a single kitten is not usually the best idea either.   If you are looking to adopt a kitten under 6 months old and you don’t already have another cat, you really should at least consider adopting a duo.

Social Growth Kitten-hood is a crucial time for development, just like infancy is for human babies.  Kittens learn from their mother, their siblings, their environment, and any other cats in the household.  They learn how to hunt, play, socialize, and communicate.  They figure out who is in charge, what is appropriate behavior, and how to perfect their motor skills and physical abilities.  In many situations, a mother is not always present, making time with their litter mates even more important. (Remember, cats are kittens, physically and mentally, throughout the first year or two of their life.)

Importance of Play Playtime is not just fun and games: there are lessons to be learned in every pounce, every stalk, every bite.  One of the most important lessons is that of the inhibited bite.   Wrestling and roughhousing with other cats helps kittens to learn an appropriate level of playtime aggression.   If a kitten bites too hard, the other cat is not going to tolerate it.  Over time, this will teach them how to gently ‘bite’ without any pressure, and also encourage them to play without their nails extended.

Single Kitten Syndrome When a kitten spends the first six months or so of his life alone, he won’t learn what is acceptable, and will often exhibit undesirable behaviors towards people and other cats.  ‘Single kitten syndrome,’  though not a medically diagnosable condition, is the term for such behavior. Of course, not all single kittens will turn out this way, just as not all only-children are spoiled and bratty, but it is commonly seen and best to be avoided. It seems a little counter-intuitive, but a kitten raised alone does not learn independence.  Rather, they are more likely to become overly dependent on a human, distraught during separations, and less able to deal with minor stressors.   Other behaviors associated with single-kittens include chasing and biting ankles, excessive neediness, boredom, and loneliness. Those last few are often coupled with destructive behaviors because, like kids, a kitten left alone for a few hours must find a way to keep himself occupied.  Here at Pet Adoption Network, we’ve heard it over and over again.

Still, someone might say, the kitten doesn’t need a playmate because I’m going to be her best friend; shower her with love and toys and lots of treats.  Isn’t that good enough?  Not really, because a human, no matter how much they offer, can never be a substitute for a feline companion or replicate behaviors crucial to teaching a kitten how to be a well-adjusted cat.

Cats are like potato chips ‘You can’t have just one!’  Have you heard that saying before?  Apparently, it holds true!  In 2012, of all the homes with cats in the United States, 55% of them were multi-cat households.    So, there’s a really good chance you’ll end up with another anyway, but its easier to do it all at once.  The longer a cat stays solo, the harder it is to introduce a second (it’s nearly always possible to do so,  it just takes much longer.)  Having a cat that is good with other cats is important in the unfortunate case that they ever need to be re-homed; it greatly increases their adoptability and makes their experience in a shelter environment less stressful.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to adopt a pair is the sheer cuteness.  A kitten playing alone is pretty darn adorable, but two kittens playing and cuddling together?  Infinitely more adorable; its almost too much to handle.  Almost.

What about the expenses?  Aside from the initial costs of adoption fees (many groups, including Pet Adoption Network, offer discounts for adopting pairs), a second cat is not much more expensive or more work than one, and they can share many of the same supplies like toys, litter boxes, and food dishes.   Kittens separated from other members of their species at a very young age can develop a pathological fear of other animals. No one knows what the future holds for you and your cat. A well-rounded cat that is acclimated to other animals can only have an easier time in life- even going to the vet will be less stressful. 

If you really can’t handle or have more than one cat, that’s OK.   There is still someone perfect for you!  There are always cats that would prefer to be your one-and-only, and while they aren’t babies, they can be as young as 6 months and full of kitten spirit.  Any rescue group will help you find a cat that is a good match for your family and lifestyle, so please take their advice.  That way, you know the cat will be as happy as possible, and you will be, too.

And now, I’ll leave you with some more cuddling cuteness of Thana & Tarot.

 

Cats & Claws

No matter how gentle or docile your cat is, chances are you’ve got a few battle scars from run-ins with those claws.  But with a little patience, practice, and good guidance (which we’re about to give you!) you can master the often-despised task of nail trimming.  It is a wonderful skill that all cat guardians should learn because it creates a happier home.

The only thing cuter than a kitty's paw bouquet is a paw bouquet with trimmed nails!

The only thing cuter than a kitty’s paw bouquet is a paw bouquet with trimmed nails!

Regular trimming ensures that your cat’s claws won’t overgrow and curl under and into the paw pad.  Ingrown nails are extremely painful and can cause nasty infections.  Also, your cat will be less likely to get caught on fabric or screens,  and it will lessen the level of destruction caused by unwanted scratching on clothing or furniture (or, well, people!).

Many cat parents are intimidated by the idea of trimming, but once you know what to do and where to cut, it’s pretty simple.  First, let’s get familiar with the structure of the toe, and why claws are so important.

Anatomy of a Paw

Part of the reason cats are so light-footed is that they walk on their tippy toes; this is called digitigrade movement.  Humans, primates, and bears walk fairly flat footed, which is known as plantigrade.   Because cats are digitigrade, their claws are crucial for comfortable locomotion and balance.  Unlike human fingernails which attach to flesh, cats’ nails grow directly from the bone.  When cats are declawed, part of this bone is removed in order to stop it from growing again.  Afterwards, they are left to walk on what is left of the amputated digit.  Imagine if someone removed part of your foot, how difficult and painful would it be to walk?

When at rest, a cat’s claws are safely sheathed and tucked away.   When he or she wants to utilize them -either for defense, play, or climbing- they protract the nails outward using ligaments and tendons.  Cats have four regular claws on each paw, plus a dewclaw that is set back on the inner side of each front paw, sort of like a thumb.  The dewclaw is awkward: it hangs loosely, doesn’t touch the ground, and is considered a vestigial limb, one that has lost most or all function that their ancestors once used it for.   You should trim this claw anyway because it still grows; you don’t want it become ingrown and infected.

Making them comfortable

A cat who has never had her nails trimmed before will be pretty startled if you just hold her down, grab her paws, and start clipping away.  For this reason, it is important that your cat is familiar with the sensation of having her paws touched and handled, so begin doing this as soon as possible.  The younger you start, the easier it will be in the long run, so if you adopt a kitten, don’t delay on getting her comfortable with this.  But that doesn’t mean an adult can’t get used to it even if you haven’t done it before.   Start by stroking her paw, then gently holding it.  If she pulls away, allow her to, but keep a loose hold.   Eventually, start to put pressure on the toes to extend the nail from the sheath.   It is also a good idea to also allow your cat to see and smell the nail clippers ahead of time.   These techniques are best done when your cat is already in a relaxed or sleepy mood.  Be patient and don’t get frustrated if she needs some time.

Let’s Get Trimming

Where to trimOnce they allow you to handle the paw without fretting, you can start to trim.   Make sure you have the proper tool: a trimmer made especially for cats.  These are inexpensive and sold at all pet stores.  Gently grasp the paw between your thumb and index finger, putting a tiny bit of pressure on the first digit to protract the nail.  Follow the diagram, and remember that you only want to trim off the ‘hook’ of the nail, nothing more.  If you follow this rule of thumb, you’ll greatly eliminate your chances of cutting the quick.  Consider buying a clotting agent, known as styptic powder, to keep on hand in case you cut too close- just apply it to the nail and the bleeding will stop.  Corn starch works, too.

Keep in mind, not every cat or their guardian will be able to make it through a complete nail trim in a single session.   Consider keeping the trimmers readily available in an area where you frequently find your cat relaxed, so you can snip a few here and there. Even if it takes you a week to get them all done, that’s perfectly fine.  If you really feel uncomfortable with this task, ask your vet, groomer, or adoption agency to show you how, or you can usually have it done for a small fee/donation of $7-10.   A full set of nail trimming should be done once or twice a month.

Merry Catmas, the Best of the Best

Christmas is near and there’s nothing I love more than festive animals that add extra cheer and merriment to the season.  Here is a collection of some of the best Christmas-themed cat videos, pictures, posts, etc.  Enjoy!

Animals of YouTube singing ‘Jingle Bells’

This is my favorite of Klaatu42‘s holiday compilation videos.  He has made newer ones, including ’12 Days of Christmas’ and ‘Jolly Old Saint Nick,’ but this early one is definitely one of the best.

Simon’s Cat

Like Klaatu, Simon’s Cat has multiple Christmas/winter themed video shorts.  This one titled ‘Santa Claws’ is one most cat owners can relate to!

Cats In, On, and Around Christmas TreesIn, On, Around Christmas Trees

Anyone with cats knows that mixing Christmas trees and cats can end in one of two ways: adorablely photogenic, or like the Simon’s Cat video above.  Or, I suppose it most often starts out adorable and then goes terribly wrong.  Here’s a nice assortment of cats in, on, and around Christmas trees- before things get ugly!

Dear Santa… A Cat’s Christmas List

Dear Santa

Okay, we know no matter what we get for our cats at Christmas (or any time of year), they’re going to prefer the box it came in, hands down.  But this post of a cat’s Christmas list is funny and adorable at the same time. 

Cat-friendly DIY Christmas tree

Perhaps your cat has knocked over your tree, chewed the lights wires, or broken ornaments one too many times, and you’re through putting up a decorated tree, then maybe this idea is perfect for you!  This affordable and relatively easy to design cat friendly and climbable Christmas ‘tree’ is rather neat.

Climbable Cat Christmas Tree

Click for more pictures and DIY instructions, via Hauspanther.

I’d like to make it just for fun, even though my cats are pretty well behaved around my tree anyway.

The Alternate ‘Catmas Tree’

In case the DIY one, with all its cutting and measuring, is too much work, this is an easier option. 

Merry Catmas, everyone- tis the season for peace and love!

Hope you had as much fun with this list as I did and that it helps you get into the spirit!  Remember to include your fur-kids in Christmas gifting, and no matter what you do, know that Santa doesn’t support puppy mills or breeders (or buying any animal from a pet store for that matter) so always, always choose rescue and adoption.  Also, please don’t give animals as gifts- they are a lifetime commitment so everyone needs to be involved and dedicated to the adoption- there should be no surprises.

Making the Match: Opting to Adopt Your New Pet

For most families, adopting a pet is a big deal.   Whether you’ve had pets before, or this is your child’s first furry sibling,  it is important that you find the pet that will be the ‘perfect puzzle piece’ you family is looking for.

Why Adoption keeps Your interest at heart

Of the 23.5 million people who will bring a new cat or dog into their home this year, nearly 17 million of them are undecided as to where they will obtain the animal.  Adoption and rescue organizations are the best way to go because they are not trying to sell you a fun, new product with cute accessories like a pet store will; they’re trying to help you find a new family member.

Maybe you’re a little iffy about a rescue organization; many people are.  However, these concerns are usually based on misconceptions and stereotypes about adoption, such as:

  • Assuming history of rescue pets is always a mystery and that makes them somehow less good of a pet
  • Hoping to avoid behavioral problems (that they assume are baggage of all rescued pets, both cats and dogs)
  • Thinking that getting a young pet will create a stronger bond
  • Wanting a specific age/breed, etc. and thinking rescues only have mutts or pitt bulls

While some of these are true in a few cases, the basis of these excuses for buying animals are not only inaccurate, but may also stand in between your family finding the right match, and of course

People just want an animal that will be an easy addition and ‘fit’ with their home.  When it comes down to it, breeders and pet store owners want to sell you a product; a living commodity.  Rescues and adoption groups want to introduce you to the furry love you’ve never known; to a creature that becomes a lifelong member of the family.

Let’s  explore these myths with the help of a local rescue, Castle of Dreams, based in Keyport, New Jersey.

The role of history, bonding, and behaviors

Truth: “With the dogs we take into rescue, most times we do know some history,” explained Pam Frasco, Vice President of Castle of Dreams Animal Rescue, which was established in 2003.  The group’s work focuses on mostly puppies, pregnant , and other abandoned dogs who would otherwise have been euthanized.

“We really get to know and work with the dogs on a personal level.   A thorough understanding the animals’ current needs, loves, personality, and temperament is significantly more important than knowing the exact history, and that’s what rescues will give you.”

Rescue pets: Their hearts may have been broken, but not their spirits

Truth: The majority of rescued pets have over-the-top personalities: affectionate, loving, playful, loyal.   One of the top reasons animals are given up is  because the owner is ‘moving,’ not due of behavior problems.    For those that do have some kind of behavioral struggle, it is often the fault of the owner, and can be retrained with proper care and nurturing.  Take Michael Vick’s pit-bulls for example: rewarded for aggressive behavior; neglected, tortured, and treated like inanimate objects.  Yet all the surviving dogs were evaluated as gentle and affectionate.  Each of them found forever homes and have shown that their true selves are lovable, huggable, mushes.  Everyone is a story of inspiration and second chances.

With love and nurturing, a 'troubled' animals true personality comes out.

One of Vick’s dogs, after her rescue. With love and nurturing, a ‘troubled’ animals true personality comes out.

Behavioral obstacles are not exclusive to rescue dogs, and in fact can be cultivated in pet store and breeder environments.

Castle of Dreams have taken dogs  from pet stores because they got too old and lost their ‘puppy’ look, and the store wouldn’t sell something that wasn’t baby.   “They were scared,  not socialized, had been kept in a crate for 24 hours and therefore not potty trained,” explained Frasco, who would not specify the pet store.  “These are precursors for behavioral problems, and simply because the a pet store’s top priority is money.”

A good rescue organization will let you get to know the dogs on a personal level, in order to find the one that best suits your needs and desires.   “Rescue dogs, and their potential adopters, have an advantage over breeder and pet store dogs because during our fostering, socializing, and training, we can identify and begin working on certain issues.  If there is a behavioral problem we are already working through that with them,  and will let the adopter know  all about it.  If an adopter does not want to deal with issues,  we can find them a dog that suites them because we know the dogs.

Rescues and shelters only have old mutts or pitt bulls, not puppies or purebreds

Truth: Not that we have anything against old mutts or pitt bulls, but this statement is a total fallacy! Rescue groups constantly have puppies up for adoption.  Many of them are ‘pulled’ from a kill shelter (the term ‘pull’ refers to the last minute saving of an animal that is scheduled to be euthanized).  Castle of Dreams is one of them.  “We work a lot with puppies and their mothers that were to be killed.  We also pull pregnant moms, and their babies are born in our foster homes where they are  constantly nurtured and socialized unlike in a breeding situation.”

Rescued comes in baby and purebreds too!  From Castle of Dream's Petfinder listing

Rescues comes in baby and purebreds too! From Castle of Dream’s Petfinder listing

If you’re looking for a specific breed, you can easily rescue one- approximately 25% of all pets in shelters and rescues are purebredPetfinder’s adoptable pet list makes it easy by allowing you to search by breed, plus, there are hundreds of breed-specific rescues (for every breed from Teacup and Miniatures to Boxers and Bulldogs, to Spaniels, Setters, and Retrievers.)  At the time this post was written, Castle of Dreams had Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, German Shepherds, and Yorkies, and Poodles up for adoption.  Many are babies or young, while a few are adults or seniors.

Breeders/pet stores care for the animals and want what’s best for both them and us.

Truth: To a rescuer, each animal is seen as an individual with a one-of-a-kind personality, unique likes and dislikes, and distinctive expressions.  To a breeder or pet store owner, they are seen as products that will fill their pockets.  They might sound sweet and caring, but keep in mind, they wouldn’t sell any puppies if they didn’t.  Just like a car dealer, they’re trying to make a sale.

Making the Match:  Why adoption keeps your interest at heart

A rescue volunteer is motivated only by the desire to save or improve the life of a homeless animal; there is no profit or commission to influence them.  That means a rescue organization is going to do everything possible to make sure you and your new pet are a wonderful match.  This includes disclosing their temperament and obstacles, if any.   “If a behavioral problem exists, you can bet we are already working through that with them,” said Frasco,  “and we will let the adopter know about it.  If an adopter does not want to deal with issues,  we can find them a dog that suites them because we know the dogs.”

The bottom line is this: if the adopting family isn’t happy, the animal won’t be either, so you can trust a rescue to make the match and be honest about it.   Someone who profits from breeding doesn’t really care what happens to your family or the animal once you hand over the cash, where as rescue groups want it to be a lifelong companionship.  So trust me when I say that adoption keeps your interest- and that of the animal- at the very heart of the mission of matchmaking.

Homemade Cat Toys

Pet moms and dads all figure it out sooner than later.  Without fail, cats always choose a crumpled paper ball over the fancy toy you bought for $29.95 at PetCo.  Environmental stimulation vital for happy cats- it encourages activity for indoor cats and inhibits boredom, which is often a cause for behavioral problems.  But you don’t have to spend money trying, hit or miss, to find something they’ll enjoy.

Congratulations, you have a normal cat

Congratulations, you have a normal cat!

Instead, check out this list of creative ‘do-it-yourself’ cat toys that don’t require much, if any, crafting skills or experience (I have a creative side, but a crafter I am not!  If you are crafty, try making this adorable bird toy instead).

The benefits?  You save money and help the earth by reusing materials you already have, and you won’t care if these toys get lost under the fridge or torn to shreds.  Plus, if your cat scoffs you for it even thinking she’d enjoy it, at least you won’t feel silly about breaking the bank!

Bat-Around Toys

You can never have enough of these, right?  Especially when the mice you bought are stuck under the oven in a matter of days, and removing them means you have to face (and clean out) everything else that’s under the oven- yikes.   Make a bunch of these and you’ll never run out, though you should probably clean out the oven anyway.

  • Cut toilet paper rolls into a few thinner rings and toss.
  • Securely string together a few  layers of felt or other fabric, using scraps and mottled pieces to vary the texture and shape.
  • Check your hobbies/workplace for spare things like:   tag printer rolls or empty tape dispenser parts, wine bottle corks, thread spools, etc.

Food Challenger

Giving cats food-related challenges is exciting and rouses their instinct to hunt and work for prey.  As a bonus, this is a simple way to pace over-eaters.  Simply add a few ping-pong or similar balls to their food dish, so they have to move them around to reach the kibble.  This makes them ingest slower, and often less.

I dubbed mine the ‘galaxy box’ because of the stickers I decorated it with. Kiki just enjoys getting her treats out!

Cardboard Discovery Box

This is a fun, puzzle-like game that is great for bored cats who need something to do when you’re away.  It works best with a shallow box no more than 6 inches in depth.  Fold the box so it is completely closed, then cut out (stencil them on first if you want it to look nice) shapes of  varying sizes around the entire surface, except for the bottom.  The key is for the cat to see, smell, and touch the toys or treats inside, without making it too easy for them to be retrieved.   I put a rolling bell toy inside that cannot be removed, along with catnip and treats that can.  That way, she gets enough treats to stay satisfied, but still has something of interest to motivate her to keep trying.

Classic Box

Of course, there is also the ‘Classic Box’ which is simply a box set randomly on the floor in a room your cat frequents.  I’ve had one in my living room for almost a month now because it has become Misu’s ‘hiding spot,’ because of course, no body can see her when she’s in there.  By the way, did you know big cats like cardboard boxes too?

Regifting: Make old toys new again

If your pet has toys he or she hasn’t played with in a while, try removing them for a few weeks and keeping them somewhere they cannot see or smell.  Then, reintroduced the toys.  Often, pets will react as if the toy is new , or was a beloved long-lost toy newly found.   If your cat reacts to catnip (not all cats respond to the plant; it depends on genetics), be sure to freshen or add the aroma to everything.  For small batting-around toys, I bury them in my giant container of Kong catnip and let them ‘saute and simmer’ for a few days.  It always does the trick!

Have any other simple & safe toy ideas?  Share them in the comments- I’d love to see how creative and crafty everyone else can be 🙂