Category: adoption

Why Do Some Shelters Refuse To Adopt Out Black Cats In October?

Life isn’t easy for strays and shelter cats, and black cats have it rougher than most. They’re less likely to find forever homes and more likely to be euthanized than cats with other fur colors and coat patterns.

As if that wasn’t enough of a disadvantage, black cats are particularly vulnerable at this time of year due to their association with Halloween and lore surrounding Satanic rituals.

On the somewhat less tragic end of the spectrum, some people “adopt” black cats as temporary Halloween decorations, using them as accessories for parties or decorative dioramas. When Halloween is over, the “owners” bring the cats back to the shelter.

But rescue groups and advocates say the most unfortunate black kitties end up in the hands of cultists or people reenacting cult rituals. Those rituals never end well for the poor felines.

As a result, some shelters and rescues put black cat adoptions on hold during October.

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Credit: Ruca Souza/Pexels

The origin of the “evil black cat” trope is usually traced back to the 13th century papal decree called Vox in Rama. (“A voice in Ramah.”) Despite sounding like an Arthur C. Clarke short story, the decree was not entertaining — it called for a renewed push to find and punish heretics, and condemned a Satanic ritual that was allegedly performed among hidden cultists:

Afterwards, they sit down to a meal and when they have arisen from it, the certain statue, which is usual in a set of this kind, a black cat descends backwards, with its tail erect. First the novice, then the master, then each one of the order who are worthy and perfect, kiss the cat on its buttocks. Then each [returns] to his place and, speaking certain responses, they incline their heads toward to cat. “Forgive us!” says the master, and the one next to him repeats this, a third responding, “We know, master!” A fourth says “And we must obey.”

Stripped of context, it’s almost comical: A cat walks around and people line up to kiss its ass? Well, they’re just expressing their fealty as servants and vowing not to be tardy with kitty’s meals!

Alas we’re talking about the dark ages, a time when skepticism wasn’t really a thing and zealots were eager to prove their loyalty and value to powerful leaders. One of them, a German nobleman named Konrad von Marburg, had the pope’s ear, and Marburg was the one responsible for whispering to the pontiff about the supposed back cat ass-kissing rituals.

While the papal decree was real and Marburg really was an overzealous jerk who turned public opinion against the church for his brutal inquisition against heretics real and imagined, there’s debate about how much impact the decree ultimately had, and whether a resulting purge of felines from Europe during the Black Plague resulted from superstition or panic as more people got sick. (Serious academic opinion tends strongly toward the latter, particularly because people mistakenly believed cats were carriers of the disease.)

close up shot of a black cat
Credit: Magda Ehlers/Pexels

Clickbait sites have run wild with the Vox in Rama story, which has grown more outrageous with each retelling, resulting in headlines that make it sound like the Vatican dispatched shock troops to purge cats from the European continent and urged Catholics to slaughter them on sight. In reality, the papal bull dealt with a small area in Germany and was little-known even at the time it was issued.

The dozens of clickbait articles that surface at the top of search results for “Vox in Rama” omit the actual text of the papal bull, and many make the unfounded claim that the pope called for cats to be killed.

Was the decree real? Yes. Did it result in the slaughter of cats? Highly unlikely, and there’s no evidence to support that claim.

Likewise, the “evidence” that black cats are abused on Halloween is purely anecdotal as this Snopes story from 20 years ago notes. The fact-checking site called the claims about black cats used in Satanic rituals “inconclusive.”

But individual shelter managers trust their gut — and the many stories about black cats disappearing this time of year — in deciding it’s better to be safe than sorry, which is why many shelters won’t adopt out in October and others are more rigorous with their adoption screening.

There’s nothing wrong with that. As anyone who’s searched for cat news knows, there are disturbing stories about cat abuse every day, and people are sadly capable of incredible cruelty toward animals.

Better for black cats to be taken off the adoptable list for a few weeks than end up in the hands of people who want to do them harm. As cat lovers, there is something we can do: Consider black cats the next time we’re looking to adopt. Plenty of PITB readers have black cats, and they’ll be the first to tell you the little house panthers are just as sweet and amusing as cats of any other fur color.

close up photo of black cat
Credit: Marcelo Chagas/Pexels

Here Are Some Cats Singing The Imperial March From Star Wars, Plus Some Feel-Good Cat-Human Reunions

Since we featured some sad news in our last post — though tempered with some really good news from a Portland cat cafe — we’ll wrap up the week with some humor, absurdities and science, all cat-related of course:

  • Do you have two cats? If so, you can help researchers from UC Davis and the University of British Columbia, who are studying the ways cats interact with each other in human homes. All you have to do is watch a few cat videos online, then answer a handful of questions about the behavior of the cats in those clips, as well as the behavior of your own kitties. With enough data from participants, the research teams hope they can better understand the often-inscrutable interactions, squabbles, truces and social hierarchies that define relationships between domestic felines sharing the same home territory. “Ultimately, we hope this research can help identify gaps in owners’ knowledge of cat behavior,” U of BC’s Sherry Khoddami told Gizmodo. “The welfare of cats in the home is an under-researched area.”

  • Yes, cats do have a long and distinguished history of “messing shit up,” and they simply don’t care. Maybe that’s why cats singing the Imperial March from Star Wars — okay, cats sampled and pitch-shifted to the Imperial March’s melody — feels appropriate. Our fluffballs are inevitable.

This week brought us stories of two cats who were reunited with their humans after more than a decade apart, both in the UK.

  • Tom, a tuxedo in Cardiff, Wales, went missing in 2009. He spent most of the past decade-plus living with another cat in the safety of a cemetery with the help of a nearby family, who kept them well-fed. It wasn’t until recently that someone tipped off a local rescue to the presence of the two “strays,” and finally Tom’s microchip was scanned. On Friday, Tom’s human, Donna, was overcome with emotion when she reunited with the little guy at Anna’s Rescue Centre of Cardiff, fighting back tears as she stooped down to stroke his fur. Donna also adopted Tom’s longtime companion from the cemetery. (Click the link for video, which we were not able to embed.)
  • Meanwhile in Aberdeen, Neil and Lucy Henderson were reunited with their tabby, Forbes, who had gone missing in 2011. Neil Henderson was so shocked, he had to pull over and stop his car when his wife told him Forbes had been located by the SCPA. “I was completely unprepared for what I was about to be told and hearing that Forbes had been found left me completely astounded,” he told the BBC. Forbes was picked up by an animal control officer who realized he was very friendly and had a microchip. The Hendersons “have no way of knowing where Forbes had been all this time or what adventures he might have been on,” but they’re ecstatic that he’s back home.

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The original missing poster created by the Hendersons when Forbes disappeared in 2011.

Kitten Bowl VIII Is Today!

Make sure you’ve stocked up on snacks and beverages, because today’s the big game.

Kansas City Chiefs vs the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the immortal vampire Tom Brady? Nah, we’re talking about the Kitten Bowl.

Like its predecessors, this year’s Kitten Bowl uses a flimsy football pretense to air the blood pressure-reducing, relaxing spectacle of a bunch of cute kittens running around a miniature arena and chasing after balls.

The program, which is a collaboration with the North Shore Animal League, pet food brands and other organizations, also serves as a TV-show-length PSA reminding people to adopt instead of buying kittens. Come late spring/early summer, every shelter will be overflowing with kittens just like the little ones in the Kitten Bowl.

The Kitten Bowl airs at 2 p.m. Eastern on the Hallmark Channel, and you can also stream it on Hallmark’s official site.

Click the photos below for full-size versions:

After 7 Shelters And 3 Adoptions, Merlin The Cat Found Love

Merlin was born during 2007’s storm season in the Carolinas, and it was a hurricane that took him from his mom and siblings.

“He was found all alone in rubble and ruin,” his human mom, Meg Ferra, recalled. “Rescue picked him up but mom and litter mates were nowhere to be found, and Merlin was inconsolable. He was not yet weaned.”

Merlin’s kittenhood and first few years were chaotic, cruel and marked by repeated disappointment: The little guy, then called Shadow, was cycled through seven shelters and two families who adopted him, only to bring him back to the shelter system like a defective toy.

He was traumatized by his early experiences, shy and fearful, the kind of cat who huddled miserably in the back of the cage while more outgoing kitties found their forever homes.

His last stop — and last chance — was a kill shelter in New Jersey. The shy grey tabby with tufts of epic white-and-grey fur may have sensed his time was running out and uncharacteristically reached out to a couple that wandered into the shelter one day.

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Merlin getting some fresh air. Credit: Meg Ferra.

“Merlin put his rather large paw out and grabbed my husband’s shoulder — a feat in itself since three bullies kept pushing him into the corner and making him sit in his food,” Ferra said. “He was malnourished, skinny, oily, messy and sad.”

Ferra hesitated. Long-haired cats usually mean lots of shedding on clothes, carpets and couches. A cat with such a complicated history would present challenges as well.

“Once my husband held him, well, my thoughts of avoiding lots of hair went out the window,” she said.

The Ferras brought Shadow home and renamed him Merlin, a name befitting such a regal feline. They were surprised to discover he didn’t shed much despite his great tufts of wild fur. A subsequent DNA test identified him as a Siberian forest cat, an ancient, accidental breed that developed its characteristics naturally because it lived in isolation from other cat populations, deep within the Russian tundra.

Siberians have quite a few unique qualities. They have three fur layers — guard, awn and down hair — and rival Maine Coons in their floofiness, but their fur is easy to maintain and resistant to matting. They moult twice a year. Their moulting phases are milder than similarly-floofy cats, and their fur has lower levels of the allergen Fel-d1.

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Good boy: A collage of Merlin’s moments. Credit: Meg Ferra

Merlin was fearful and shy in his new home, and it became clear that he was not going to soften any time soon. He’d flinch, hinting at past traumas: “You couldn’t raise a hairbrush near him, or hold your hand over his head to caress him.”

“It took five years to break through Merlin’s wall of anger and fear when we brought him home,” Ferra said. “We played it low key, never loud, pushy, punishing, forceful or insulting. By insulting I mean with Merlin, you don’t make deals! Deals always hurt his feelings.”

One day, Ferra was trying to get Merlin to play with one of his toys when he lashed out at her.

“He tore up my forearm. I was dripping blood from wrist to elbow. I didn’t move. He didn’t move. His eyes were black orbs. I could see the wheels spinning. ‘Will she hit me? Yell? Throw me? Send me away?’

“I exhaled slowly and in my calmest demeanor said to him: ‘Merlin, what are you still so angry about? Frightened about? Don’t you know by now no one is going to hurt you here? It’s been five years and you’re safe, honey. You’re home, nothing will ever harm you again. They’d have to go through your family, daddy and me. You’re not alone, my love.’ And damned if his pupils didn’t recede. He let out a little whimper and his whole body relaxed.”

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Ferra with Merlin. Credit: Meg Ferra

From there, Ferra said, “it’s been belly kisses and raspberries,” but Merlin “was not a cuddler.”

“But like clockwork every week he would approach me, tap my leg and stare up at me. Not too mushy, but as if to say ‘I want a hug now!’ I ate up those two minutes. I’d pick him up and simulate his lost mom’s cheek rubs, which he loved and craved.”

Merlin developed health problems. In particular, his hips and neck began to bother him. Those are side effects typical of his breed, which has longer back legs that make Siberians powerful jumpers. He began suffering from hyperthyroidism and arthritis in his later years.

At seven years old, Merlin fought off a bout of pneumonia. But when he came down with it in early December, he didn’t have the strength to fight it off.

Ferra and her husband, Joe, stayed up with their beloved cat for almost 48 hours, monitoring him. Her husband even put off his dialysis to stay with the little guy.

But by Tuesday, when Merlin could no longer lift his head, Ferra knew it was the end. Merlin was euthanized on the morning of Dec. 9 at the veterinarian’s office. He was 13 years old.

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The Wizard of Fuzz: Merlin was a Siberian, a naturally-occurring breed known for its epic coat. Credit: Meg Ferra

The typical symptoms of grief set in: Ferra kept looking for the little furball, momentarily forgetting he was gone. She left his food bowl and his water fountain untouched. Her life suddenly had a vacuum in it.

That this happened now in the midst of a pandemic, as the death and infection rates skyrocket, lock-downs begin anew and the prospect of a dark winter casts a gloom over life, makes Merlin’s absence especially challenging. The Ferras’ children are adults, and their house is now quiet. Merlin’s presence mitigated the isolation and dreariness of life in a pandemic, as cats and dogs have done for millions of Americans this year.

For Joe, even his treatments remind him of his cat: Merlin would stand guard when Joe settled in for dialysis, remaining for the length of the treatment.

Ferra said she and her husband are considering adopting litter mates or inseparable friends. They feel Merlin would want them to provide a home to new cats.

“Joe has asked me how long I need until we open our home and hearts to a bonded pair. My husband can’t stand the emptiness. I just need a little more time. But with COVID and and the overflowing shelters I feel even Merlin wouldn’t want me to wait too long.”

Special thanks to Meg for talking to us about Merlin despite her fresh grief at losing the special little guy. We wish Meg and Joe the best this holiday season, and when they open their home to new kitties who need some love and a place to call their own.

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A male Siberian forest cat. Siberians have thick coats, but they don’t produce as much allergens as most other breeds. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

‘New York’s Fattest Cat’ Relinquishes His Title

Remember Barsik, the cat who was so extra-chonk he had to be wheeled around in a baby carriage because he couldn’t fit in a cat carrier?

The former “Fattest cat in New York” has melted the pounds off in the year since he was surrendered to NYC’s Anjellicle Cats rescue and adopted by 35-year-old Meredith Adams.

When he was surrendered, Barisk tipped the scales at 41 pounds — dangerously close to the Guinness record 46 pounds for a house cat. He was so big, the sight of him getting wheeled into the shelter prompted an amused visitor to snap a smartphone pic and quip: “Did he eat another cat?”

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Slow news day: Barsik made the cover of the Post’s late edition back in April of 2019.

Barsik’s having the last laugh, as he’s down to 22 pounds and enjoying life in his new home.

He’s well on his way to his ideal weight of 16 pounds according to Adams, who says she’s been controlling Barsik’s dry food intake while feeding him wet food.

“He does pretty much everything regular cats do — jumping around, at night he gets the zoomies,” Adams told the New York Post. “He is a regular cat now.”

The Post notes Guinness stopped taking new entries for heaviest cat out of concern that misguided owners would over feed their chonksters to pursue the crown. Himmy, the Australian kitty who set the record, died at just 10 years old from complications associated with his obesity.

Barsik has settled into his new life, diet and all.

“He has a big personality. He is very demanding, he is very vocal, but he is also really friendly,” Adams said. “When I come home from work and get into the building, I hear his meowing all the way down the hall. He wants his food, but he also wants to say ‘hi’ to me.”

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Barsik shortly after he was surrendered in 2019 and was living in a foster home.

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Adams and the newly-slim Barsik.