Example: [Baker, 1999]
Black cats, beware.
Long associated with witches, bad luck and the dark side, black felines are often used for pranks, party props and even satanic, sacrificial rituals around Halloween.
"This is a time when blood rituals take place," said Hedy Litke, director of animal placement at the ASPCA. "Black cats are often sacrificed." Such is their popularity that many shelters in New York and around the country ban adoptions of black cats in the weeks and days preceding
Origins: Halloween is a festival many of our pets could do without. Our dogs and cats don't appreciate the symbolism and revelry of All Hallow's Eve; to most of them the evening is a frightening collage of trick-or-treaters and party-goers who noisily shuffle from house to house, pound on doors, and engage in a variety of mischief. Even worse, pets who remain outside on Halloween are subject to becoming the targets of pranks ranging from the comic to the cruel.
Unfortunately, Halloween has also been a time when some people acquire pets — particularly cats — to use as living decorations or for displays of fun and sport, only to discard or abandon them afterwards (as often happens with chicks and rabbits at Easter time). Accordingly, many animal shelters have taken steps in recent years to limit or eliminate the adoption of cats in the days leading up to Halloween by either deferring feline adoptions until after Halloween or by more carefully scrutinizing the prospective
One of the more widely-cited justifications for the implementation of more stringent adoption policies by animal shelters around Halloween is the claim that cats in general — and black cats in particular — are avidly sought by members of "satanic cults" who engage in the mutilation, torture, and killing of cats in celebrations associated or coincident with Halloween. That animal shelter policy has been influenced by a widespread belief in satanic cat-sacrificing rituals at Halloween is beyond dispute; the issue here is whether such activity is really as prevalent as the belief in it is.
First of all, depending upon which source you believe, the alleged practice of sacrificing black cats began with "Druid priests," "pagans," or the (Christian) "Church":
This "new year's eve" celebration gradually grew to ominous proportions. The priests ordered the people to extinguish all hearth fires and to gather around huge bonfires on hilltops. The fires were intended to frighten away the evil spirits and to honor the souls of people who had died during the past year. Religious rituals performed around the bonfires were followed by processions back into the villages, where embers from the large fires were used to reignite the hearth fires in each home.
The notion then developed that the souls of sinful persons, as well as all other evil spirits, were at large in the community during that night. To discourage these mysterious entities from acts of retribution, sacrifices were thrown into the bonfires. At first, the sacrifices were domesticated animals. Horses were popular because they were believed to be sacred to the Sun God, who needed attention because he was punishing the people by giving them fewer hours of daylight.
Black cats were a favorite sacrifice because they were thought to be evil spirits transformed into animals.1
Sacrificing cats began in medieval times, when the Church decreed that felines were friends of the devil. With their darting eyes and sinister-looking coats the color of death, black cats became known as witches' mascots. They also were known as "familiars," through which witches could communicate with the spiritual world.2
When questioned about their October policies, most animal shelter and humane society representatives affirm their belief that steps are necessary to prevent cats from becoming sacrificial Halloween victims but offer no tangible evidence that the phenomenon is real beyond their belief in it:
"Some satanic cults sacrifice all-black or all-white cats as part of their rituals," said Nancy Suro, director of the Maxfund, a pet-adoption agency.
For the past six years, the Maxfund has called an annual October moratorium on any adoptions involving all-black or all-white cats. Even though Suro acknowledged she doesn't know how widespread the problem is, she said: "I know such activity goes on. We absolutely refuse to take any chances with these cats' lives."4
"Not only black cats, but also solid white cats. And not only on Halloween, but on several holidays on the satanic calendar," Ratliff said.3
"But by the next evening it all started to sink in," said Sowers, who shares her home with five other felines, all of varying colors. Isaiah's black, it's nearly Halloween, and he's the only cat that's missing from her home.
"It's an awful thing to think about but there are people who do these things to cats around this time of year," the north Phoenix housewife said. "Me and my neighbors know we have to protect our cats, but it's so early in October."6
"Already this year we have reports of
"The disappearance of symbolized occult animals like black and white cats and Rottweilers, Dobermans and Great Danes starts the same time every year," she said.6
Although many shelter operators acknowledge having little or no first-hand experience with animal sacrifices on Halloween, they have long traded tales of black cats being decapitated, disemboweled or skinned to mark the holiday. Shelter operators say pet owners should keep their pets indoors at Halloween.
But tales of widespread animal torture on Halloween might be more legend than real, Sinclair said. She said that society officials employed a clipping service to survey news accounts of feline carnage surrounding Halloween 1996 — and found nothing.
Michael F. Ryan — an investigator with the Baltimore state's attorney's office who has advised police departments on the practices of devil worshipers — said no one should fear that black cats are about to be singled out for satanic sacrifice.
"It's no more significant than a white dog, a brown dog or a polka-dotted kangaroo," he said. "The more attention people give to this myth, it just helps to ride along on a wave that takes on a life of its own. It's just not there.3
"We told her no," said BARC Vice President Vinny Spinola, whose shelter receives more than a dozen requests for black cats each Halloween and also has issued a moratorium on black-cat adoptions. "We knew she only wanted the cat for a Halloween ritual."
Litke at ASPCA recalled a spooky episode with a woman who had adopted a black cat.
"We called two days later to check on the cat, and she told us the cat was dead."
The woman wouldn't tell the ASPCA how the cat died but said workers could pick up the body.
"When we got there, she was gone
"But not by the real religious satanic groups," [Lillian Dubois-Tercero, president and executive director of Arizona Pet Line] stressed. "They don't sacrifice cats and dogs. It's the idiot juveniles (who are) responsible who don't know what they're doing."
Kim Hicks, spokesperson for the Arizona Humane Society, agreed that it's not religious groups such as the Wiccans that are stealing and killing animals.
"Wiccans are actually an anti-cruelty (to animals) group who hold animals in a higher regard than they do humans," she said. "I think it's more like the people who dabble in the occult who are dangerous, and my guess would be it's troubled teenagers."
Some argue that, real phenomenon or not, Halloween cat sacrifices don't merit a radical change in shelters' adoption policies, because that's not where the perpetrators obtain their animals:
But she added: ''Most cults are going to get their cats off their streets. They're not going to come into a shelter and pay $40 and go through a background check.''4
Last updated: 27 October 2005
3. Apperson, Jay. "Animal Shelters Protect Black Cats at Halloween." The Baltimore Sun. 22 October 1997 (p. B1). 2. Baker, K.C. "Halloween's No Treat for Coveted Black Cats." [New York] Daily News. 23 October 1999 (p. 22). 6. Helser, Linda. "You Better Watch Out! Petnappers on the Loose." The Arizona Republic. 18 October 1999 (p. D1). 4. Meadow, James B. "Halloween Is Trouble for Black, White Cats." Denver Rocky Mountain News. 19 October 1996 (p. A19). 1. Pugh, Jeanne. "Halloween: From God to Goblin." St. Petersburg Times. 31 October 1987 (p. E1). 7. Willing, Richard. "Shelters Guard Black Cats During Halloween Season." USA Today. 27 October 1999 (p. A4). 5. Willman, Martha L. "Pet Precautions." Los Angeles Times. 27 October 1997 (p. A1).