Written by Jenni Davies
True or false: black cats are bad luck? True… if you’re a black cat. Sadly, this kind of myth is responsible for thousands of these beauties being last on the list of adoptions, along with tortoiseshell, calico, and senior felines who also fall prey to myths and perceptions. According to a recent American study, ginger cats are perceived as friendly, tri-coloured (tortoiseshell and calicos) are naughty, white cats are reserved and calm, and black cats are aloof and antisocial, and even scary. None of which is actually based in fact; colour has absolutely nothing to do with personality.
Go to the dark side
Black cats are elegant, beautiful and intriguing – and yet, they still get such a bad ‘rap’. The exact origins of the ‘black cats are bad’ myth are unknown, but it is thought to stem from a time where there was mass hysteria about witchcraft. Because dark-coloured cats hide easily in the dark and their eyes (like other cats) appear to glow, they were seen as ‘creatures of the night’, and, therefore, evil. Horror movies, literature and advertising just perpetuate the myth. Sadly, in many African cultures, there is still immense superstition about black cats. Yet in the cat-loving country of Japan, a black cat crossing your path is a good omen, while in Scotland, finding one perched on your porch is lucky.
And then there are those colourful butterflies, the tortoiseshells and calicos. Getting them adopted is also challenging, yet they are the snowflakes of the cat world, with each one’s markings being unique. Who wouldn’t want a cat that is the only one in the entire world that looks like that? Better yet, in Japan, calico cats (tortoiseshells with lots of white) are revered as bringing good fortune – in fact, the iconic ‘waving cat’, called Maneki Neko, found throughout China and Japan, is a calico.
Another group that struggles are the senior cats. They battle to compete with the wide-eyed wonder of tiny kittens, plus people believe that only a kitten can fit into an established household and learn the rules. But adults and seniors fit in easily and learn quickly because they are calm and focused – they’re also past the naughty kitten phases.
Senior cats are ideal for apartment-dwellers or those who want a cat that doesn’t roam as they’re usually happier to stay close to home. Their personalities are established, so it’s easy to pick the perfect personality fit. Senior cats are more independent, and do not need constant supervision and frequent feeding. People also have a perception that adult and senior cats won’t bond with them, but the thousands of people who have adopted a senior cat agree: senior cats have oceans of love to give and it is just as easy to bond with them as with a kitten. Many of these cats are so happy to be out of the shelter and into your arms that they may bond even quicker.
Another worry is that a senior cat may soon pass away, which will be sad. While this is a possibility, cats today easily live well over a decade, some up to 20 years or more, so it could be with you for many years to come. Moreover, you are giving that wonderful cat the chance to live out its life – be it one year or ten – in the comfort of your home, with people of its very own, instead of in a shelter. That’s not sad; that is an incredible gift to be able to give – and the rewards are priceless.
Felines with handicaps – three-legged cats, those missing an eye or totally blind, or with badly healed past injuries, etcetera – also struggle. People worry that they are high-maintenance – or they just can’t face the thought that the cat has suffered in the past. But cats are independent and resilient, and cope just fine with these issues. Most three-legged cats are surprisingly agile, and blind cats quickly learn their way around. Some may need a little extra care, such as keeping them indoors, but they generally give no problems at all, and they will enrich your life immeasurably.
Be the lucky one
Jules Verne said, “I believe cats to be spirits come to earth. A cat, I am sure, could walk on a cloud without coming through.” And he was right – each one is a special soul that will grace your home with beauty and love, no matter what colour, age or abilities it has. Whoever adopts one of these special feline friends is, indeed, the lucky one.
Written by Jackie van Baal and Photograph by Andrew Waltman
Onyx is my second black cat. My first was named – wait for it – Black; I ‘catnapped’ him from a neighbour who would leave him upstairs on a balcony all day, by coaxing him to come down and play in my garden.
He was knocked down one day and ended up in my flat with a broken leg. I rushed him to after-hours vets and, once back home, asked the owner to pay half the bill with me. Shockingly, she refused and said I could have him; of course, I kept him. You’re wondering why I’m telling you about Black? Well, he’d been with me for eight years when he was tragically killed near the dam where I lived by who-knows-what. I was devastated and could not stop crying. Friends of mine, Wendy and Brett Ludlum, went to the Uitsig Animal Rescue Centre near Durbanville, Cape Town, where Brett spotted a jet-black beauty named Onyx. He knew straight away that this was the cat for me.
Onyx had never been in a home nor had much human contact. He’d come into the shelter with his mother and siblings, and, by the time he got to me at about six to 12 months old, he was terrified of ‘home noises’ and people. Initially, he wouldn’t even allow anyone to touch him and hid under the bed.
To have friends like the Ludlums who feel your pain and promptly spring into action was a blessing; I transferred all my pain at losing Black into love for Onyx. Knowing that I was able to help another poor soul was all the medicine I needed, and I encourage people who lose a beloved animal not to wait. Open your heart and home to an animal that is scared and stuck in a shelter. Onyx is now three years old and roams around like he owns the place. He’s very independent, and plays with my dog Roxy by launching himself at her, wrapping his legs around her neck, and giving her a real run for her money.
I’ve heard it said that the love you get from a rescue animal is like no other; the bond between me and Onyx is certainly proof of that. The myth that black cats are bad luck couldn’t be further from the truth. How lucky we are to have found each other!