Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Turning the Luck Around for Black Cats

Black cats are adopted far less than their less ominously colored counterparts, according to Carrie Drummond, community outreach director for the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, Va.

Drummond is not superstitious, but in her two years working in adoption, most black cats have stayed in the shelter twice as long as lighter colored cats, she said.

It’s not because people consider the cats frightening, however. Darker cats’ features are harder to make out, making their expressions harder to read, Drummond said. This characteristic makes the animals less attractive to potential buyers.

“If you see a room full of cats, the ones with the distinctive markings will stand out a little bit more, and the ones who are one color are not as noticeable,” Drummond said.

When black cats are photographed for display on the shelter’s Web site, it is difficult to make out their faces. According to Amanda Leonard, a master’s degree candidate in anthropology at The George Washington University, this is called the “blob effect.”

“The color black absorbs light, meaning that the facial features of black animals are to interpret,” Leonard said. “They tend to look colder and less inviting.”

Before Halloween, Leonard led a seminar at the Washington Humane Society discussing the symbolism of black cats in American culture. She said many people see a binary opposition between black and white and often offer negative connotations to darker animals. Leonard also found that customers have doubts about shelter animals’ levels of domestication, which, compounded with the symbolism of the color black, contributes to the lower adoption rate.

The Alexandria shelter, as well as the Washington Humane Society, tries to position darker cats in the shelter rooms so that they are well-lit and visible.

“We put bright-colored rugs or pillows in their cages so you can see the animal a little better,” Drummond said.

The Washington Humane Society has a room where cats can run free, allowing them to be seen better than in a cage, said Natalie Kahla, adoptions manager at the New York Avenue branch of the WHS. She said most light-colored cats stay in the shelter a few weeks, while darker ones stay a few months awaiting adoptions.

Customers’ consistent aversion to darker cats and the current economic conditions have led to an increase in the number of animals relinquished to the shelter, and a decrease in those adopted, according to Drummond.

The Alexandria shelter’s entire inventory, which includes dogs, cats, guinea pigs and gerbils, has seen a 30 percent increase in owner relinquishment. The price of vaccinations and other costs of pet ownership are more than many owners can handle, Drummond said.

To combat the trends, the shelter will observe today, Friday the 13th, by cutting adoption fees to $13, from their the usual $120 for black and dark-colored cats. The fee includes all vaccinations, spaying and neutering, and microchip implants, Drummond said. A notice on the shelter’s Web site urges prospective customers to come and “change the luck” of darker cats.

While Drummond hopes for a strong turnout, she’s not crossing her fingers – she’s not superstitious. “

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