Are black cats really bad luck, and are more hurt at Halloween? Experts bust popular myths

Each year around Halloween, rumors swirl that black cats will bring bad luck.

Also among the myths: Black cats are evil and not adoptable.

Others believe the dark-colored felines are in danger of being "irresponsibly adopted" and returned to shelters once Halloween ends.

But Christa Chadwick, vice president of shelter services at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), said they aren't less likely to be adopted, there are just more black cats than cats of any other color. The black coloration gene in pets is dominant.

And there's no evidence to support the notion that they're in more danger around Halloween, she said.

"Black cats are not in peril on Halloween or any other day of the year," Chadwick told USA TODAY. "While black cats get wrapped up in outdated myths, the truth is that they’re just as sweet and lovable as the next feline."

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What do black cats symbolize?

Jennifer Stott, executive director and cofounder of the Black Cat Rescue in Somerville, Massachusetts, has worked with black cats for 15 years.

In the U.S., black cats are sometimes deemed bad omens; some even have a reputation of being mean, and not as friendly as lighter-colored felines, she said.

Stottsaid black cats are "the underdogs of the cat world" because they are often overlooked.

She has also heard people argue that black cats aren't as pretty as those with other coat colors.

But in some countries, black cats are actually viewed as good luck, including in Japan and Scotland, according to History.com.

Thackery Binx in the 1993 film "Hocus Pocus."
Thackery Binx in the 1993 film "Hocus Pocus."

"For me, black cats have always sort of represented something a little magical in a positive way," Stott told USA TODAY.

She said black cats aren't any different from other cats, and she doesn't think coat color has any bearing on what cat personalities are like.

Are black cats actually bad luck? Here's what Americans think

Black cats have been involved in quite a few research projects over the past decade, including one done this fall by ACANA Pet Food and market research company OnePoll.

The companies conducted a survey among about 2,000 American cat owners and found that:

  • 41% of respondents think black cats bring good luck

  • 21% of participants think black cats bring bad luck

  • 30% don't think black cats bring any kind of luck

  • 8% aren't sure how they feel

Robert Carini, associate professor of sociology at the University of Louisville, led a study about cat coat colors and perceptions that was peer-reviewed and published in September 2020.

The team looked at coat color and its relation to adoptions, transfers, and the worst possible outcome, euthanasia, he said. Although the differences in numbers weren't large, cats with black coats did have some of the worst outcomes, he said.

"They didn't have a much higher chance," but "it still is a statistically detectable, higher proportion of them ultimately being euthanized rather than adopted or transferred, which includes fostering," he said.

Carly, a black cat, was rescued from a hoarding situation in September 2022 and has been diagnosed with persistent right aortic arch, which causes a restriction of the flow of food down the esophagus to the stomach. She needs surgery, according to the Somerville, Massachusetts organization that's helping her, Black Cat Rescue.
Carly, a black cat, was rescued from a hoarding situation in September 2022 and has been diagnosed with persistent right aortic arch, which causes a restriction of the flow of food down the esophagus to the stomach. She needs surgery, according to the Somerville, Massachusetts organization that's helping her, Black Cat Rescue.

Black cats and Halloween adoptions

Halloween doesn't impact black cat adoptions, according to Carini's research.

"It's kind of a shame that things may be looking this way for them," Carini told USA TODAY. "We didn't find it helped them in terms of their outcomes in the month of October over the two years of data that we had. We were hoping that black cats would get a break."

Stott from the Black Cat Rescue said it can be tough getting people to adopt them, both because of the belief that they bring bad luck and the fact that they physically fade into the background of cages in shelter settings.

But while many people think they are less likely to be adopted, they aren't, she said. They are more likely to be euthanized though.

And many people think black cats shouldn't be available for adoption in October, but not Stott.

In her eyes, halting adoptions is not the best thing to do. If black cats aren't adopted in October, other cats may end up in shelters that euthanize animals, she said.

"When people try to protect cats from this mythical possibility of hypothetical things that might happen to them, they are actually hurting real cats in real time," she said.

In October, her shelter takes advantage of the cats' association with Halloween, hosting special events, like this year's Halloween pizza party.

"A lot of people don't like to associate them too much with Halloween but we have found that if we keep things really positive and upbeat, that it can really spread goodwill," Stott said. "Most of our donations for the year, we do get in October, so that association to Halloween can be a positive thing."

Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY's NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757 – and loves all things horror, witches, Christmas, and food. Follow her on Twitter at @Saleen_Martin or email her at sdmartin@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Are black cats really bad luck? Experts weigh in ahead of Halloween