Each year at this time, people who own black cats are warned to keep them safe from thieves who might want to use the cats for nefarious purposes. Keep your black cats indoors, owners are told, lest they be stolen and used in dark satanic rituals.
Whether caution is necessary or rooted merely in urban legend, some older news accounts remind us there are individuals who might think Halloween gives them freedom to terrorize or kill an animal for entertainment.
Even using an animal as party decor or for a prank is abuse, plain and simple. Animals don't appreciate the holiday and don't understand the symbolism that surrounds it. Like children, they can easily become frightened seeing people in strange costumes and masks on the spookiest night of the year.
No matter how widespread the problem is or is not, the real fear of an animal being mistreated has caused some rescue agencies to refuse to allow anyone to adopt black cats the last few weeks before the holiday.
"Black cats are off the market until Halloween," said Georjette Thomas, director of advancement at One of a Kind Adoption Center in Ohio. Other shelters observe behaviors of potential adopters for red flags, including the person's age, and his or her specific preference for a black cat.
The association between black cats and Halloween dates back centuries to a time when people believed felines were really witches in disguise.
Halloween originated with ancient Celtic feasts of Samhain, or summer's end, when it was believed that spirits emerged from their resting places to roam the streets and play tricks on the living.
On that night, people would dress in costumes so any evil spirit lurking in the dark would not be able to recognize them. The spirits would be offered food and animal sacrifices.
Black cats were sometimes considered a witch's familiar — his or her supernatural servant — because they are largely nocturnal, roaming at night when people believed that evil lurked waiting to attack unsuspecting souls. Imaginations ran wild when the lack of knowledge prevented people from logically explaining what they couldn't understand.
Still, old traditions and superstitions die hard, and many rescues warn owners to pay special attention to the safety of their pets during the Halloween season.