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The black cat is one of the iconic images of Halloween - peeking out from behind a jack-o'-lantern, perched on a witch's broomstick, or alone, back arched with a puffed-out tail.

It's that identification with Halloween that makes some cat lovers especially protective of black kitties around this time of year. For the Friends of Strays, that concern translates into a ban on the adoption of black cats during October.

The moratorium was instituted years ago over fears that black cats might be adopted and subjected to pranks or worse. Or that they'd be adopted, used as props for Halloween parties or displays, and then returned to the shelter the day after Halloween.

"We can't put our cats through that," said Peggy Fadden, director of public relations for Friends of Strays. "They've been through enough. They were strays."

Friends of Strays is only one of many shelters across the country that holds off on the adoption of black cats in the days and weeks before Halloween because of fears the animals will be abused. But it's unclear how realistic that fear is.

"It seems like a bit of urban lore," said Marissa Segundo, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County SPCA. Her agency, she said, sees no more cruelty directed at black cats during the Halloween season than at any other time of the year.

Nor does the SPCA place a moratorium on black cat adoption during October. The screening process for adoption is so rigorous, Segundo said, that the SPCA thinks a moratorium is unnecessary.

"Black cats are fabulous cats," Segundo said. "We encourage people to adopt black cats."

Fadden agreed that the tales of black cat abuse may be urban legend, but her organization does not want to take any chances. Black cats take enough of a bad rap from some superstitious people who think they're bad luck at any time of the year, so it's better to be safe during the one season when they are especially tied to witches and spooky characters.

The moratorium does mean that black cats tend to accumulate at Friends of Strays during October. So, during November, the organization has Black Beauty month, when the adoption fee for black kittens and cats is cut to $20 each. The usual fee is $40 for a kitten and $25 for a cat.

And there are plenty to choose from.

Of the 325 or so cats at Friends of Strays, 56 are black cats or kittens. And the SPCA has more than 100 cats. About 10 percent of those are black.

"We are overwhelmed with cats right now," Segundo says.