The Black Cat Mystique

Cat book author and feline furniture designer Kate Benjamin lives with a clowder of black cats. Seven in all, with delightful names such as Jeremiah Beandip, Horacio Queso and Pico de Gato. She refers to them as her little house panthers, a term of endearment that has become a universal, modern-day homage to these felines whose mystique has earned them love and reverence since the ancient Egyptians treated them as gods.

Kate started dying her hair black when she adopted her first black cat, Ando, and named her business Hauspanther, adopting the German spelling haus as a reference to the Bauhaus, a birthplace of modern design.

In many places around the world, black cats are symbols of good luck and good fortune. Although, there are still superstitions labeling them as unlucky — and even evil — which make them targets of hatred and cruelty.

Kate is on a crusade to dispel the negative myths, instead promoting black cats to be the funny, friendly and endearing creatures they are.

Kate’s cat Jeremiah Beandip (shown as a kitten) is a product tester, photo shoot model and shining testament to how cute and endearing black cats are. ©Kate Benjamin

Just The facts

Now that we’re in the 21st century, it’s really time to put superstitions to rest and instead look to modern-day science. There have been many studies about black cats relating to cats of other coat colors in terms of their personalities and behavior.

Dr. Liz Stelow, chief of the UC Davis veterinary hospital’s Behavior Service, has played an active role in this research and sums up her findings in a single sentence: “We did not find black cats to be more aggressive than other coat colors,” she says. “Further, we didn’t find that they stood out in other positive or negative ways, either.”

According to Dr. Gary Weitzman, president and CEO of San Diego Humane Society, black cats (and dogs) do tend to get overlooked by potential adopters.

“But it may not be as significant as we once thought,” he adds. “There are some studies that show that there are simply more black pets because black coloration is a dominant gene. Therefore, there are more black pets in shelters.”

Says Dr. Weitzman, who has authored nine books including How to Speak Cat, “At San Diego Humane Society, our length of stay is negligible for all black pets — 31 days for cats and 14 days for dogs versus pets of other colors — (27 days for cats and 15 days for dogs).

“Black pets still can be undeservedly overlooked by adopters, but the good news is an animal’s personality shines through no matter what color their coat is. And there are wonderful people who will only adopt black pets knowing this is growing,” he confirms.

There are others reasons why black cats can be overlooked by potential adopters. According to a report published by the British Broadcasting Corporation, they are the last to find homes because they don’t look good in selfies!

Changing Shelter Policies

“At San Diego Humane Society, we have a wonderful team of professional photographers who volunteer their time taking great photos of our adoptable animals,” Dr. Weitzman says. “Black animals are harder to photograph (selfie or not), so having their expertise is crucial in showcasing the beauty of all animals in our care.”

The organization, like many other shelters around the country, also holds special adoption promotions designed to give special attention to black pets. These events are usually tied to calendar days such as Black Friday, Black Cat Awareness Day and Black Dog Awareness Day.

However, in contrast to many shelter policies, San Diego Humane no longer prevents black animals from getting adopted during certain times of the year, like before Halloween, based on the fear they would be used in satanic rituals.

“It’s a total myth, and over the years has prevented hundreds of animals from finding good homes,” Dr. Weitzman says. “Putting up unnecessary and ineffective barriers isn’t the answer to protecting them.

“The reality is, San Diego, like most big urban areas, is filled with compassionate, animal-loving people who want to open their hearts and homes to animals. We want to let them do this! We want to empower them and provide resources that encourage adoption — not obstruct it.”

San Diego Humane Society also provides adopters with lifelong support to keep those pets in their homes. Says Dr. Weitzman: “This open approach to adoption is saving lives, which is resounding proof that sometimes, letting go a little can be the best way to share the love.”

#pawsforthiscause: So What Can YOU Do?

©Erica Danger

Take to social media to dispel silly and outdated superstitions about our black feline friends.

Ask friends and family to share photos of their black cats on social media to highlight the joys of living with these black beauties.

Adopt a black cat yourself! “Don’t judge a cat by his or her color, get to know their personality first!” says Kate Benjamin. “In fact, all my cats have really cool, laid-back personalities. When going to adopt a cat, be open to all the possibilities. You never know who you will fall in love with.”

Expert Tips for Beautiful Black Cat Photos

You want your cat to look like the shining star she is, right? Whether you’re shooting with a cellphone or a fancy SLR camera, here are some tips to get the very best photographs possible of any house panther!

© Erica Danger | ericadanger.com

Set the scene. Don’t let clutter steal the show! Clear out any distractions from the area where you’ll be shooting. Sometimes you’ll need to sneak a photo in the moment and won’t have time, but your cat will always look better if you can brush away or lint roll any extra crumbs and loose cat hair on the surfaces around them. This might seem like a boring tip, but trust me when I say it’s a game changer!

Find your light. The most universally flattering lighting is natural light that is bright but indirect, like the light you see near a window. Indirect light is key, though: Direct sunlight creates harsh shadows and highlights. If you don’t have a great window, use a bright lamp or two to light the room. Be aware that each light source or bulb has a color tint known as its “temperature,” so if you’re seeing some funky colors in your photos, try a different type of light.

Play with contrast and color. For truly eye-catching photos, color and contrast are a black cat’s best friend! Use brightly colored throw pillows, blankets or even an interesting piece of fabric draped somewhere behind your cat. Any color or pattern you love can work, but it’s fun to try hues that match your cat’s eye color or a color that’s the complete opposite!

Experiment with angles. If all of your photos are taken while standing above your cat, you’re missing out on a lot of incredible shots! Instead, get comfy on the floor and shoot from their eye level, off to the side or slightly below them. Or get up close and personal for an ultra-close beauty shot! Certain angles will naturally create beautiful separation between your gorgeous subject and the background behind them, so play around and have fun trying new things!

— Erica Danger, cat photographer

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