Midnight and Noir scampered to their feet like orphans eager to find new homes. But with Halloween approaching, these black cats might find it difficult to be sprung any time soon from the Maryland SPCA's Baltimore shelter.
That's because the tenders of the city's castaway pets are out to protect their feline wards from being hurt in a teen-ager's holiday prank -- or maybe even in a satanic cult's ritual.
"As horrible as this may sound, cats are tortured around Halloween time," said Deborah Thomas, executive director of the Maryland SPCA, which for years has enforced a virtual moratorium on black cat adoptions in the days before Halloween. "It's just incredible what people will do to cats, as if they don't have any feelings."
Although concrete information on Halloween cat cruelty is hard to obtain, shelters in Maryland and across the country for years have taken special care of black cats this time of year.
Carroll County's humane society bans black cat adoptions in the days before Halloween -- or on the eve of other satanic holidays.
At the Humane Society of Baltimore County shelter in Reisterstown, anyone seeking to adopt a black cat this time of the year can expect to be extensively questioned.
"That's a way we can basically tell if the animal would be put in any danger," said shelter manager Ana Munoz. "If you have somebody who comes in and just simply asks for black cats, then we know that there is something fishy going on."
Dr. Leslie Sinclair, a veterinarian who is director of companion animal care for the Humane Society of the United States, said shelters across the country ban adoptions at this time of year -- or at least closely scrutinize adoption applicants.
Sinclair said shelters are worried that black cats might be used as living Halloween party decorations -- only to be returned to the shelter or abandoned afterward.
Nicky Ratliff, executive director of Humane Society of Carroll County, does not allow black cats to be adopted before Halloween.
"Not only black cats, but also solid white cats. And not only on Halloween, but on several holidays on the satanic calendar," Ratliff said.
To some, black cats are superior pets, and symbols of sinewy grace and elegant beauty. To others, they spell bad luck.
The animal has long been seen as holding dark powers. In medieval Europe, the cats were seen as agents of the devil. In 20th-century America, bluesman Muddy Waters sang of a mojo that wouldn't be complete without a black cat bone.
Although many shelter operators acknowledge having little or no first-hand experience with animal sacrifices on Halloween, they have long traded tales of black cats being decapitated, disemboweled or skinned to mark the holiday. Shelter operators say pet owners should keep their pets indoors at Halloween.
But tales of widespread animal torture on Halloween might be more legend than real, Sinclair said. She said that society officials employed a clipping service to survey news accounts of feline carnage surrounding Halloween 1996 -- and found nothing.
Michael F. Ryan -- an investigator with the Baltimore state's attorney's office who has advised police departments on the practices of devil worshipers -- said no one should fear that black cats are about to be singled out for satanic sacrifice.
"It's no more significant than a white dog, a brown dog or a polka-dotted kangaroo," he said. "The more attention people give to this myth, it just helps to ride along on a wave that takes on a life of its own. It's just not there.
Local animal control officials in Baltimore City and Howard and Baltimore counties said they do not ban adoptions of black cats for Halloween because applicants are thoroughly screened.
Thomas, the Maryland SPCA director, said that because the agency has increased its scrutiny of adoption applicants, its Halloween ban will likely be relaxed for the first time this year. Still, shelter workers will consider the potential for abuse before allowing a black cat to be adopted.
Last week, the shelter office was decorated for the season with paper cutouts of jack-o'-lanterns and hobgoblins -- and, of course, black cats. The kennel held more than 60 cats, including at least seven black cats. One black kitten, a female dubbed Toots by the shelter staff, was adopted by Jeremy Egan and her 5-year-old son, Mark.
As the boy ventured a wary stroke of the kitten's head, his mother said she's always enjoyed black cats. "They're pretty," she said. "I've always had good luck with black cats."
Pub Date: 10/21/97