Saturday, 26 October 2013

In Praise of Black Cats

Our black cat, Max (photo taken by Bonnie Wyatt)

Halloween will soon be upon us. I have to admit something. I’m a big suck. I like cats, especially black cats. It all started  March 2009, a Friday. Four of us…moi, my wife, my son, and my daughter all went to the Burlington Ontario Humane Society to look for a cat. We were hoping for a female tabby, like our last one. Her name was Nico and we had just put her down the Monday of that week at the ripe old age of 18. Nico was one of those cats that loved us and either tolerated or absolutely hated everybody else. This time around, we wanted a cat that was going to be people-friendly.

First off, we could not believe how clean and tidy the shelter was. You know the expression…it was so clean you could eat off the floor? We made our rounds of the available cats, not really attaching ourselves to any of them until we entered a room where there were about five or six felines in individual cages. In the far left corner was a long, black male with shiny fur that immediately came to the edge of the cage, looked up at me and poked his paw through the wire. Then he started purring. Just like that! The last thing the four of us thought of was adopting a black cat. Maybe because black cats were too mysterious, too scary looking, or they brought bad luck, or whatever… We really didn’t know why.

We were told his name was Tiggy and he had been there a month, without any takers. We were also told that they found  him  rummaging through a local parking lot dumpster looking for food.  One of the volunteers let Tiggy out for us. Right away, the cat jumped into my daughter’s lap and started rubbing his face against hers. And he went into his purr again, this time louder. We were sold on him. Actually, instead of us choosing him, I think it was more like he chose us.  We made the arrangements to adopt him and as we checked out at the front desk, another volunteer told us that according to her vet, black cats were the best-natured of the feline world. We thought, yeah sure. But, later, when we saw our own vet for the cat’s first visit, he said the same thing. He added that the male cats were the best. By then, we had changed the name of Tiggy, which we thought was kind of sucky, to the more masculine name of Max, which our daughter picked out. Max purred for the vet and even let the doctor scratch his butt. Since we’ve had Max, we have come in contact with many cat owners who have had black cats or still do, and every one said that their best-natured cats were the black male ones. One of them even went so far as to say that after her favorite cat ever, Teddy, got hit by a car, she hasn’t owned another cat since because she said she could never find a another one as good as Teddy. Teddy was an all-black one, like Max, and was much-loved in her neighborhood. 
Max, photo taken by Beth Wyatt

So, being the stats and history person that I am, I had to check out the history of black cats. OK…in North America many people do consider them bad luck. But not so in Japan, where according to local tradition, any unmarried woman with a black cat will have a host of suitors. In Great Britain, black cats are considered very lucky. In fact, in Scottish folklore, it’s believed that when a strange black cat arrives at your front door, then you will prosper. In early Egyptian times, as far back as 3000 BC, all cats were considered sacred, the rock stars of the Middle East animal kingdom. Some were mummified after death. Killing one was a criminal offense.


Then along came the deep, dark Middle Ages that changed everything. There’s a story out there that goes something like this. In Lincolnshire, 16th century England, a man and his son were travelling by buggy one night when they saw a black cat cross their path. Startled, they threw rocks at, hitting it several times before it limped its way to the house of an old woman believed to be a witch. The next day, the father and son saw the old woman and noticed she was bruised and limping. From that day forward in Lincolnshire, it was believed that witches could turn themselves into black cats at night. What bunk. As Europeans sailed the Atlantic for a new start here, this same type of thinking prevailed in early America. Shortly after the arrival of the Pilgrims, people believed black cats were evil and part demon. Anyone caught with a black cat could be severely punished or killed, along with the cat. For centuries now, North America still sticks to believing  there is something unlucky or evil about black cats. I met a woman recently who owns 2 tabbies and she said that black cats give her the heebie-jeebies. I replied that if she met our Max, he’d probably love her to death.

Here’s something for you, just for interest sake. On September 9, 1969, the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets were playing a crucial game at Shea Stadium, New York with over 50,000 fans in attendance. The starting pitchers were Hall-of-Famers Mets Tom Seaver and Cubs Fergie Jenkins. Both teams were involved in a hot National League East divisional race with the Cubs holding a slim 1.5 game lead over the Mets. During the game, a black cat was released onto the field. The cat raced straight to Cubs third-baseman Ran Santo in the on-deck circle, looked at Santo for a moment, then went over to the Cubs dugout to stare down all the players. The Cubs lost the game 7-1 and after that went into a tailspin and lost the title to the Mets by 8 games. Coincidence, right?

A while back, I discovered Bombay cats and their history.  The Bombay is a hybrid, a cross between a brown Burmese and black American shorthair, established by a Kentucky breeder named Nikki Horner in 1958. Because of the dominant black gene, the outcome is a cat resembling a miniature “parlor panther” with short, silky, black fur and copper eyes. If you are looking for an independent cat, the Bombay is not for you. They crave attention.  You can’t leave them alone for long periods of time. They are gentle, very affectionate and love both adults and kids. When someone comes to your door, don’t be surprised if your Bombay cat is part of your greeting party. They are a muscular, medium-size cat and when you pick them up, they are much heavier than they appear. A Bombay has a distinct purr and a robust appetite…in other words a mooch.


After stating all this about the Bombay, I have to wonder if our Max is a Bombay-mix because he has all the above characteristics except for the copper eyes. His eyes are yellow with green rings around the pupils. Seeing that we don’t  know anything about his background, I’d like to think he has some Bombay in him. Wishful thinking?

Whether he does or not, he’s still a great black cat! BLACK CATS RULE!

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