Black cat fever: Saving one of those nine lives

 When Jeff and Alex Hanna went to the SPCA on October 17, looking for a feline addition for their new home, they thought they had found the perfect kitten.

But they were surprised by the adoption instructions. They were told they had to take their pet home in the next 24 hours– or wait two weeks.

The Hannas had stumbled upon the "Black Cat Rule." All over America, animal shelters, apparently acting independently, refuse to sell black cats around Halloween.

At the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, that rule has been official policy for about 10 years, says director Carolyn Foreman.

"We do what we can to not allow someone to hurt our animals," says Foreman. She says the SPCA remains adamant about keeping this policy in effect forever, even though she knows of no tales of torture happening in Albemarle County.

Her tenure has provided her with enough information about would-be pet owners that she would rather be safe than sorry.

Like bunnies abandoned after Easter, black cats may seem like fun and games. Until the holiday's over, and the need for food, water, and shelter turns hijinks into drudgery, and the cat comes out the loser.

Authorities also suggest that cats have been ritually maimed, tortured, and /or sacrificed during this fantastic time of ghouls, goblins, and witches. It's not clear who would indulge in such grotesque and barbaric acts, but consensus points towards emotionally disturbed individuals.

Under the Virginia Felony Cruelty statute, any person who tortures, willfully inflicts inhumane injury or cruelty, and unnecessarily beats, maims, mutilates, or kills any animal whether belonging to himself or another shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony subject to fines and up to two years in prison.

All shelters incur extra costs to keep animals that normally would be released during the month of October, but it's a small price to pay, Foreman says, for safety.

By the time the Hannas made their decision, not a single black kitten was on display. Inquiring, they were told the young black felines had been "put away." Not euthanized, not shipped out, just hidden from public view– until Halloween was over.

The Hannas decided on a several-week-old black kitten, whom they dubbed Cessna and took home the next day. But the adoption process this time involved more than the requisite paperwork.

After a specially arranged SPCA committee meeting and while trying to arrange an appropriate time to pick up the kitty, one SPCA worker quipped, "You're not going to offer up this kitten for any Satanic sacrifice, are you?" Joking aside, this issue has become a real threat to cats of all solid color everywhere.