Thursday, January 19, 2012

Black Fridays and Senior Moments

A black cat and a senior cat walked into a shelter … and several months later, they still hadn’t left.

Juniper, age 14

Thunder, age 8

Here at HSCC, we see the same trends in cat adoptions that are consistent nationwide: black cats and senior cats are at the greatest disadvantage for finding new homes. Now, we realize we're probably preaching to the choir. No doubt many of you reading this post are diehard cat lovers who have found unforgettable companionship with both black and senior cats (after all, young cats become seniors).
Alphonse, age 8
But judging from the fact that 11 of our 24 current feline adoption candidates are black, and a full half of the 24 are seniors, it’s clear that biases exist. In the case of senior cats, it’s a little easier to understand. Older cats are generally more prone to illnesses, which may result in larger costs upfront at the vet. Furthermore, most adopters are looking to invest in long-term companionship rather than a few years of friendship. Lastly, senior cats are usually less engaging at the shelter, and therefore less tempting to adopt. Young cats are active in their living spaces—drawing attention—and tend to put themselves forward; whereas older cats often find the environment overwhelming, and hit the shut-off switch in an afternoon nap.

Stout, age 6
The dearth of adoptions of black cats, however, is a bit more puzzling. It’s a well-known fact among cat afficiandos that sable kitties tend to be the most outgoing, vocal, athletic, and personable of the domestic felines. Of course, we can’t generalize across the board; every cat is an individual. But for all of the hundreds of cats that come through our shelter, we’ve noticed a definite pattern: black cats have personality to spare.

So where’s the missing link? Psychology offers up a theory: because the color black absorbs more light than lighter hues, the human eye can’t make out facial features of black animals as distinctly. We feel less of a connection to faces we can’t see as well. Alternately, there’s the old superstition that black cats are bad luck.

Or perhaps it comes down to simple aesthetics: a gleaming, jet black coat just isn’t as appealing?  
Whatever the reason(s), the bias against black animals is so ubiquitous that the shelter world has actually coined the term “Black Cat/Dog Syndrome” in reference.

Why does this matter? Because a shelter is not a home. Not only is it less comfortable (a life of confinement with minimal physical and mental stimulation), it’s a less healthy place to live. Sure, we use shameful amounts of bleach, clean like demons, observe strict protocols limiting animal intermingling, and give them exemplary medical care. And yet, stress chronically looms in the background, threatening to undo every careful measure we take. A stressed animal will deteriorate—if not physically, mentally. And length of stay in a shelter is directly related to the likelihood of deterioration.   

So what can we do to end the bias and get black cats out the door faster? How can we convince adopters of the benefits of rescuing senior cats, who are generally more mellow, self-possessed, and endlessly grateful for love?

Mya, age 8

For now, most shelters resort to financial incentives—lower adoption fees. I guess the hope is that if one more person gives a black cat a chance, onyx cats everywhere will earn one more convert.  If someone decides to take compassion on a senior kitty, there will be one fewer seasoned sweetheart spending his golden years curled up in a cage.  
Bella, age 5
We hope so, anyway. So for the next two weeks, we’re taking
50% off of senior (seven years and older) cat adoption fees (lowering the price from $60 to $30). And, for the indefinite future, we’re presenting Black Fridays: 50% off the adoption fees of black cats of every age—every Friday.

Both of these promotions begin tomorrow, January 20th!

Can you help us spread the word? If your friends or family are in the market, can you encourage them to take advantage of Black Fridays, or have a Senior Moment?

Lucky, age 9

Because these cats spend every day waiting … just waiting to love a family of any age or color.

Admire the rest of our available senior and black kitties on our website.

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