Halloween pet threats: Urban legends vs. reality — are your pets safe?

October 20, 2009 at 7:49 pm Leave a comment

HalloweenDieselHornsFrom my column this week on the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate.com:

Which is a greater threat to your pets at Halloween: ritual satanic sacrifice, or your kids’ trick or treat bag?

Yes, it’s that time of year when the flood of cult cat sacrifice stories start piling up in the inbox, with that breathless “forward this to everyone you know!” tag line. (Note to my readers: Pet related or not, there has never been a message that should be forwarded to everyone you know. Trust me on this.)

Which means it’s also that time of year when I wish that the people who worry about cat sacrifices would instead worry about far more common and preventable holiday threats to our pets. Like the fact that chocolate, while a wonderful and healthful food for humans, is toxic to dogs and cats. Or that the sweetener xylitol, while beneficial to human blood sugar levels and dental health, can be fatal to dogs and cats even in very small quantities.

HalloweenTimmyJulieOlsenOr the biggest threat of all, the way that superstition and prejudice about black cats stops a lot of people from adopting them, any time of year:

While tales of cult sacrifice are the stuff of urban legend, and there is no evidence at all to support them — check out the myth-busters at Snopes.com if you don’t believe me — cats, especially black ones, might be “borrowed” to provide atmosphere at someone’s haunted house or holiday party, or become the victims of Halloween pranks.

Concern over this issue is why it was once fairly common for shelters to ban black cat adoptions around Halloween. Today, shelter directors realize that homelessness is a far greater threat to black cats than Halloween is, and the practice is on the decline. I called several Bay Area shelters, and none restricted black cat adoptions in October.

“We have no special policy or restrictions on Halloween black cat adoptions,” said Bobbe Bartlett, development director for Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek. “Our regular screening procedures are enough to provide safeguards for the cats we adopt.”

“So many cats need homes, particularly the black ones who are often stuck in shelters the longest, that the whole idea of banning their adoption strikes me as ridiculous,” said Scott Delucchi, senior vice-president of communications for the Peninsula Humane Society. “Our mission is to get cats into homes, so we’d be more likely to do a Halloween promotion than a ban.”

Here’s the rest.

And why yes, this was pretty much just an excuse to use those two fantabulous Halloween photos. Diesel the devilishly handsome Pharaoh Hound is owned and photographed by the amazingly talented Renee Needham, who posts her wonderful work on DogHobbyist.com. Timmy the Halloween kitty is owned by photographer Julie Olsen, who I discovered on Flickr.


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