Halloween no treat for nation’s black cats

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Each year at this time, people who own black cats are warned to keep them safe from thieves who might want to use the cats for nefarious purposes. Keep your black cats indoors, owners are told, lest they be stolen and used in dark satanic rituals.

Whether caution is necessary or rooted merely in urban legend, some older news accounts remind us there are individuals who might think Halloween gives them freedom to terrorize or kill an animal for entertainment.

The association between black cats and Halloween dates back centuries to a time when people believed felines were really witches in disguise.

Halloween originated with ancient Celtic feasts of Samhain, or summer’s end, when it was believed that spirits emerged from their resting places to roam the streets and play tricks on the living.

On that night, people dressed in costumes so any evil spirit lurking in the dark would not be able to recognize them. The spirits would be offered food and animal sacrifices.

Black cats were sometimes considered a witch’s familiar — his or her supernatural servant — because they are largely nocturnal, roaming at night when people believed that evil lurked waiting to attack unsuspecting souls.

Imaginations ran wild when the lack of knowledge prevented people from logically explaining what they couldn’t understand.

Still, old traditions and superstitions die hard and many rescues warn owners to pay special attention to the safety of their pets during the Halloween season.

It is estimated that Americans will spend $370 million on Halloween costumes for their pets this year.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has provided these common-sense tips for animal owners during the Halloween season:

Keep treats for trick-or-treaters. Chocolate — especially dark or baking chocolate — can be very dangerous for dogs and cats. Candies containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can also cause problems. If you suspect your pet has ingested something toxic, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435.

Pumpkins and decorative corn are considered to be relatively nontoxic, but they can produce an upset stomach in pets that nibble on them.

Wires and cords from electric lights and other decorations should be kept out of reach of your pets. If chewed, your pet might suffer cuts or burns, or receive a possibly life-threatening electrical shock.

Exercise caution with candles. Pets can easily knock a lit pumpkin over and cause a fire. Curious kittens especially run the risk of getting burned or singed by candle flames.

Don’t put your dog or cat in a costume unless you know he or she loves it. For pets who don’t like them, wearing a costume might cause undue stress.

If you do dress up your pet, make sure the costume does not constrict the animal’s movement or hearing, or impede it ability to breathe, bark or meow. If your pet seems distressed, allergic or shows abnormal behavior, don a festive bandana instead.

Your pet’s costume should not have small, dangling or easily chewed-off pieces to choke on. Ill-fitting outfits can get twisted on external objects or your pet, leading to injury.

All but the most social dogs and cats should be kept in a separate room away from the front door during peak trick-or-treating hours.

Too many strangers can be scary and stressful for pets.

When opening the door for trick-or-treaters, take care that your cat or dog doesn’t dart outside.

Always make sure your dog or cat has proper identification and wears an up-to-date license. If for any reason your pet escapes and becomes lost, a collar and tags and/or a microchip can be a lifesaver, increasing the chances that he or she will be returned to you.

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