Today (August 17) is designated as National Black Cat Appreciation Day. It is a tribute—if you will—to any “solid black” domestic cat of pure or mixed breed pedigree, and, perhaps, some of their wild feline cousins.
The “awareness” and “appreciation” day is, in part, intended to help dispel age-old superstitions concerning black cats. Hopes are that the celebration will popularize these single-colored felids among the demographic of cat owners, potential owners, and “foster parents” in the United States. This is all in light of legendary myths that have lead to the demise of black cats for centuries.
Although some cultures consider the black cat to be good luck, as is the case in the UK, most US residents fear these boldly colored feline companion animals—doing everything they can to avoid crossing the path of a black cat. Presumably, they are also less inclined to take one of these dark colored creatures home.
For staff and volunteers at animal shelters nationwide, it is hoped that black cats, which are usually the last to be adopted, if at all, benefit from this day of heightened black cat awareness.
Despite the reluctance of many to keep black cats, solid black is a permitted color option in 22 cat breeds registered by the US-based Cat Fanciers’ Association.
Melanism, which is also seen in 11 of the 36 wild felid species, produces yellow irises as a result of high levels of melanin in the pigment of these carnivorans. In addition, melanism, the opposite of albinism, is most prevalent in male cats.
Incidentally, the “black panther” refers to any melanistic jaguar, leopard or jaguarundi. To date, no record of melanism has been reported in cougars (Puma concolor), including the Florida panther—an endangered subspecies of cougar (aka mountain lion, catamount, puma).
Phenotype transmission analyses suggests that melanism, which is hypothesized to be adaptive in some felid species for ambushing prey, arose independently several times in the cat family (Felidae). More recently, melanism has been suspected of conferring some immunological benefit to cats with regard to pathogen resistance.
Remember that keeping large cats is illegal in many states and private ownership is highly frowned upon due to the dangers of working with exotic felids and their challenging welfare needs in captivity.
If you choose to rescue a black cat or any other domestic felid in need, please remember to keep the cats inside or construct an outdoor “catio” enclosure for them.
I also encourage you to read Cat Whisperer (Random House) by cat behaviorist Mieshelle Nagelschneider. The science-based book is especially recommended if you need to address behavioral issues in multi-cat households or are contemplating relinquishing an animal or rescuing another feline friend.
In my review of the book, I said “The reason people are so mesmerized by house cats is because they are truly miniature versions of lions, tigers, and leopards. Mieshelle explains in an unprecedented and a most accessible way, the behavior of the house cat, with her unique insight into the often misunderstood companion animal that is as wild as we have become civilized.”
By Jordan Carlton Schaul of University of Alaska