Monday, October 31, 2011

Bats, Black Cats and Hooting Owls

It’s that time of year again. Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin airs on television, pumpkin patches become filled with children searching for just the right rounded orange gourd to carve into a jack-o-lantern and retail shops are haunted by ghouls and goblins wanting to buy the scariest and spookiest of Halloween merchandise.
According to the CBS Early Show, ‘Broomstick and Business’ Americans will spend nearly $7 billion celebrating this Halloween season.;lst;2 That, explains National Federation’s Ellen Davis, is about $72 per person and predicts many celebrators plan to spend money on dressing up their family pet.
So why is Halloweens tradition filled with folklore, myths and omens that invoke so many spooky superstitions and ghoulish misfortunes for animals? For thousands of year’s historic myths and monster like predictions of death and doom surround some of our most beloved and sacred animals. Why?  
Let’s be reasonable here, cats can’t cast spells, bats aren’t vampires (except for the vampire bat, owls seen during daylight hours aren’t omens of death and a crow’s caw does not foretell that death is upon you. Even in ancient history, the Sparrow was thought to carry the souls of the dead and bring you bad luck if you killed one.
Where do these animal related superstitions come from? Let’s examine a few.

Pilgrims coming to America used religion as reason to hate black cats.  Arriving from Europe and England, they brought with them many suspicions, one of them being that black cats possessed evil spirits and anyone owning a coal colored cat would be subject to punishment and even death.
Black cats were thought to be reincarnated spirits who had a supernatural ability to see into the future, and a middle ages myth created the cat into an apparition of a witch who was in disguise.

Animal shelters across the country have often contributed to this beastly myth. By banning or limiting the adoption of black cats during the month of October, shelter workers have inadvertently committed themselves to believing that satanic cults or mischievous monsters rush to animal welfare agencies to trick workers into adopting out a black cat who will then be used in some type of satanic ritual.
I believe that if a shelter has a solid adoption policy the situation can be avoided. As an animal advocate, I do encourage extra vigilance if a suspicious characters inquiry is specific to a black cat, just as I am when someone wants a guard dog, un-spayed female or intact male (but those topics really are for another blog). Even local shelters like Milford Animal Control are often cautious when someone requests a black cat around Halloween and makes certain the adopter has the right intentions in mind when adopting (any animal).

Where are black cats seen as the deliverance of good fortune? The Scottish revered black cats who arrived to someone’s home as a sign of prosperity, while in Ireland and Great Britain the black cat is a symbol of good luck. The Egyptian Cat Goddess, Bast or Bastet,
 also represented good luck. There is even a national black cat appreciation day.

What about bats? Why are these creatures of the night more frightening this time of year? They are nocturnal, they do hunt after dusk but they don’t suck blood through their fangs. Their beady little eyes and odd shaped heads, along with their sonar style hunting (echolocation) help them catch their prey, which are mostly bugs and insects.
Spiders are beneficial because they entangle insect pests in their sticky web, while toads should not be part of any witch’s brew. In fact they are a good indicator of a healthy environment that has little pollution. When the local toad population dies out, that can be the first sign of environmental toxins and a faulty eco-system.
The silent flight and glowing eyes of the predatory owl make some goblins howl in fright. But owls are not eerie and their screech is not to scare you (unless you plan to do them harm), but to communicate everything from warning oncoming predators to stay away, to juvenile antics and begging momma owl for food.

So superstitions whose centuries old origins of bad luck, omens and predictions can now be cast away to recognize cats as good luck, toads as eco- predictors and bats as bad-bug eaters.
Have a HOOT-Y Halloween.

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