There’s something about black cats that makes us a bit shivery. These feline shadows have skulked around folklore for thousands of years, and become known as both omens of prosperity as well as misfortune. Yet in recent years, black cats have fallen victim to their own mystery. Not only are they usually the last cats to be adopted from shelters but now the RSPCA has said they are being rejected - because they don’t look good in selfies.
Perhaps it’s not that they’re ugly but because their raven pelts are too much competition for selfie-obsessed catonistas. Their eyes, like citrus orbs, beam out of glossy charcoal fur, and hold you spellbound. They are shadows with eyes, liquid silhouettes that melt back into the darkness if you stare at them for too long.
The camouflage of their coats was what first gave rise to black cats' negative association with witches. Lincolnshire legend dictates that a father and son were walking back from the tavern on a moonless night when startled by movement in the shadows. Throwing stones into the darkness they eventually saw a cat limp into a house nearby. When the woman who lived in the house was seen the next day limping with a bandaged hand in the marketplace, the men suspected that she was a witch who had turned herself into a black cat to carry out her magical mischief. Black cats were seen as nocturnal agents of the occult, invisibly causing chaos before slinking back into the shadows.
Scientists, however, think such camouflage may have benefitted their survival. Eleven of the 17 species of cat that exist have evolved to have black coats, proving that sable fur is most definitely advantageous for a feline. The mutated gene that gives them black fur is more resistant to diseases than others. The research hasn’t been done yet, but it is suspected that black cats cannot get FIV, an AIDS-like syndrome for cats Choose a black cat and you won’t only be sharing your home with a gothic glamourpuss but an amazing mutant creature too.
I’m not the only one who thinks so: Their perceived power led anarchists to adopt the black cat as their symbol. Labour activist Ralph Chaplin, who is often credited with first using the arched black cat of anarchy, told a 1918 trial of industrial leaders, that black cat "was commonly used by the boys as representing the idea of sabotage. The idea being to frighten the employer by the mention of the name sabotage, or by putting a black cat somewhere around. You know if you saw a black cat go across your path you would think, if you were superstitious, you are going to have a little bad luck. The idea of sabotage is to use a little black cat on the boss."
If selfies are still a stumbling block for you, a few simple tricks will let you photograph your black cat to its full advantage. Their facial expressions are just as captivating as other cats, just choose backgrounds that aren’t too distracting, in colours that enhance their particular shade of sable. Darker backgrounds are best, plus a little extra exposure can help throw their eyebrows and noses into sharper relief. Advice on various forums also suggests cross lighting your cat, so sitting by the window to help pick out all the different shades of their coat might help.
I’d like to say that black cats are friendlier, but there’s not been enough research into the relationship between cat behaviour and cat coats. A 2012 study found that people perceived ginger cats are warm and friendly whereas black cats were seen as aloof. I want to change this perception. All the black cats I’ve ever owned have been extremely loving. For me, orange is definitely not the new black.