If a black cat crosses your path, give it a loving home. That’s the message of Asheville nonprofit Binx’s Home for Black Cats, a rescue that focuses exclusively on fostering and adopting black cats.
Binx’s grew out of Hannah Soboleski’s personal experience fostering black cats for other local rescues and shelters. She had always had a special love for the animals, despite growing up among conventional superstitions associating black cats with bad luck and satanism. As a cat foster parent, she saw up close how many black cats came into the shelters and how long they stayed there before adoption.
Soboleski’s experience is backed up by sobering statistics. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, black cats come into shelters more often than cats of any other coat color. Once there, a 2013 study in The Open Veterinary Science Journal shows, they stay in shelters an average of six days longer than cats of other colors.
This delay in adoption increases their risk for infections and euthanasia. Thirty percent of black cats in shelters are euthanized, according to the ASPCA — again, more than those of any other color.
“I started realizing that there is a need for a foster-based rescue for people that are willing to help out black cats,” Soboleski says.
As one of four black cat rescues in the nation, and the only one in the South, Binx’s is part of a growing community hoping to save lives. Since Soboleski founded the nonprofit in 2020, it has rescued 205 black cats and adopted out 133.
“So many people are starting to realize that black cats are wonderful animals,” Soboleski says. “They’re just like other cats.”
Black cat bias
Black cats have been tied to witchcraft and devil worship as far back as 1180, when the English writer Walter Map claimed that Satan appeared to his devotees in the shape of a black cat. Growing up in the South in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Asheville Cat Weirdo Mer Milanovsky, owner of black cats Frankie and Doug, was told that Christians used to burn black cats alive unless they had patches of white fur called “God spots.”
More common in recent centuries are superstitions associating black cats with bad luck. Perri Emory, who has fostered for the Transylvania Animal Alliance Group for 11 years and owns black cat Banjo, heard throughout her late ’70s and early ’80s childhood in Western North Carolina that if a black cat appeared in front of your car, you were supposed to make an X on the windshield.
Measuring the impact of superstition when it comes to black cats and adoption is difficult. Black is the most common cat coat color, according to PetMD. (Scientists suspect this is because natural selection favors black cats, who can blend into the darkness better while hunting.) As a result, black cats may predominate among shelter and rescue populations simply because there are more of them overall.
Studies that look for “black cat bias” are few in number and have relatively small sample sizes, making it difficult to draw broader conclusions. However, a 2019 study in Psychological Reports found that people who describe themselves as superstitious were more likely to see black cats as more aggressive and less friendly.
Anecdotally, Soboleski has been told by a variety of workers at various rescues and shelters in the area that black cats stick around for longer. Emory has experienced this herself as a foster mom. If there are any black cats among the fosters she sends to adoption events, she says, “Nine times out of 10, I’m going to get the black ones back before anybody else.”
Soboleski doesn’t believe superstitions play as much of a role as they once did. She points to ASPCA numbers showing that black cats are adopted at rates similar to that of other cats. She does acknowledge, however, that social media and a rise in online adoptions have exacerbated another reason people don’t adopt black cats: the perception that they are not as photogenic.
She combats this by making sure she has good lighting when taking adoption photos for the Binx’s website and adjusting the contrast so that the kitties’ gold or green eyes stand out. Soboleski’s photo of a kitten named Bojack worked for Walker Clarke, who “fell in love the second I saw his picture.” Clarke calls the cat, now named Truffle, “the most perfect little void baby.”
Witchy and proud
Binx’s Home for Black Cats is named after Binx Pyewacket, Soboleski’s 6-year old black cat, who is listed on the rescue’s website as “her familiar and best friend.” According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the word “familiar” was first used during European witch trials in the 15th-17th centuries to refer to a small animal with magical powers who loyally serves a witch.
For Soboleski, using the term is a way to reclaim some of the stigma connecting black cats with witches and witchcraft for good. The name Binx Pyewacket itself comes from Thackery Binx, a boy-turned-black-cat who helps rescue the protagonists in the Halloween film Hocus Pocus, and Pyewacket, a Siamese cat and witch’s familiar in the 1958 film Bell, Book and Candle.
The word also conveys the closeness of their relationship. Six years ago, the Asheville Humane Society asked Soboleski to foster a black kitten in the hopes that a break from the shelter would help him heal from an upper respiratory infection.
“He got better really quickly,” Soboleski recalls. “He was putting on weight, [and] his URI went away.”
By nursing him, Soboleski says, she formed a very close bond with Binx during a difficult time in her life. “We worked really hard for each other and on each other, to help [us] get to a better place,” she says. “He truly is my familiar.”
When pandemic restrictions had loosened up enough for Binx’s to hold adoption events, Soboleski decided to lean even further into the witchy association. She had always enjoyed going to the metaphysical store Raven and Crone and realized that it could be a great place to showcase the animals.
Now, “Find Your Familiar” is a monthly event, often featuring Shifra Nerenberg, an animal communicator who uses her intuitive skills to facilitate adoptions. “If [someone] is tuned into a particular cat already, I talk with the cat to make sure they reciprocate the interest,” Nerenberg says.
“I also get to pass along fun messages, like when an adopter was cuddling a kitty and that feline told me the human ‘smells nice’ so she wanted to claim her, too.”
On Oct. 1, Binx’s Home for Black Cats hosted a Halloween-themed fundraiser at Raven and Crone that featured two separate showings of Hocus Pocus and a raffle.
Why not on Allhallow’s Eve itself? Because even though many people no longer believe in superstitions surrounding black cats, they believe that others do. Soboleski experienced this herself as a teenager when her black cat was found dead outside around Halloween. While there was no sign of deliberate harm, family members assumed “Satan worshippers” were to blame.
It’s unclear how many shelters and rescues avoid adopting out black cats on or before Halloween, but some organizations have historically done so out of fears that the animals would be harmed.
Soboleski thinks those fears are unfounded. “Do I think that people are spending $125 [Binx’s adoption fee] so that they can kill a black cat on Halloween? No, I don’t,” she says.
She considers not adopting black cats a greater risk because of their high euthanasia rates. “[People] have this amazing intention of trying to protect black cats, [but] by not allowing us to adopt out during that time, it has the opposite effect,” she says.
However, Soboleski respects her donors’ concerns. Last year, Binx’s did not adopt out any cats during the entire month of October. This year, the rescue is pausing adoptions during the two weeks leading up to Halloween.
“I’m hoping that we can get to a point where one Halloween we can have a big fundraiser and people can come meet all the kitties,” she says. By repeating the message about the greater threat euthanasia poses to black cats, Soboleski slowly hopes to erode the misconceptions preventing black cats from finding homes around Halloween.
Most of all, she urges people to approach cat adoption without preconceived notions of what they want. “Come in open hearted, open minded and realize that all of these cats need homes [and] deserve them,” Soboleski says.