When a black cat crosses your path, do you feel a twinge of uneasiness or worry?
If asked to name a witch's must-have accessories, would a black cat near the top of your list, somewhere near broomstick, black cauldron of steaming brew, and conspicuous wart resting on crooked greenish nose?
If so, it's time for you to reconsider the black cat. Scarlet-lettered for too long, the dark beauties - usually last to be adopted - often make the best pets.
It's no secret black cats linger the longest in animal shelters. A 2002 study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science backed up that theory years ago.
In the study, researchers in California discovered black cats were half as likely to be a adopted as tabby cats, and two-thirds less likely to be adopted than white felines.
Patsy Beeker, director of Kitty City in Concord, says the same is true in Cabarrus County. Of the 100 cats and kittens Beeker houses in her Union Street adoption agency and education center on any given day, roughly 25 percent are black or "tuxedo" cats (black with white on the chest, face or feet).
Time and time again, she said, people walk in interested in a black kitten they saw on the organization's website but leave with a fluffy white or orange beauty. "They go home with something with blue eyes, something that's splashy, calico-colored," said Beeker.
As she walks along the cages lined up in the 3,200-square-foot building, many of the white cats hang back away from the cage doors when she comes near, while several of the black ones rub against the cage doors and begin to purr.
"Anything with blue eyes and a nasty personality," said Beeker, stroking a downy black kitten through the metal bars. "They're usually the first to go, and the black cat is there, just singing and dancing."
Beeker blames it on good old, time-honored, irrational fear: "Superstition. People walk through our door and say, 'Oh, I don't want a black cat. They're unlucky.' "
But where did that come from?
In ancient Egypt, black cats were considered good luck. The Romans thought of them as sacred.
But a mix of opinions over the centuries changed people's views of black cats, creating a confusing, hard-to-follow set of guidelines that varied depending on where you lived.
In Japan, a woman with a black cat would have good luck in the romance department. But in Italy, a black cat lying on a person would send a shudder through others. It meant the person was going to die soon.
And as the years went by, it only became more confusing.
A cat sneezing: good.
Carrying one across a stream: bad.
A cat crossing your path from left to right: good.
A cat crossing your path from right to left: bad.
A cat walking onto your boat: good.
A cat walking off your boat: bad.
In the United States, Americans have the 17th-century Puritans to thank for fanning a fiery association between black cats and evil by connecting black cats to witches.
But for Beeker and others who have owned black cats before, that notion of bad luck has been popular for far too long.
"To me they're more laid back," said Beeker. "They really are the sweetest personalities."
Calicos are the most opinionated and aloof, she said. White ones can be ornery. But black cats are relaxed and content. "Black ones are like the hippies of the cat world."