Shelters use caution in cat adoptions near Halloween

Sunday, October 26, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- An animal shelter in St. Charles County wants to find good homes for 15 black cats, but this shelter, like many around the nation, won't allow them to be adopted during the Halloween season.

Officials say they're just being careful, but some high-profile cases of cat abuse have made it a common practice for shelters to hold off on some cat adoptions in the days surrounding the holiday.

"We are really cautious," said Theresa Williams, director of St. Charles County Humane Services. The concern is that people who don't truly want to be pet owners will want a cat as a seasonal prop, or, as has happened in isolated incidents, get a black or white cat to use in ritual abuse.

St. Louis area officials who fight animal abuse said they've heard no complaints in recent years around Halloween, but said there's no question animals need to be looked after at this time of year. "Should we be concerned? We just don't know," said Williams.

Shelters from California to Massachusetts have instituted similar policies. Many just hold onto certain cats during the holiday; they don't adopt out black cats, sought after around Halloween for their superstitious associations, as well as white cats, which have been sacrificed as a symbol of purity or innocence.

Dragged to death

Three teenagers were charged last year in Leavenworth, Wash., in the torture and killing of a cat on Halloween night. Police at the time said one of the boys said the cat bit him. Authorities said one beat the cat against a rock, then the teens allegedly tied the dead cat to a truck and dragged it.

Shawn Poirier, a witch who lives in Salem, Mass., still has a newspaper clipping on his refrigerator about a cat in the nearby community of Peabody that was disemboweled in the days before Halloween in 1996, an incident he said he still has difficulty discussing.

Poirier, 37, said witches there love their cats and support animal shelters. "People who are witches in no way harm animals. They protect them," he said.

Poirier owns three cats. He said the association between witches, or those who practice magic, and cats is still strong, and said most witches he knows are cat owners. "Just look at their faces. How could we not?" he said, explaining associations between the two go back for centuries. "It's the association with divinity from the ancient cultures," he said.

Colorado resident Nan Stuart, who teaches at the Law Enforcement Training Institute at the University of Missouri and elsewhere about cruelty investigations, said animal mistreatment around Halloween is widespread.

She said, contrary to what some may think, white cats or white German Shepherds are probably most sought for ritual killings at Halloween. "You probably won't hear about many of them," she said. "I've investigated cases of it."

Stuart said abuse around Halloween often involves people who are "dabblers," or those trying out satanism. She said law enforcers take animal crimes seriously, both for the crimes themselves and because animal abuse is often an indicator of violent tendencies toward humans. Penalties vary among the states but include fines up to thousands of dollars and possible jail time.

On the Net

Law Enforcement Training Institute: www.missouri.edu/ 7/8letiwww

Humane Society of Missouri: www.hsmo.org

Shawn Poirier: www.witchesofsalem.com

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