By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 5 October 2010)
When Halloween rolls around each year, people worry that cultists will abduct and murder their pets, but experts say that Halloween-related ritualistic abuse of cats is rare to nonexistent.
Halloween and Cat Sacrifice
Although there may have been an occasional cat sacrifice during Halloween, it’s likely far less common than media hype has suggested. Dr. Leslie Sinclair of the Humane Society of the United States conducted a study of news clippings in 1996 to seek concrete evidence of Halloween-related feline sacrifice and found nothing at all.
Lesley Bannatyne (A Halloween How-to: Costumes, Parties, Decorations, and Destinations) also conducted survey of Halloween-related cat abuses in the news between 1992 and 1999. She found only 10 incidents in which cats were harmed (7 of them involving black cats), and it was impossible in most of these cases to determine how close to October 31 the abuses actually occurred.
Concerns about ritualistic animal abuse persist because the overall prevalence of Satanist activity in general has been overestimated. The origins of this misperception can be found in the “Satanic Panic” that was ushered in during the 1980s by a series of books such as Michelle Remembers, He Came to Set the Captives Free, and Satan’s Underground. These supposedly true accounts of satanic abuse and animal sacrifice proved to be fabrications when investigated by both Wiccans and Evangelicals, yet many people continue to believe that vast networks of Satanists operate covertly within suburban neighbourhoods.
According to cult expert and associate professor of sociology Janja Lalick of California State University in Chico, rare instances of cat mutilation during Halloween are simply “random acts of unkindness,” the work of “budding psychopaths or teenage pranksters.” She asserts that while a few teens do dabble in Satanism, when they kill an animal, it’s done “more for shock value than out of religious belief.”
According to Lalick, there are likely no more than a few hundred true Satanists throughout the entire United States. She notes that “most of the devil-worshipping activity reported in the media is perpetrated by teenagers based on what they’ve read in church literature or seen in movies.” Cats are found mutilated from time to time and people are quick to jump to the conclusion that these murders are the work of Satanists, but many of these unfortunate felines have actually been killed by coyotes or other predators.
There is also an erroneous belief that Wiccans and other Neopagans sacrifice animals, despite the fact that these groups tend to be supportive of animal welfare initiatives and to abhor animal cruelty.
Animal Abuse: A Year-Round Problem
Although the rate of animal abuse (including abuse of dogs) may rise slightly around Halloween, it’s a year-round problem rather than a seasonal one, and the perpetrators are usually lone adult sociopaths or disturbed teenagers rather than religious cult members. Given that research has shown a link between animal cruelty and violence toward people, this is a significant concern both for animals and humans.
Many shelters do restrict adoptions, particularly of black cats, during October. However, this is often done to prevent selfish people from adopting cats as temporary Halloween decorations and discarding them afterward (as happens with chicks and bunnies during the Easter holidays) rather than fear of ritualistic abuse. Karen Gnaegy of the Animal Rescue and Adoption Society argues that anyone who wants to obtain a cat for nefarious purposes could simply grab one off the street, so why would they bother paying fees and enduring background checks to adopt a shelter cat? Given that black cats in shelters are already at a disadvantage because they are less likely to be adopted than cats of any other colour, restricting adoptions for an entire month may do more harm than good.
Keep Cats and Dogs Safe During Halloween
Although evidence of widespread animal sacrifice is nonexistent, Halloween can be a dangerous time for pets. Crowds, fireworks, and an abundance of foods that are toxic to cats and dogs are just a few of the potential hazards. The crowds and noise of Halloween festivities can be very frightening to animals, causing them to run off in a panic and become lost. Once outdoors, many pets have become the targets of cruel Halloween pranks, such as tying firecrackers to their tails. People should keep their pets indoors during Halloween week and if opening their doors to trick-or-treaters, should confine cats and dogs to a separate room to prevent them escaping.
- Bannatyne, L.P. (2002). A Halloween How-to: Costumes, Parties, Decorations, and Destinations. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.
- Mikkelson, B., & Mikkelson, D. (27 October 2005). “Cat o’Nine Tales.” Snopes.com.
- Mott, M., National Geographic News. (26 October 2007). “Ritual Cat Sacrifices a Halloween Myth, Experts Say.” NationalGeographic.com.
- Robinson, B.A., Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. (2006). “Halloween Hoaxes: Ritual Abuse & Sacrifice of Black Cats.” ReligiousTolerance.org.