Coat Color and Cat Outcomes in an Urban U.S. Shelter

Animals (Basel). 2020 Sep 23;10(10):1720. doi: 10.3390/ani10101720.


Some nonhuman animal shelters have developed rehoming programs for black cats to remedy what they believe are their higher rates of euthanasia and lower rates of adoption. This study reviews humans' preferences/aversions to cats of various coat colors and uses contingency tables and multinomial logistic regression to test possible differences in outcomes (euthanasia, adoption, or transfer) for 7983 cats that entered an urban public shelter in Kentucky, USA from 2010 through 2011. While coat color overall was negligibly associated with cat outcomes in a contingency table, the pairwise difference between black and white cats was significant (p < 0.05) and nontrivial in strength. Specifically, black cats experienced the highest euthanasia and lowest adoption rates, while white cats had the lowest euthanasia and highest adoption rates. Brown, gray, and orange cats experienced similar outcomes, but middling between those of black and white cats. These patterns by color remained weak but significant after controlling for breed and stray status in regression analysis, with the exception of orange and white, which did not differ significantly. A subsample of 1219 entirely black cats was analyzed to assess whether they had different outcomes during the run-up to Halloween; their October percentages of adoption and transfer were comparable to or lower than all other months of the calendar year. Thus, this study did not find that outcomes improved for black cats during October. Overall, this study provides weak support for what has been termed "Black Cat Bias" by others, and hints that black cats in public shelters should receive extra consideration for rehoming, particularly if such efforts do not substantially redirect resources from other initiatives.

Keywords: Halloween; black cat; coat color; rehoming; shelter adoption; shelter euthanasia.