Inside a two-family home in Somerville, Olivia stares at me with bright yellow, unflinching eyes. She has long, silky black hair and pointed ears with pale pink tips.
Susanna Finn adopted Olivia in 2010 from Black Cat Rescue, a no-kill organization in Boston that aims to find homes for black cats. Jennifer Stott, who founded the organization with Samantha McDuffee in 2007, says black cats are often overlooked in shelters and need help.
“Black cats are more common than cats of other colors and people are always looking for ‘special,’ ” says Stott, who owns two black cats. “My advice to adopters is to look beyond the physical and adopt an animal with whom you really connect.”
There is some debate over the notion that black cats are less likely to be adopted. According to the MSPCA, black cats are adopted at the same rate as all other cats.
But Inga Fricke, director of shelter and rescue group services at the Humane Society, says that although there are no statistics on black cat adoptions for her organization, poor photo quality and lighting in shelters can make it harder for the animals to stand out.
Since 2007, Black Cat Rescue has found homes for approximately 200 cats. It's not a shelter; Black Cat Rescue cares for indoor cats and kittens through a network of foster homes across Massachusetts. Willing cat lovers can temporarily care for a cat in their home until a permanent home is found.
Right now, a lucky 13 cats are in the system. Three of the 13 will be moving in with their new owners soon, Stott says.
Black Cat Rescue is funded by adoption fees and by donations from all over the country, says Finn, Olivia's owner and the organization's manager of donor relations and adoptions.
Finn began volunteering for Black Cat Rescue in 2012. She says personality shines through when cats are in foster care rather than a shelter. Prospective cat-owners have the chance to visit the cats and kittens in a home environment which, Finn says, gives a much better picture of their habits.
Working as a foster network also allows Black Cat Rescue to operate on a lower budget. The main costs are giving cats necessary shots and getting them spayed or neutered prior to adoption.
In addition to getting quality photos of the cats for online advertisements, Black Cat Rescue often changes their names to help them stand out. Olivia's name was Onyx when she came into the organization's system.
“There are so many black cats available for adoption named Onyx, Shadow, Blackie, Midnight," Stott says. "Since many people think all black cats look the same, we don't want to add to that with such repetitive names.”
Since its founding, Black Cat Rescue has grown from a team of three to seven. They hold fundraising events and collaborate with different businesses to raise money. Black Cat Rescue also has a social media presence with supporters from all over the world.
It was on Facebook where Daisy Spear, a Somerville resident, crossed a Black Cat Rescue advertisement. She began volunteering in 2010 and has since cared for about 10 cats and kittens.
“The fact that they're black is a cool thing,” Spear says, referring to superstitions that still cling to black cats. And around Halloween, Black Cat Rescue takes the opportunity to dispel holiday myths and educate, such as posting about the history of black cats on their blog and Facebook page.
Xena, a sociable 13-year-old cat, has been under Spear’s care for four months. She is diabetic, needs two insulin shots a day, and has no teeth, a reason why Spear affectionately calls her “Gummy.” Xena came to Black Cat Rescue in what Spear calls a "skeletal" state, but has since made great improvements. It's just a matter of time before a permanent owner comes along.
“I think I’ve been really lucky with her,” Spear says. Xena purrs as Spear nuzzles her chin.
It’s hard to let go of the cats she’s fostered, Spear admits. But she knows that she provided a loving home for a while, building a human-to-animal connection that is in itself a rewarding experience.
And that’s lucky.
This program aired on October 29, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.