The Premier Online Magazine devoted to Persian & Exotic Shorthair Cats
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The Premier Online Magazine
devoted to Persian & Exotic Shorthair Cats

Close this search box.


The Premier Online Magazine devoted
to Persian & Exotic Shorthair Cats

Close this search box.

Black Jellybeans

I’ve never read an official study on the matter, but I’ve noticed that in animal shelters, black cats are the most overlooked. Black seems to be the least preferred of cat colors, ranking below all combinations of white, orange, gray, spotted and striped. Black cats are still stereotyped as Halloween cats, creatures of bad luck, more appropriate on a witch’s broomstick than curled up on your pillow. To make matters worse, in cages, black cats become close to invisible, fading into the dark shadows in the back of a stainless-steel cage.

For eleven years, starting when I was 10 years old, I volunteered at an urban animal shelter. It always struck me as particularly unfair that, time after time, I’d get to know affectionate, adorable black cats, only to watch them be passed over by adopters merely because of their color. I assumed there was nothing that could be done.

One day, many years into my work at the shelter, I spent a few minutes petting a sweet, black half-grown kitten, who had been found as a stray and brought to the shelter. The slender thing purred warmly at my attention, gently playful as she patted my hand with one paw. I thought about what a shame it was that the kitten was already too big to be adopted on baby-kitten appeal alone, and so solidly black that most people wouldn’t even pause in front of her cage. I noticed there was no name written on the informational card on her cage.

Since volunteers were welcome to name the strays that came to the shelter, I thought for a moment about what I could name this black kitten. I wanted to think of a name that could give the kitten the kind of appealing “color” that might encourage an adopter to take a second look. The name Jellybean popped into my head, and I wrote it on the card, just as I’d named thousands of cats in the past. I was taken entirely by surprise when, later that afternoon, I overheard a woman walking through the cat room say, “Jellybean! What a wonderful name!”

She stopped to look more closely at the kitten, now batting at a piece of loose newspaper in the cage. She asked me if she could hold Jellybean, and, as I opened the cage, I sheepishly admitted that the kitten didn’t know her name, as I’d named her just hours before. I lifted her into the woman’s arms, and the kitten leaned into the woman, looking up into her eyes with a purr of kitten bliss. After a few minutes, the woman told me that she’d like to adopt this black kitten, and, when the paperwork was approved a few days later, she took Jellybean home.

I was pleased, of course. Adoptions were always what nourished my soul, but I chalked it up to a lucky break for one black kitten, and moved on.

I was surprised again a few weeks later when the woman came back to the shelter. She found me refilling water bowls in a cat room and said, “You were the one who helped me adopt that black kitten a few weeks ago, remember?

“Jellybean? Of course I remember.” 

“I know you were the one who named her, and I’ve been wanting to stop back to thank you. She’s the sweetest thing. I just love her to pieces. But I don’t know if I would have noticed her if she hadn’t had that great name. It just suits her perfectly. She’s so bouncy and colorful – I know that sounds crazy. Anyway, I wanted to say thank you.”

I told her I was touched that she had stopped by and thrilled to hear that Jellybean was doing well in her new home. Then I explained how I thought black cats were often unfairly overlooked and admitted the name had been my conscious attempt to get someone to notice a cat who would probably not have been adopted otherwise.

She said, “Well, it worked! You should name all the black cats Jellybean.”

I smiled politely at the suggestion, thinking to myself that this woman knew nothing of the harsh realities of animal shelters. Just because I named one kitten Jellybean and it had gotten adopted didn’t mean anything. It had just been a stroke of luck. Black cats were still black cats, after all, and most people didn’t want them. As the day went on, I kept thinking about the woman’s advice.

“You should name all the black cats Jellybean.” 

As crazy as it seemed, I decided I had nothing to lose. Pen in hand, I walked along the cages, looking for a black cat without a name. There was only one, a small black kitten alone in a cage, sleeping. I wrote “Jellybean” on its cage card. Later that afternoon, someone came along and said they’d like to adopt that little Jellybean. Well, I thought to myself, that wasn’t really a fair test. It was so cute and tiny. A few days later, a nameless black cat came along, fully grown. I named it Jellybean. It was adopted. Days later, another. Adopted. The process repeated itself enough times that, after a while, I had to admit that maybe there was some magic in the name, after all. It began to seem morally wrong not to name black cats Jellybean, especially ones who had a bounce in their step and a spark of joy in their eyes.

Although I’d usually refrained from using the same name for more than one cat, after a while, my fellow volunteers ceased to be surprised when they came across another of my Jellybeans. Of course, we’ll need more far-reaching solutions to ensure that every cat has a home. But for my black Jellybeans, sitting in sunny windows, sniffing at ladybugs walking across the kitchen floor, snuggling in beds with their adopted people, a name made all the difference.

“Jellybean” allowed some humans to see beyond a dark midnight coat into the rainbow of riches in a cat’s heart.

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“The clever cat eats cheese and breathes down mouse holes with baited breath.”
*W. C. Fields (American actor & comedian)