for National Geographic News
On the day after Halloween in 2004, employees of the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center found a gruesome sight: a black cat duct-taped to an 8-foot-tall (2.5-meter-tall) crucifix.
"That was shocking," said shelter director Misha Goodman.
Such occurrences, though rare, feed a myth that satanic cults sacrifice black cats on Halloween.
The perceived threat has frightened some U.S. animal shelters into halting black-cat adoptions during October.
But animal-shelter employees and cult experts say it's time to put this urban legend to rest.
The incident in Iowa wasn't carried out as part of a ritualistic mutilation, Goodman said. Instead it was done by a single disturbed adolescent who told friends he thought it would be funny.
Random Acts of Unkindness
Janja Lalich, an associate professor of sociology at California State University in Chico, is an expert on cults.
She doesn't believe such groups are behind the rare instances of Halloween cat mutilation.
"I think it's random acts of unkindness," she said.
Such misdeeds are likely committed by budding psychopaths or teenage pranksters, she added. Adolescents dabbling in satanism probably perform the killings more for shock value than out of religious belief.
In addition there aren't enough satanic believers to cause such concern, Lalich said.
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