Superstitious animal killers could be to blame for the mysterious disappearance of four black cats from a North Craven community in the run-up to Halloween, it has been claimed.

Skipton police reported the four pets all went missing from the Bentham area in a period of just over two weeks. And People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has warned black cats can be targeted as part of ‘trick or treat’ pranks or superstitions.

Black cats are meant to bring bad or good luck, depending on your belief. They are also traditionally associated with Halloween.

Wendy Ireland, who lives just outside Bentham, fears the worst for her two-year-old pet, Tika. “Somebody’s either pinched her or done something to her,” she said.

Emma Whitmore, who lives in Springfield, Bentham, said her black cat, six-year-old Elmo, went missing a day after her neighbour’s black cat also vanished.

“I think it’s suspicious because they all look so similar,” Emma said. “We all wondered if it could be Halloween because you don’t know wha idiots are out there.

“It’s been horrendous. The house is so empty without Elmo.”

In a statement, PETA said: “Black cats especially have been known to get stolen, tortured, and/or killed around Halloween.”

In America, the Washington Post has reported that black cats have been tortured, used for rituals and even used to decorate houses and costumes, at this time of year.

A UK spokesman for the charity urged owners of black cats to keep them indoors for safety.

She added: “There are many reports of black cats being cruelly treated around Halloween which have even prompted many shelters in the United States to refuse to adopt out black cats over this period.

“PETA encourages people to stay vigilant and keep cats of all colours indoors – every day of the year – to protect them from the many dangers they face when let out alone and unsupervised on the streets.”