Black Dog Syndrome (BDS)
Why are there so many black dogs and cats in shelters? Is there also discrimination towards black dogs in dog training? Miami shelters kill over 20,000 adoptable pets each year, many of which are black. More black dogs and cats get killed each year than any other colored dog based simply on their fur/hair color.1 In general, the larger and darker the dog, the harder it is to get adopted. Larger dogs are not considered as desirable as smaller dogs. People like small dogs for their portability and greater acceptance in society. Often, apartment buildings, homeowner associations, condominiums and co-ops have weight and or size stipulations. Therefore, given those statistics, if you happen to be a black, larger dog or cat your chances of getting adopted are slim.2
But why are black dogs and cats harder to adopt or less desirable? The following is a shallow suggestion but rings true for many would be adopters. Have you ever taken a photo of a black dog or cat? Black fur and features are a notoriously more difficult color to take a “good” picture of when compared to other colors. If a black dog or cat doesn’t look good in pictures (aka on Petfinder, or the shelters web site) the chances of finding a person or potential adopter who is interested in that cat or dog are greatly reduced.
Think about human psychology, in the world we live in of superficiality and aesthetics, the first thing humans typically look for in a partner or a pup is looks. Propagated through social media, dating websites, magazines, newspapers….etc., people look at pictures and decide what they want based off how it/the other looks. It doesn’t matter if it’s a plate of food or a potential dating partner on match.com; if the food or person doesn’t look good, many people move on to the next person or food item without even getting to know the person or taste the food. This is a grim paradigm.
Many humans behave the same way when deciding which dog or cat to adopt. More often than not, humans bypass dogs that don’t “show” well. Even in person, upon first glance, a black dog or cat does not “pop” or stand out amongst all of the other colorful dogs and cats. When you are in a shelter surrounded by hundreds and sometimes thousands of other dogs and cats that only have seconds to be seen, standing out is of the essence. It’s about getting noticed, and black dogs and cats are inherently at a disadvantage to their more colorful brethren.
Another reason for the overpopulation of black dogs and cats in shelters is that they have a stigma around them. Some cultures think that black dogs and cats are bad luck and movies such as “The Omen” that portrayed black dogs as unfavorable and evil don’t help either. Popular media that portray black dogs and cats as bad or undesirable do not help change human fears. Superstitions in other countries and the United States also foster fear and dislike of black dogs and cats.
So what can a shelter or rescue organization do to increase the adoptions of black dogs and cats? First, it is important to recognize the issues and difficulties that they have in getting adopted. Then one must begin by presenting these pets in a better light (literally and figuratively). Hire a professional photographer, or a have a staff member or volunteer take pictures that understand lighting, photography, the subjects and picture quality.
Spend more time training black dogs and cats. Make sure the black dogs are (CGC) Canine Good Citizens, are well dog trained and have wonderful temperaments. Socialize them more often and offer them more social enrichment throughout their day. If these dogs “show” better, have more skills and socialization, they will integrate into a family dynamic much faster and easier. That would be a great adoption perk to offer a potential adopting family.
Think about changing the lighting in the shelter or area where you are showing black dogs and cats. Lighting which enhances their looks and makes them stand out may help them be noticed. Perhaps put some colorful, fun adopt me vest on them that make them stand out. Colorful bandannas are also fun and make black dogs and cats stand out amongst the others.
So next time you are in a shelter or rescue organization keep this in mind and give a black dog or cat a second or third look, get to know one, and you’ll likely be going home with a new best friend. Remember, black is beautiful!