When I realized it was finally time to have another dog join our family, I decided to check out the local shelters. Of course for me, adopting a shelter dog was the only way I would go.
As I looked at the listing of dogs at Animal Care Sanctuary (ACS), I found myself studying the light colored labs and golden retrievers, along with some of the smaller dogs of the same colors. I was just briefly glancing at the darker or black dogs.
I was halfway through the book when I suddenly stopped. Wait a minute, what was happening here? Why wasn’t I spending more time studying the black dogs?
It’s called “Black Dog Syndrome” and it has been a controversial subject for a long time. Some studies have shown that a higher percentage of black dogs take longer to get adopted from shelters than their lighter counterparts. Those same studies concluded that more black dogs are euthanized than other dogs.
Some studies have shown that potential adopters often overlook black dogs. One reason is probably that black dogs don’t photograph well and are more difficult to see in a snapshot in a catalog. Many times, a dog is photographed just once for a catalog photo and at the time the dog is frightened, shy or just not in a comfortable place showing his best.
When looking through the kennels of a shelter, black dogs don’t stick out. Their dark coats in poorly lit shelter enclosures mean they aren’t noticed as well. Their dark faces make it more difficult to read their facial expressions. Often people want to feel they have an immediate emotional connection to a shelter dog if that’s the one.
Some people have a preconceived notion that black is associated with evil. Many times Hollywood portrays black dogs as aggressive or dangerous. Remember The Hound of the Baskervilles or the Grim in Harry Potter? The huge dog chasing someone in a dark alley? Those were black dogs. But Lassie was light colored.
“There’s not as many defining features with the black dogs,” explained Emily Shaffer, adoption coordinator at ACS in East Smithfield, adding, “It’s the same for our black cats.”
Shaffer went on to explain that she often hears comments referring to an animal’s cute facial markings. Those don’t show as well on a black or dark face.
“In regards to the ‘Black Dog Syndrome’ it is a very real thing; even in puppies,” added Jill Elston, veterinary technician at ACS, adding, “You can have a litter of pups that are three black and two of some other color; the two of the other color will always be chosen first.”
I thought back to my experiences as a dog owner over the last 20 years. They were dark or black dogs and I didn’t choose them; they found me.
Jewels was black with some white on her chest, feet and tail. She was one of the most loving dogs I have ever known.
“Jewels was one of the most loving ‘people’ I knew,” my husband used to say. “In fact Jewels was love.”
We used to take care of our neighbor’s black lab, Katie. Our neighbor worked third shift and often Katie would spend the night with us. She was one of the most affectionate and cuddly dogs I’ve known.
When I met Newton, our chocolate lab, I thought at first that he was black because he was so dark. But his color wasn’t the important thing. It was his gentle, calm demeanor that shone through everything else about him.
As I went back to searching the catalog of dogs, I took my time on every page, reading the descriptions and judging based on what I read instead of on color or how well I could see a cute nose.
October is “Adopt a Shelter Dog” month. ACS, as well as the other shelters in our area, has many dogs available for adoption. Currently nine are black or mostly black.
For more information about adopting, call (570) 596-2200 or visit www.animalcaresanctuary.org/.
Don’t fall for “Black Dog Syndrome.” Don’t overlook the dark or black dogs; you might miss out on a wonderful companion. Take a second and third look at the black dogs.
Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, don’t judge a dog by its color.