Looking to add a pet to your family?

Boo

Our boy Boo

Give a black dog or cat a chance at a loving home

by Sue Baldani

Shelter workers and rescue groups often report that black dogs and cats wait longer to be adopted than their fair-haired counterparts. For dogs, this phenomenon is often called black dog syndrome.

Unfortunately, black dogs are often portrayed in the media as being aggressive, which can lead to misconceptions in real life. And many dogs that people are wary of, such as Doberman Pinschers and Rottweilers, are black.

Another reason may be that people are concerned about black fur on their furniture and rugs. Although black dogs and cats don’t necessarily shed more than others, their dark fur is often more visible. An additional negative factor when it comes to black dogs is that they may look older than their peers, since the gray or white hairs on their muzzles stand out more.

Black cats have the additional misfortune of being thought of as harbingers of bad luck and are linked to witchcraft and other superstitions. Think about all the black cat decorations on display around Halloween. They always look menacing with their arched backs and hissing faces.

But does color bias really exist? It depends on who you ask.

“New pieces of research have found that there is no indication that they are less likely to be adopted,” ASPCA vice president of shelter research Dr. Emily Weiss told TODAY.com. “We just conducted a piece of research looking at various traits that drive people to adopt, and color did not play a role at all.” They also found that black animals did not remain at shelters longer.

However, a study presented at the 2013 International Society for Anthrozoology conference found that coat color does influence people’s perceptions. Participants were shown pictures of cats and dogs of varying colors, and the researchers discovered that white cats were considered the friendliest, orange cats the second friendliest, and black cats the least friendly. Among dogs, yellow dogs were considered friendliest, brown dogs the second friendliest, and black dogs the least friendly. Darker pets were similarly judged less adoptable, and black dogs were considered the most aggressive.

Furthermore, in a survey by Petfinder, their member shelter and rescue groups reported that most pets are listed for 12.5 weeks on Petfinder, whereas less-adoptable pets (such as black, senior, and special-needs pets) spend almost four times as long on the site.

And many animal welfare workers still insist that color bias is real. So what is really going on?

The perception of lower adoption rates could be because black dogs are more prevalent. Also, the poor lighting and dark colors of some shelters may make black dogs harder to see and easier for people to overlook.

“When the public is in a shelter ready to adopt, and they walk down the aisle to start choosing, looks come first, not behavior,” said Rachel Bulman, public relations director for the SPCA of Lakeland, FL. “The shelter environment is our worst enemy because adopters cannot see interaction first, only color and size.”

Sherri Skidmore runs an organization called the Black Dog Rescue Project, which works to bring awareness to black dog syndrome and improve adoption rates for these dogs. She believes there are several reasons behind the phenomenon.

“Black dogs are harder to photograph than lighter or multicolored dogs, and many potential adopters are now searching websites that post pictures of adoptable dogs in their area,” Sherri explained.

So, what can be done to help these animals find homes?

Promoting black pets is one way. February is Black Dog and Black Cat Syndrome Awareness month, and many shelters and rescues use this occasion to highlight black animals and offer discounted adoption fees.

To make them more noticeable on websites, pictures of black animals should be taken in well-lit areas against lighter backgrounds. Putting colorful bandannas around their necks can also help them stand out.

Shelter employees and rescue volunteers should also tout the great personalities of their black dogs and cats to help people looking to adopt get beyond outside appearances and possible fallacies. If people can see them as individuals and not just as “black dogs” or “black cats,” they can then more easily picture them as part of their own families.

There are also tons of blogs promoting black animals, and if people have one, they can talk them up to their family and friends. Black dogs and cats need all the positive press they can get.

If people need more incentives to adopt a black animal, here are some fun reasons:

  • Black dogs and cats have beautiful, sleek coats.
  • If you prefer dark clothing and furniture, you don’t have to worry about the fur showing. It will blend right in.
  • Some of the best family dogs are black, such as Labrador Retrievers, Newfoundlands, and Cocker Spaniels. Even if they’re not full-bred, black dogs may have some of these breeds in them.
  • Black cats often have amazing green eyes that are bright and intelligent.
  • The intimidation factor of a black dog can come in handy when you hear a noise in the middle of the night or you come upon a stranger when out walking your dog.
  • They also look cleaner longer, since that dirt from running around in the yard won’t show as easily.
  • Black dogs and cats are also easy to name—Midnight, Blackie, and Coal, for example.
  • And, like all pets, they will love us unconditionally!

Whatever the facts, black dogs and cats need homes just like other animals and can make wonderful, loving pets. Find a furry friend that has the personality you’re looking for, one that fits your lifestyle and home, and it will be the right one for you, regardless of color.

Written for Paws and Claws magazine in Virginia.

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