Black Dog Syndrome: How Fur Color Can Influence Choosing A Pet

Clear the Shelters

A sitting black Chow Chow puppy!A 12 weeks male puppy dog with a blue tongue on green grass.

On Aug. 17, NBC and Telemundo stations around the country will join forces with local animal shelters in the hopes of finding forever homes for pets in need.

But for certain types of adoptable pets, making it out of the shelter can be ruff. While it’s not unusual for older pets or pets with diagnosed medical conditions to wait longer for the perfect home, a surprising factor may come in to play when potential adopters evaluate shelter pets – color. In fact, many shelters and rescues have coined the term “black dog syndrome” to describe the frequency with which dark-coated animals are passed over for lighter-colored pets.

It should be noted that attempts to study black dog syndrome have had mixed results. Some questioned whether this puppy prejudice even existed at all, while others found that although black cats and dogs were eventually adopted, it took substantially longer for them to find the perfect match than for their light-colored counterparts. But seasoned shelter workers insist the phenomenon is real, and I have seen it for myself during visits to our local shelter. Here are some theories as to why these pets have a tendency to be overlooked.

Black pets are tough to photograph
As the owner of a black dog who is often featured on our hospital’s social media platforms, I can attest to this personally. Lighting, backgrounds, and the clothing of the people in the shot all have to be taken into consideration when trying to capture that perfect shot. And once we have it, we usually tweak it by lightening, cropping or adding filters. Busy animal shelters can not often spare the time needed for such fussy attention to detail. As a result, dark-coated pets may not present well on a shelter’s website or social media platforms.

Black pets don’t stand out
Dim lighting and shadows in shelter enclosures can swallow up a dark-coated pet. And if the pet is feeling overwhelmed, shadows are exactly where they want to be. In these types of situations, a potential adopter may not notice the pet at all.

Dark faces hide eyes and facial expressions
We often search animals’ faces in the hopes of making an emotional connection. The eyes of a black dog or cat are less likely to stand out than those of their light coated counterparts. When surrounded by dark fur, their facial expressions are less pronounced and therefore harder for adopters to read.

Media and cultural bias
In many cultures, the color black is associated with evil, misfortune, and bad luck. From Harry Potter’s Grim, to the Hounds of Baskerville, to the universal Beware Of Dog sign, aggressive dogs in popular culture are often portrayed as being black. And the superstitions surrounding black cats have been around for thousands of years. It should be noted, however, that in some countries, black cats are seen as harbingers of good luck, blessings, and excellent fortune. 

Perhaps the best way for potential adopters to avoid the traps of black cat and black dog syndrome is to simply be aware of its existence. Choose pets based on temperament and suitability to your lifestyle, and make sure you have the time and resources needed for responsible pet ownership. Once we’re reminded not to judge a book by its cover, we tend to correct that tendency. The same can be said of judging a pet by its coat as we get ready to Clear The Shelters.

Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic

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COMMON ITEMS YOU CAN DONATE



 
  • Towels and blankets - Shelters are often cold and animals like to have a blanket to curl up on. Towels are a big help to dry animals off after being bathed or if they come in wet. Towels can also be used to line the bottoms of cages. The towels or blankets don't have to be brand new or in perfect condition. The animals won't mind, as long as they're usable.
  • Canned and Dry Food for Cats and Dogs-Healthy - Healthy pet options for nourishment
  • Kitty litter and cat boxes - Cats go to the bathroom- a lot. Shelters are constantly using bag after bag of litter. Their supply runs out fast.
  • Puppy or kitten formula and nursing bottles - Sometimes there are situations where a young puppy or kitten who is not weaned gets separated from their mother. In these situations they need puppy or kitten formula to survive.
  • Old newspaper - When you're done with your newspapers you usually just throw them away or recycle them, right? You could help animals at no cost to you if you just save up your old newspapers. Newspapers are used in the bottoms of cages. They get soiled quickly, so they're in constant demand.
  • Collars, harnesses, and leashes - Dogs who are taken out on walks need a leash and collar or harness. The shelter loses some because adopted dogs often go home with their leash or harness.
  • Grooming supplies - Grooming supplies can include shampoo, brushes, combs, haircutting scissors, etc. Dogs and cats often come in dirty or end up getting dirty. Grooming supplies can keep them fresh, clean, and adoptable.
  • Toys - You would get bored if you had to lay in a crate alone all day, wouldn't you? Animals in shelters get bored, too. It keeps the animals from being so lonely and bored and allows them to get exercise. You could go out and buy new toys, or you could donate toys your pets or children may have not gotten much use out of. It's as simple as that.
  • Crates and carriers - Animals need to be transported somehow, and the cost of multiple crates and carriers can add up quickly. You can donate ones you stopped using that are still in good condition or you could go buy one for a decent price. This helps the shelter tremendously.
  • Paper towels and cleaning supplies - There are a lot of situations that get messy, so paper towels are a big help.
  • Hand wash and hand sanitizer - People who work at shelters need to keep their hands clean for their and the animals' health.
  • Laundry detergent, fabric softener, and bleach - Towels and blankets get soiled often so the washing machines are being used a lot
  • Dog and cat beds - this can offer the animals a soft place to lay instead of a kennel or cage floor.
  • Heating pads - Many animals come in cold or are young and need warmth. Heating pads can replace a mother's warmth.
  • Copy paper and pens, pencils, post-it notes and staples - You can't forget about all the paperwork that has to be done. Donating these items makes it so the shelter doesn't have to buy them on their own.
  • Garbage bags, mops, brooms, and sponges - The shelter uses these every day and clean up supplies can get expensive.
  • Food bowls - As new animals come in, the shelter needs new places to put food. Having an adequate supply could mean life or death for an animal in a shelter.
  • Rubber and latex gloves - A lot of messy stuff happens and gloves are necessary to lessen the spread of germs.
  • Plastic shopping bags - Plastic bags can be used to clean up dog mess and to store things in.