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Black Dog Syndrome

When I first heard about Black Dog Syndrome, I thought it was an Internet hoax. A trainer who rescued a black Labrador retriever told me that the shelter workers where she adopted her black Lab from were thrilled that she chose a black dog.

Black Labs are so handsome. It is inconceivable that they are often overlooked at shelters.

In case you don’t know, Black Dog Syndrome is when people don’t adopt dogs with black fur. I grew up with a German Shepherd/Collie/Beagle mix who was mostly black and dark brown. He was extremely handsome, and quite intelligent, which made me think that Black Dog Syndrome just couldn’t exist.

Yet, I kept on hearing about it on chat rooms, on the Internet, from friends who do rescue work, and from people who work at animal shelters. One person told me that when she was looking to adopt a Labrador retriever, she was astounded at the disparity between available yellow dogs versus black dogs. The wait for a yellow lab from a rescue group could be months or years, while there were plenty of black labs available.

Many shelters are showing black dogs with colorful collars.

Why Black Dogs are Overlooked
When you place a bunch of black dogs in a shelter amongst tan, red, yellow, mixed and other colors, people’s gaze goes towards the lighter or brighter animals. “As a brand marketing professional, I can tell you color is a powerful perception tool,” says Steven Vena, owner of The Nimble Group, Inc., a brand marketing and advertising agency. “If I am walking down the street, I would bet more people would pet the tan dog versus the black dog.”

I was able to see his point–even though I didn’t like it. I grew up in New York, and have a lot of black clothes in my closet. I remember attending an expo at the Javits Center; the majority of men dressed in black suits and the women wore black dresses. I came along in a bright orange blazer, and got lots of comments. Many people thanked me for wearing a sunny color.

Still when it comes to fur or skin color, I think black is more interesting because it’s not just black. Look at a cat, dog, or person with black coloring and you will see reds, browns, and a nice mix of other tones thrown in. Maybe because I’m extremely fair skinned, I appreciate other colors. I was thankful for my freckles; otherwise I would have a ghostlike complexion!

Photos of Black Dogs and Cats
Take a look at photos of adoptable dogs and cats on line; the black ones are often blurry. Thankfully, many shelters are using professional photographers to show off these dogs and cats. Some are showing black dogs and cats with colorful collars to make them stand out.

Black Cats
Black cats also have a hard time getting adopted. A lot of that has to do with superstitions. Personally, I had a black cat, and everyone loved him. He was the sweetest, and had a playful personality. His green eyes stood out against his expressive face.

Even half asleep, this black cat is incredibly beautiful.

I have trouble understanding this, but there are some people who regard black cats as witches’ familiars. It has gotten so bad that shelters won’t adopt out a black cat around Halloween time. It seems that people want to use black cats for rituals around that time. So a good number of shelters refuse to adopt out their black cats from the end of September to the beginning of November.

And I know this is going to sound screwy, but some people believe that vampires transform themselves into black dogs as a way of traveling unnoticed at night. (I just don’t get some people.) So unfortunately, black cats and dogs are the last, if at all, to be adopted.

Black Dog and Black Cat Syndrome are real. The next time you are looking to adopt a dog or cat, take personality into account. Talk to the shelter workers or the volunteers at the rescue group, and make an informed decision.

To My Readers: Thanks for alerting me to Black Dog and Black Cat Syndrome. Many of you have posted stories on LinkedIn and at other sites regarding this topic. I appreciate the many e-mails you have sent me. If you want to write about your experience with a black dog or black cat or with Black Dog/Cat Syndrome, please do so in the comments section of this post. And keep your story suggestions coming! I really appreciate all of you!

56 comments to Black Cat and Dog Syndrome

  • I have never heard of this, but it really does make sense in a weird way. Generally people who buy a pet are much more interested in what their new family member looks like, rather than whether they will suit their lifestyle and personality. I love those rescue organisations that make real effort to match pets on a more personal level and help people get past the ‘oh what a cute puppy’ part of buying a pet.

  • Mara

    Thanks for covering this REAL topic. It does happen. I volunteer at a shelter, and often–too often–all of the black cats and dogs are overlooked.

  • Stephanie

    I have 3 cats, 2 of which are black. All found in the street as tiny kittens. I will never look at black cats the same. They are my heart and are the most loving and silly cats I have ever had the pleasure of loving. I understand why people are apprehensive about them, they really do seem like magic but that may be why I love them so very much. I am certain now that they are good luck and am grateful we found them.

  • I think the fact that a dog or cat is black is b.s. and that people do not adopt them because of the colour. To me it is stupidity. If the person adopting an animal really loves animals, then the colour is of no importance.

  • other dogs see them as shadows. dogs dont see in the same col spec as we do

  • My grandfather had a wonderful black labrador called Bonnie.
    She was an amazing dog and his constant companion.

    She was an original ‘assistance dog’, using her retrieving skills to help stack his woodbox, getting neighbours or relatives who lived in close proximity if he had a fall to help, fetching his walking stick and keeping him company.

    I have loved black dogs and cats ever since and so don’t get ‘black cat and dog syndrome’.

    I can’t help but wonder at legacies of racism with it.

    I was told black whippets are unpopular as they were associated with gypsies who used them for poaching, when I was charmed by a lovely black whippet my own whippet made friends with!

    I’m glad halloween has until late not been a widely celebrated event in Australia, if only when I hear of black cats being used in cruel ritual!

    All of the black pets I have known in my lifetime have had exceptionanal tempraments and been loving and loyal companions,

    I don’t get black cat or dog syndrome either!

    If anything it is yet another a sad reflection on our own species!