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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

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rod Burkert, Michele Hollow, Buck Border Collie, Michelle McCaulley, Michelle McCaulley and others. Michelle McCaulley said: RT @michelechollow: Black Dog and Cat Syndrome Really Exists: http://lnkd.in/GJiJ88 […]

  • Black dog syndrome is very real!

  • I had not heard of this until we found Buster, our mostly black GSD. When we called the local shelter to say we found him, they asked several questions including his color. When we said mostly black, the administrator said, “That’s too bad. He’s unlikely to get adopted.”

  • Rod, I really didn’t believe it either.

  • WisdomPanel

    We just adopted a jet black mutt from a shelter! I specifically wanted him because of this exact problem. He’s the BEST doggie ever…even has a black tongue!

  • You totally rock Elizabeth!

  • This is as bad as human racial profiling. Lord, what is this world coming to. I am spreading the word on your behalf, Michele, and thanks for calling attention to this.

  • Eyda Hernandez

    I never heard of this before! I’ve always had Black dogs and they were super smart and gentle! My Black cat was so sweet!! I can’t believe that in this day and age there are people that believe this nonsense!

  • Margo Skinner

    they say its unlucky for a black cat to cross yr path……but I say it dont matter what colour…[could be black/green/skyblue pink]its whats inside that counts……even for dogs….both are very spiritual….

  • How interesting. Traditions keep continuing but with this type content perhaps the readership will now take a different look. Thanks for posting this.

  • Buffy

    Yes, I heard of this. I get real angry at this. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Carol

    I can confirm from my own experience that black cat syndrome is, sadly, all too true. I foster kittens for a local animal shelter until they’re old enough to be adopted and, of course, I always worry about their fate once I’ve returned them for adoption, but especially for the black ones because of this ridiculous prejudice/superstition. I’ve got ten kittens now ready for adoption, two of which are solid black – they also happen to be the sweetest of the bunch (mind you, they’re all sweet – these two just have the best cattitude). I’ve got another half-dozen weaned foster kittens that are still not old enough/big enough for adoption – of those, I’m confident that four will eventually find homes, but I worry about the two are solid black – and, again, the only reason I worry about them is because of their color. I was unaware of black dog syndrome before – I figured the cat issue was primarily because of residual witch superstition – so I’m sorry to hear that the dogs, too, are rejected for such an arbitrary reason.

  • Hi Margo, I totally agree! Michele

  • Thanks Carol, It just doesn’t make sense. Michele

  • There is no stronger impact than color. It works in advertising but psychologically affects us as well when choosing or favoring a pet.

  • I heard about this a few years ago and hadn’t realized there was a formal name for it. I remember, many, many years ago, when I was looking for my first dog, I must have been affected by it.

    I distinctly recall thinking “I don’t want to get a black dog”. Why? I wanted to camp and thought it would be more difficult to spot a black dog. I expected to be living in a hot climate and thought a black dog would be more uncomfortable. And besides, a black dog wouldn’t look as interesting as a dog with other markings.

    So what did I end up with? Thankfully, a black dog! Who I tripped over countless times while camping, panted together with while living in the SW, never stood out in a crowd (except in my eyes) and wouldn’t have traded for any other type of markings. My next 2 dogs were also black.

    As Michele mentions, the coloring of each of their undercoats was extraordinary and changed with the seasons (and age). I’ve been spoiled by Lab/ Golden mixes. Black is beautiful!

  • To us “Black is Beautiful!” We have a number of black dogs and cats. (www.rhar4all.petfinder.com) It is so shameful that any living creature (no matter how many legs or is winged)is judged negatively based on color. This is an idea that we have to educate folks about. And what better way than for us in the rescue community to show perspective adopting families the true meaning of color.


    Is there no end to the soft minded supidity of superstition ? Really!

  • Bonnie

    I have one big all black dog and sadly yes she waited for months at the rescue before I came along to give her a home.I also have 4 all black cats, people can be so silly.Black pets are beautiful furry kids too:)

  • I have also heard about this from shelters! Both black dog and black cat. I think they are beautiful and I would not hesitate to have a black dog. I have a black cat that we have had for 11 yrs. Found as a kitten with a broken leg. She’s my most expensive cat since it cost $500.00 for her leg to be fixed. I think this is a ridiculous thing!

  • Manon Guggenheim

    I had been unaware of Black Dog Syndrome until I began volunteering at a shelter, where there are always more black dogs than any other color, and they often take the longest to be adopted. The shelter will occasionally have a “Black Dog Special” (discounted adoption fee weekend). Sometimes people get a worried look when they see my black dog, and a few people have even commented, after getting to know my dog, that they initially assumed he was mean (which is absurd; he is adorable and sweet). I often put a brightly colored bandanna on him when we will be in the kinds of places people may have fears of dogs, and that, along with whatever silly squeaky toy he insists on carrying around at all times, often helps to alleviate that dark cloud of prejudice and fear of the black dog.

  • Thanks Manon, The bandanna and toy are great ideas.

  • Mickey, It is ridiculous. I also have an expensive cat–Earl Gray was found with a badly broken leg. That was 13 years ago. He is doing well. Thanks for commenting. Michele

  • Thanks Craig, My husband and I were talking about black cats, and why people don’t like them–which goes back a long long time. He suggested that it is harder to see a black cat than a colorful or light coated one at night, and in the days of candle light black cats (and cats in general) can get under your feet without you seeing them. We imagined that many people would trip over their black cats in the dark. Not a good reason for not getting one. One of my best cats was all black–and everyone loved him.–Michele

  • Helen

    I have 8 cats and Mama Cass a black and white Persian just adopted our house. All my cats have come to me in strange ways. My first, Ebony, was a tiny 4 week old Black cat under my tire. Another Black cat Petey was found in the large trash container in the alley, approx 6 weeks old, the other black cat, Tiny, is the child of my first. I have one fully silver grey, Captain Jack, the baby, Susie Q is a grey and white tabby, delivered to my house at about 4 weeks old, Doc, black and white was a baby with a bad hip who showed up at the house and Matt and Vosko who is the dog Georges’ cat, were the offspring of my original cat, also black and white.

    It doesn’t matter what color they are, they all have different personalities.

  • Count me in the group that is skeptical about Big Black Dog Syndrome.

    I think it’s an interesting that so many people say that people don’t want to adopt big black dogs — and yet, for the past 20 years, the most popularly owned dog in the United States has been the Labrador Retriever (of which, the majority are black since that is the dominant gene in Lab coat color).

    So how is it that big black dogs are the most popularly owned dog in the US, and yet no one wants them?

    I suspect that part of Big Black Dog Syndrome is that there are a lot of them in the shelter because there are so many of them in the first place. If they are the most popularly owned dog, then they are likely the most popular ones to be in shelters. This is likely why your friend saw more black labs than yellow ones.

    Do I think there is some truth to other colored dogs being more flashy in a kennel setting, or more difficult to photograph? Yeah, that is likely true. But the problem appears to be more in a shelter’s ability to market them (including photograhy) than people really not wanting big black dogs.

  • Holly

    I volunteer with an animal rescue group, and i too can verify that this is true. An interesting note, though, is that this prejudice appears to exist only in the US: In England, black dogs are celebrated and are very desired; you see them everywhere. Color preference is a regional thing.

  • Thanks Holly, I’ve also heard that black cats in England are associated with good luck. I know I was lucky to have a black cat.

  • Hi Brent, Color truly doesn’t matter to me. Yet, I’ve been hearing from lots and lots of people here, on FB, and at a lot of other social networking sites that Black Dog Syndrome does exist. Michele

  • Annette Shapiro

    Are we living in the Dark Ages? Hard to imagine that any intelligent person can believe this. I have an black cat, actually the third one I’ve had, and he’s a fabulous, friendly and very social cat. He had been in the shelter longer than the other cats too. Oh, I better run. I need to get him ready for our ritual tonight!!!

  • Hi Annette, I agree. When I hear stupid stuff like this, and think, hey, it’s 2010, I just can’t believe that not all people have evolved. Michele

  • John Coleman

    I grew up, in the country, with a black family dog. I will always remember ‘Blackie’. He was incredibly protective of us four kids. ‘Blackie’ was a Lab / Sheppard mix but midnight Black. He was known to kill rattlesnakes, escort the kids everywhere they went and stand protectively between children and strangers.
    The most loyal dogs I have owned (after 50 yr experience as adult) have been black. Don’t miss out on the experience of a dog that is truly an addition to the family and a protector of your children, don’t miss out on having a ‘black’ dog. It was like having another ‘parent’ or a ‘big brother’ AND a best friend.

  • Michele,

    Just because someone said it doesn’t make it true.

    Again, I’m VERY skeptical on this one. It just doesn’t make logical sense to me that the most popularly owned dog in this country over the past 20 years is a big black dog and yet I’m told people don’t want big black dogs. That doesn’t make sense.

    The only actual study I know of on this topic involved one shelter in one city over one year — the most common color of dog that came into the shelter during that year was black — but they got adopted out at roughly the same percentage of dogs of other colors.

  • Michele,

    Just because someone said it doesn’t make it true.

    Again, I’m VERY skeptical on this one. It just doesn’t make logical sense to me that the most popularly owned dog in this country over the past 20 years is a big black dog and yet I’m told people don’t want big black dogs. That doesn’t make sense.

    The only actual study I know of on this topic involved one shelter in one city over one year — the most common color of dog that came into the shelter during that year was black — but they got adopted out at roughly the same percentage of dogs of other colors.

  • I HATE this crap!!!!!!
    I have a black cat Shadow and love him to pieces. I am also a black woman and go through the same junk as these animals.
    I feel for them more than anyone could know.

  • I moved to the country 11 years ago and thats when i had no choice but to start rescuing dogs, people ride down a country road a drop their unwanted dogs out and i just can’t ride buy them,i have picked up 11 dogs over these years and out of the 11…..6 of them were black

  • Sorry Brent, Actually, I’ve heard this from several people–about 4 dozen–seriously–and this post has so many people agreeing. I wish it wasn’t true. We should pick a pet on the basis of personality. I have never actually picked a pet. Two of my dogs were given to me by people who no longer would care for them. All of my cats have been found either at school, work, or on my front porch! Michele

  • Tara, It is unsettling to say the least. I keep on reminding myself that this is 2010, and we still don’t have equality. Michele

  • Michele, at one point in our history you could have dozens of people agree that the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth.

    I, of course, have had dozens of people tell me that this is true as well….but in all my years of doing rescue, I’ve not seen one shred of actual data that suggests it’s really true (and the only data I’ve seen suggests it isn’t).

    All of my dogs were dogs that people gave up on too — and 2 of the three are not black. Anecdotes don’t make data and I always recommend people determine the validity of something based on data.

  • Thanks Brent, I’m a journalist, so I do look at the facts. And as I said, I first thought this was a lot of hooey. I’ve had heads of animal nonprofits and shelters tell me that this is true. And I believe them.

  • Great article. I speak from experience. When we went looking for a sister for our boy dane I secretly was hoping for a fawn girl, although I was committed to getting the best match for our boy and us. Regardless of what I was hoping for, We were steered by forces unseen to a beautiful black girl with tiny white specks of fur on her face that look like stars against the night sky. We are very grateful.

  • I have heard wind of this as well from the animal shelter where I volunteer.

    I found the branding expert’s answer interesting. I too, am I branding strategist. And while he’s right that color plays a huge unconscious perception in our buying behavior and ability to remember brands and messages, I don’t know, however, that you can quite apply this to dogs. Although, I think maybe some people may see black dogs as menacing and blonde dogs as more friendly so yes, maybe more poeple would pet the lighter one.

    Our black Lab mix, Eddie, is pure black and he rocks. His coat is jet black and super shiny and we get compliments on him all the time. We adopted him for his size (he’s only 40 lbs. full grown, very petite but very Lab-like personality) and never even thought twice about the color. I would say the only prejudice for me is dogs that are actually TOO light – they show every speck of dirt and mud on them! But if I loved the dog’s personality, I’m not sure the color would be a deciding factor for me personally unless I was choosing between two dogs who were exactly the same.

  • […] shelters will not adopt out black cats. Sounds crazy? I thought so too. However, when I wrote about Black Dog Syndrome, many of the shelter workers I interviewed told me that from mid October to just past Halloween, […]

  • […] and difficult. All of you are amazing. Following is a brief public service announcement about black dog and black cat syndrome and the importance of adoption. This takes place at my local shelter–Jersey Animal […]

  • […] had heard about Black Cat & Black Dog Syndrome before, but this was just frightening. Are we really still clinging to the days of Viking lore and […]

  • Barbee

    Wow…as I went out looking specifically for a black lab and last year and rescued & adopted my one year old black lab Bailey-Raven she has a fan page on facebook if you want to take a peek. I actually think black dogs are adorable and was surprised when I heard of the black dog syndrome several months ago. Really I would think it would be white dogs as they show every bit of dirt as black dogs do not! My Black lab has the prettiest coat it is so shiny she gets many compliments on it all the time, plus she is the sweetest dog ever…my baby…she rocks…:)

  • julie

    we adopted a black lab 4 years ago he was about 9 months old he was to be put down in two days with 11 other dogs because the shelter was too full i wish i could of taken them all our luckydog is the best dog in the world he is athletic loves to swim and loves to cuddle when our day is over it is a shame people think of black dogs the way they do people need to go to shelters and make a walk through once in awhile take blankets old dog beds treats or dog food shelters are always looking for help

  • […] Black Dog Syndrome « Pet News and Views […]

  • Ashley

    For Brent who is a skeptic, I work in a Shelter and it is true that Big Black Dogs are adopted out at a slower rate than most other breeds in that shelter. They may be the most popular breed to own but most of those people are getting their dogs from Breeders. Only about 30% of people go to shelters to adopt pets. A black lab will sit on the adoption floor for weeks to months while most other breeds will average a week or two.

  • All of my rescued pooches have been big black mixes for this very reason. And my latest picture book–Maggie’s Second Chance: A Gentle Dog’s Rescue–features a big black dog who blends into the shadows and is nearly euthanized (don’t worry kids, there’s a happy ending to this “tail”!).

  • 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!