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Black dogs not adopted like lighter colored dogsSince there is prejudice toward Blacks, is it  that hard to believe that this bias extends to the canine world too? According to proponents of “Black Dog Syndrome” (BDS), pet lovers are reportedly passing up Black dogs at pounds and shelters and choosing lighter colored canines, causing Black dogs to be euthanized at alarming rates.

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BDS, which is also applicable to Black cats, is a disturbing phenomenon that can supposedly be traced to a few factors.  Large Black dogs are typically stereotyped as aggressive and menacing.  Then there are some schools of thought that associate Black pets with evil or bad luck as with the superstition surrounding Black cats. Finally, some people are just afraid of their look, often referring to these Black dogs as ominous creatures that inspire fear.

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In Hollywood, White has always been depicted as heroic and Black as villainous.  Black dogs throughout time have also been cast in this vein.  In “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” a big Black dog called “the Grim” stalks Harry. In British folklore, there are stories where Black dogs are depicted as scary, ghostly objects that are omens of death.

While many argue that Black dogs are indeed the last to be adopted and the first to be euthanized, there are some naysayers who contend that BDS is simply a misperception.  According to Dr. Emily Weiss, a certifed applied animal behaviorist and vice president of the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ shelter and development division, “Right now, there is no scientific data – or research on length of stay – to prove that Black dogs and cats take longer to be adopted. But we do have some anecdotal information from shelters that it can be more difficult for them to [be] adopted.”

Why judge a pup by its color?

There has been some additional speculation as to why Black dogs and cats may be hard sells.  One reason might be because some Black animals have bits of White hair on their mugs that might contribute to an older appearance. Many dogs with Black coats tend to be larger. These Black animals might have also developed reputations that have stereotyped them as aggressive, such as the Rottweiler and Doberman pinscher breeds.

Another reason why some folks just don’t want to deal with Black dogs is because they don’t like the look of the animal’s dark hair shedding on their furniture. A final guess as to the shortage of Black pet adoptions could be attributed to the over abundance of Black dogs and cats at shelters. Potential adopters may conclude that due to the sheer numbers of them, there is something  wrong with them.Although the aforementioned reasons are merely published theories by animal activists, Dr. Weiss adds yet another reason as to why these pets may not be the pick of the litter:

When we’re asked about the Black coat phenomenon by shelters, we often try to figure out if perhaps it might be difficult for potential adopters to actually see those animals in the shelter. If they are a dark colored dog or cat in a poorly lit kennel, it can sometimes impede the bonding process for adopters, because people most often make connections with the animals by looking into their eyes. Often times Black dogs and cats need to be better positioned – or marketed – in the shelter.”

Understanding BDS can change the odds for homeless Black dogs and cats. It should go without saying that the color of an animal’s coat is not a true measure of a pet’s temperament.  Black animals are just as loving and playful as lighter colored ones.  The selection of a pet should be based on what is the best fit for a potential owner regardless of coat color and once this is understood, perhaps that Black doggie in the window can find a home filled with love.


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