If you are a dog, and your coat color is black, and you find yourself in a kill shelter–well, your chances for ever seeing daylight again are slim to none.
The phenomenon dubbed as “Black Dog Syndrome” was at first perceived to be a myth: black dogs weren’t destroyed in shelters more than dogs with other coat colors, officials claimed, there are just more of them.
You don’t hear that much any more. Those in the sheltering world have begun to realize that black dogs, especially large black dogs, just don’t get adopted as frequently. This is attributed to several things, including myths about black dogs being more aggressive and superstition about black animals in general. We believe those things may play a minor role in some cases, but for the most part, we just don’t think black animals draw the eye and are therefore overlooked at a higher frequency than brightly patterned or light dogs.
Consider the picture on the left. Most shelters are poorly lit, painted in drab colors, and offer little in the way of attractive background. The black dog in this picture is a lovely dog. He appears to be a lab or lab mix, one of the most popular dog breeds in America. But his features are lost in shadow and it’s hard to tell anything about his expression.
Now look at the picture on the right. Different dog, different shelter, but same bad lighting, boring colors, and uninteresting background. Yet the pit mix shown here–one of the most unadoptable dog breeds in shelters anywhere–practically jumps off the page at you, doesn’t he? Kids are going to swarm right to this one, even with the black dog patiently wagging his tail two feet away.
(And yes, you can extrapolate further and deduce correctly that black pit bulls are a double negative in every sense and have almost zero chance of being adopted, even though they may be the most pleasant and loving dog in the world.)
The Black Dog theory applies to cats, too, not just dogs. Cats are difficult to photograph under the best of circumstances. They rarely show expression and when they do, they usually look grouchy. Add to this bad lighting and facial features that are virtually indistinguishable, and you have an animal that very few people will even stop to pet, much less adopt.
It takes more effort to raise public interest in black animals. Some shelters try to compensate for this by adding brightly colored bandannas and other “props” to attract attention. One of the most successful campaigns to pique awareness about the plight of black animals is a series of photographs taken by a professional photographer, photographs with a black background that make the lines and planes of the animal’s face seem very bright by comparison.
Lastly, NBC Nightly News did a wonderful job of reporting on this issues. One of the best videos we’ve seen regarding it.