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Black Dog Syndrome

August 23, 2010 | Dogs / Cats

By Michele C. Hollow, Pet News and Views

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 Lab over a yellow one.

If you are unaware, Black Dog Syndrome is when people don't adopt dogs with black or dark 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.

Why Black Dogs are Overlooked

Black dogs are often overlooked. When you place a bunch of black dogs in a shelter amongst tan, red, yellow, mixed and other colored fur, 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

Take a look at photos of adoptable dogs and cats on line. Often shelter workers, not professional photographers, snap quick photos and post them. Unfortunately they are not very good, and all too often the black ones are blurry. Thankfully, many shelters are using professional photographers to show off these dogs and cats. Some shelters are adding color to these adoptable animals. You might see a black dog or cat with a colorful bandanna or attractive colored collar. It makes the pet 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.

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 workers at the rescue group, and make an informed decision.

Michele C. Hollow writes Pet News and Views, a blog devoted to the positive side of animal welfare. Stories cover news about people who work with and for animals and animal nonprofits.


I once had a pure black cat and he was the sweetest, most loveable cat and gorgeous. It is so cruel and selfish to think evil of black animals. To me they are so special and beautiful. But unfortunately, superstitions abound through the centuries and they are often passed down. It is hard to see them at night and if they run loose, this might frighten people. Why can't humans accept all colors and styles and sizes. After all, humans are so very different from one another. Peace to all black animals.

Very insightful article. Deep rooted attitudes & superstitions held by ignorant people are exceedingly difficult to affect, and change. But each of us must do our best to help.

I have two black dogs...a English Cocker Spaniel that is black with light brown...and a Yorkie Poo which is Black with beige..and they are both a blessing..especially my spaniel she is the best companion ever,very intelligent, and always so for the Yorkie she is the light of my day she is filled with so much energy and always make me laugh (she is my husbands favorite) dog syndrome is ridiculous...people should be less biased...and a black dog is as good,smart, playful, and beautiful as any other dog...Black Dogs Rule!!!!!!!!!

After the U.S. troops pulled out of Vietnam at the end of that war, some of the soldiers begged the U.S. Government to be allowed to take their dogs home with them. Their petitions were denied. The reason? The U.S Government considered the dogs trained for war to be ordinance, like cannons, tanks, and trucks. And like cannons, tanks, and trucks, they were left behind. Especially problematic was the situation with the black dogs, who were (still are?) considered satanic by the Vietnamese people. These animals once shared a close bond with the soldiers they had been placed with. Abandoned on the streets in Vietnam, they were destined to a horrible, if short, existence. "War dogs" are not "heroes," they are victims, and as with dogs and cats, even here in the U.S. - all casualties of the pet trade - it seems the black ones fare the worst.

I didn't know about this. Sorry to hear about it. I think black dogs and cats are beautiful along with all the others.

I have always loved black animals much more than light colored ones!! We always had a black cat when I was growing up and I had a black mixed lab when I became an adult. Now I have a black cat and a black poodle! Being a biology teacher, I have loved all kinds of animals and one of the most beautiful animals is a black racer snake. My children grew up to love all animals and snakes were a favorite of my son! He was allowed to catch any snake but a brown snake when he was young because all the poisonous snakes in our area are brown, so he caught quite a few black snakes! But they have a temper and he got bitten many times before he learned how to hold them correctly, all bites amounted to nothing more than pin pricks and treated with a good soap and hot water washing healed quickly!

Black Dog Syndrome. If I were a betting woman, I would bet a lot of money that it has more to do with the sight of black hair on the floors, in the corners, in the carpet, on the is T.H.E. pits!! We had a golden golden retriever and never minded his hair. Now we have a black and tan mutt, and we very much mind his hair. And our son's rottweiler lives with us, and her hair everywhere is AWFUL!! We brush and brush and it doesn't matter. In fact, I remember visiting a couple who happened to have a black seeing eye dog. They were doubly blessed because they couldn't see the horrible mess of black hair all over their apartment!! Black Dog Syndrome. Maybe we should call it HAIR OF THE DOG SYNDROME!

Most of my pups are black dogs (I also have a black cat) - and every time I hear about this bias I get extremely frustrated.. It is ridiculous!!

This is nuts! I think black dogs and cats are beautiful! what's wrong with these people!

Wow! I can't believe this would even be a problem. When I was just a little girl we had two lovely black lab sisters and they were the BEST dogs ever! Funny thing too, we also were given a yellow lab. But I have always loved black cats and dogs. I think they are beautiful and I can't see how someone wouldn't want to adopt one of them! This article was very enlightening. Thanks Michele for writing it. :) I think I will own black cats and dogs from now on!


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