When people go to the Humane Society or animal shelter looking to adopt a pet, they are more than likely going to leave with one that is a lighter color or one with interesting markings. There are no hard scientific studies as to why black cats and dogs are left behind, often never being adopted, but there are a lot of good theories. This is often called Black Dog Syndrome, though it applies equally to cats.
Fortunately animal shelters are getting creative and taking extra effort to get black dogs and cats adopted out and the media has taken an interest, publishing stories on these animals' plight. For dog and cat lovers, all it may take is a little awareness to turn this problem around!
Why Black Dogs and Cats Are Harder to Adopt Out
It's not usually a conscious decision on the part of the potential pet owner. There are often other factors that come into play.
Black Pets Are Harder to See
The simplest reason is that black fur is harder to see. In animal shelters, the lighting may not be all that great, and a dog or cat with lighter or colorful fur simply stands out better. People often fall in love at first sight with pets, so the easier-to-see pets have a far better shot at getting picked up and going home.
Black Cats and Dogs Are Harder to Photograph
Pet adoptions are often promoted online with photos. Even professional photographers have to go to special effort to light a black cat or dog well enough to see facial characteristics. If a photo is the starting point in an adoption, pets with good photos have the best chance.
People Love Facial Features
Dogs and cats with all black faces, and no other markings, are at a real disadvantage because it's very hard to see their facial features and expressions. So, people tend to assume they lack personality.
People Love Color
Our eyes are drawn to colors and patterns, so a cat or dog with multiple colors is going to get our attention before an all black coat will.
Black Dogs are Often Big Dogs
This is a problem for two reasons. One, some people simply want a smaller dog for whatever reason. And two, some people believe big black dogs are scary - possibly because that's how they are portrayed in movies.
Black Dogs in Movies and Black Cat Superstitions
Big Black Dogs Get the Scary Roles in Movies
In the movie Beethoven, the giant brown and white St. Bernard plays the loveable family dog, while black Doberman Pinschers play the mean dogs who snarl and threaten the bad guys.
Lighter colored dogs get the loveable leading roles (Lassie, Old Yeller, Shiloh, The Shaggy Dog) because they are easier to film and we can read their facial expressions. Big black dogs play the villains because they are so much easier to make look scary - in dim lighting with only eyes and teeth showing, they can look very menacing.
These are impressions made by Hollywood, and have no basis in reality. But, maybe because we're used to seeing dogs portrayed this way, we subconsciously assume that big black dogs are going to be aggressive.
Black Cats Evoke Superstitions
Even in this day and age, there are some people who believe that a black cat is bad luck, or is associated with witchcraft or evil. Black cats are the poster kitties for Halloween, which perpetuates those ideas year after year. Black cats, especially those with no other markings, can look kind of ominous with their eyes glowing. But people who own black cats can tell you that they are just as sweet and adorable as any other cat. But in an animal shelter, a potential pet owner may avoid the kitty that looks a little eerie, and gravitate toward the ones that are radiating cuteness without even trying.
How Humane Societies and Animal Shelters Are Helping
Animal shelters across the country are doing more to address Black Dog Syndrome. Some take special care to place the black dogs and cats in cages at eye level, that have the best lighting. Some put their black animals in a brightly colored cape or other adornments to help them stand out. And some hold special adoption events, and sponsoring companies provide special incentives and discounts for adopting black dogs or cats. And many are simply getting the word out to the media, especially the Internet, just letting people know of the problem. (Kind of like what we are doing right now!)
How Pet Owners Can Help Black Cats and Dogs in Animal Shelters
As a pet owner, you have influence on potential pet owners. When family, friends or co-workers mention plans to adopt a dog or cat, encourage them to choose a black pet. You could also consider fostering a black dog or cat. A fostered pet has the opportunity to meet your friends and neighbors, and even strangers, and display his personality. And, of course, when you are ready to add another pet to your family, considering adopting a black cat or dog from a shelter.
And if you have a black cat or dog, tell us about your pet by clicking the Rate & Comment button below.
More stories about helping pets in animal shelters:
Help Pets in Animal Shelters
Online Pet Adoption Helps Rescue Dogs and Cats