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Changing the Sad Plight of Black Pets

October 16, 2022 | General

The myth that black cats bring bad luck has not only prevailed over the years, it now includes black dogs. Because black pets are usually the last ones to find forever homes…

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker


  • Black pets, and especially large black dogs, are among the hardest shelter animals to find homes for
  • The reasons black shelter pets are often overlooked are nonsensical; thankfully, shelters and animal welfare organizations are taking steps to extinguish “black dog syndrome” and “black cat syndrome”
  • High quality photos of black pets that showcase their personalities are one of several invaluable tools in increasing their adoption rates
  • Other types of pets slow to be adopted include seniors, those with medical problems or special needs, and breeds that get an undeserved bad rap, especially pit bulls

Sadly, shelter and rescue pets with black coats suffer from what is known as “black dog syndrome” or “black cat syndrome.” They are among the last and least likely to find new homes. They languish in shelters longer than pets with lighter coats and are euthanized more often. And if a black pet also happens to be a large breed dog, he’s doubly unlucky.

Why Black Pets Are Often Overlooked

Shelter professionals have several theories on why the anti-black pet phenomenon exists:

  • Some believe it’s a result of superstition. The myth that black cats bring bad luck has spilled over to black dogs as well, making them less desirable as pets.
  • Black dogs are frequently used as symbols of evil in books and movies. There is also discrimination against large breed dogs like the mostly black Rottweiler and Doberman Pinscher.
  • Some shelter staff feel black dogs don’t have a look that attracts the attention of potential adopters. In addition, they can appear older than their years if they have a bit of white or gray around the muzzle or eyes.
  • It can be difficult to see a black dog well under shelter lighting, especially her facial expressions. Lighter coated pets often appear to have more expressions simply because it’s easier to see subtle movement in their faces than it is with a black coated dog or cat.
  • Since some people actually give up their black pets to shelters because they don’t want black fur on their new furniture, it’s safe to assume a percentage of potential adoptive owners pass those animals by for the same reason.
  • Often visitors to shelters will see several kennels in a row with black dogs. It’s possible some assume there must be a problem with those dogs since they’re all kept in the same area of the facility.

Black Pet Glamour Shots Increase Adoption Rates

Fortunately, shelters and animal welfare organizations are taking steps to extinguish black dog and cat syndrome. Shelter volunteers recognize housing black pets throughout the facility rather than in ‘clumps’ is helpful. They’re also doing things like putting brightly colored blankets and toys in the kennels of black pets and using colorful neckwear to catch the eye of visitors.

There are also ongoing efforts to encourage prospective adopters to consider a black pet, such as events that offer half-price or even fee-waived adoptions on black animals.

Shelter staff have also discovered that photos of black pets should be taken in well-lit areas of the facility — preferably outdoors on bright, sunny days. In addition, volunteer professional and hobbyist photographers like Maggie Epling1 can make a huge difference in attracting attention to black shelter pets.

Epling, a student at the University of Kentucky who was looking to do something fun and impactful during summer break, reached out to the Pike County Animal Shelter in Pike, Kentucky after learning that homeless animals with good photos were more likely to get adopted. The shelter welcomed her help.

Epling learned from other shelter volunteers that black cats and dogs are often the last to get adopted, so she dedicated herself to ensuring those animals got great pictures.

Among them was Jersey, a calm, well-mannered female one-year-old mixed breed; Blinky, a very energetic female pit bull mix with one eye; Tiny, a silly, energetic small dog with one blue and one brown eye; and Winona, a small Beagle who was the first out the door after her glamour shots were posted on the shelter’s Facebook page.

The Pike County Animal Shelter is in a rural area that isn’t easy to reach, but as soon as Epling’s photos were added to their Facebook page, the phones lit up. Epling believes one of the secrets to her success is that she gets to know each of the dogs and their personality before taking their portrait.

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