Are People Prejudiced Against Black Pets? Understanding Black Dog Syndrome

A new condition has surfaced in the pet community, and while it may not make your pet sick, it is believed to be responsible for thousands of pet deaths.

The condition is known as Black Dog Syndrome.

What is Black Dog Syndrome?

Black-Dog-Syndrome-4 Black Dog Syndrome (BDS) is the technical term for what people working at shelters see every day — pets with lighter colored fur getting snatched up while their darker haired brethren languish in their kennel. BDS is not a joke – the numbers are there.

Petfinder lists that most pets spend around 12.5 weeks up on their site before finding a home. Black pets, on the other hand, tend to hang around up to 4x longer — up to two years!

They are not only the last to be adopted either. If you keep tugging at that thread,  not only are these darker dogs and cats having a harder time finding a home, but they are also more likely to end up being euthanized.

The idea that ANY pet can end up dying as a result of not being adopted is disheartening, but the fact that the color of their is a factor is not only surprising, but appalling. Black-Dog-Syndrome-3 In some places, BDS has gotten so out of hand that shelters are actually hosting events and running specials with the goal of finding some homes for these darker furred pets. Things like “free black pet day” or “save a black cat on Halloween” are now a common occurrence among shelters everywhere.

But why black pets?

There are plenty of reasons why a black pet may linger in a kennel while a blond one gets adopted, and they are all complete nonsense. But nonsense or not, they still exist and we cannot hope to dispel them without addressing the issue.

1. The Negative Stigma Surrounding The Color

(aka the Darth Vader Effect)

Black has long been associated with evil, nefarious doings, while white has embodied the concept of purity and justice. That dichotomy is responsible for much of how we choose to personify the concept of good and evil. It is not mere coincidence that such iconic evil figures as Darth Vader, Maleficent, and The Black Knight are all cloaked in the same inky color. Black-Dog-Syndrome-2 In much the same vein, the superstition surrounding black cats is likely not doing dark haired kittens any favors when it comes to finding a loving home.

Is there a definite causal relationship between our societies  association that dark equates to bad and the fact that black pets have a harder time finding a family? No, but it certainly isn’t helping.

2. Black Pets are Harder to Photograph

The fact that pets with darker fur are less photogenic than their lighter furred kennel mates is likely the true “man-behind-the-curtain” of why darker pets linger in shelters. Black-Dog-Syndrome-1 Thanks to websites like Petfinder, many pets are selected for adoption before the family steps foot in a shelter. The downside, however, is that many of these pets are selected based on the cuteness of their profile picture.

This gives lighter colored pets a leg up since their facial features show up better in photos, whereas black pets tend to get washed out. Because of their coloring, dark furred pets often show up as a nondescript black blob with eyes — not a great first impression.

The Takeaway

While there are numerous reasons why a person might select a lighter colored pet over a black one, most of them are subconscious, and none are valid. The goal is to now be more aware of this problem and to correct for it in the future. We must stop discriminating against any pet based on the color of their fur, or any other cosmetic feature. Most of all, we need to find a home for every pet in need.

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PetFinder – Black Dog Syndrome
Slate – Are People Racist Against Black Dogs?
ABC News – Prospective Pet Adopters Overlook Black Dogs and Cats, Shelters Say
The Guardian – Pets with black fur: why don’t you look good on social media?

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  1. 1

    I loved my black dog. As she got older and grew grey hair, I saw that those hairs were now defining her face. Only then did I realize that when she was all black, she didn’t seem to have the expression and the facial features that she had developed as an older dog. She photographed much better as well. That may be why the black dogs may not get adopted easily, they can’t communicate with their faces as well as lighter colored dogs. Even their eyes do not contrast well. Once you take time to really look at them , you see the expressions in their eyes and souls, but you may pass him/her by because you miss the immediate connection and attraction.

  2. 2

    I just adopted a black kitten from the shelter and she’s asleep on my lap as I write this. Love black cats!

  3. 3

    I adopted a black cat, Kiwi, because he looked like he needed me, color had nothing to do with it. That is the last thing I consider when I am on the hunt for another pet to love! I also have two Cavaliers in the Black and Tan color, is this someone trying to make an issue where there is none?

  4. 5

    I love black dogs! I grew up with two. I dont have one now, but I do have a chocolate lab. She isn’t black, but her fur is dark!

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