Fear of a Black Cat?

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Exploring our aversion pets with dark coats


I’ve always thought we were incredibly lucky to find Dodger. Though we were convinced that we wanted to adopt a pet, my wife’s fear of animals forced us to visit shelters for months while looking for just the right forever friend. We were leaving the shelter after another failed pet interview when I spotted a four-month-old pitbull mix with the perfect amount of playfulness and friendliness needed to ease my wife into a pet-loving place.

According to the kennel tag, the puppy had been at the shelter three weeks. A volunteer told us that puppies were typically there for a few days before being adopted. So, why has this little guy been left homeless while others hit the jackpot? At the time, I never considered that his black coat might be the reason. We took the little guy home and we’ve been the proudest pup parents ever since.

Of course, volunteers in shelters nationwide can attest to the phenomenon commonly known as “Black Dog Syndrome”. Both dogs and cats with predominately black coats seem to have a much lower rate of adoption and thus a higher rate of being euthanized versus their light-coated friends. In fact, according New York based organization Black Dog, Second Chance, dark-haired pets generally wait up to three times longer to be adopted.

I have found no record of scientific studies conducted on this issue. Yet, there is a groundswell of activism fighting this problem. In August 2011, Best Friends Animal Society organized a nationwide initiative known as the “Back in Black” program that discounted adoption fees for black pets by 50% at 90 participating shelters and rescue groups across the country, including Nashville’s own Silver Rescue. Many rescue groups throughout Middle Tennessee have started similar programs.

Theories abound as to why black pets continue to go overlooked. The most interesting of which may be Hollywood’s deconstruction of the family pet. We all flock to the theater to see family favorites such as Garfield and Marmaduke. Most of Hollywood’s furry heroes are lighter shades or dazzling colors, while black cats are typically portrayed as bad omens. Likewise, black dogs usually play the menacing guard dog or the villain’s best friend.

On the other hand, Lavanya Raju, coordinator for the No More Homeless Pets Network, believes that the problem may not be a perception of bad animals, rather the reality of bad lighting.  “The difficulty in getting good pictures of black animals plays a big part since many potential adopters come forward due to on-line photos.” Another thought is that darker pets tend to fade into the shadows of a shelter cage, whereas brightly colored pets stand out from the crowd.

Regardless of the reasons that black pets are so often overlooked, I hope that this food for thought might encourage you to give one a chance the next time you adopt. (You can start on the next page!) Our buddy Dodger is living proof that even the darkest dog can light up your life!

It’s a Doggone World is an opinion column on four-legged culture. D. Graham Curry lives in Nashville with his wife Lovette and their beautiful black dog, Dodger.

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