Black Dog Syndrome by Maggie Digiovanni

March 9, 2015

Over two years ago I visited a shelter to find the perfect playmate for my Scottish terrier.  Dog after dog caught my attention, white with brown or brown spots, brown with white and black spots, all white or all brown had my hands itching to pet and hold them close.  Black dogs I passed by.  Suddenly I noticed other  who were oohing and ahhing over future pets also ignored the black ones.

My brother did just the opposite. He seemed drawn to the dark dogs of the pound.  He insisted I look at one mixed breed, a little girl with one stray tooth jutting out from the right side of her mouth.  I turned instead to a pretty white and brown Chihuahua and brought her out to play.  We didn’t connect so back she went.  I looked up from the floor where I always sit to meet small dogs.  In walked Jut Tooth.  She walked tentatively up to me and settled in my lap as though that space was meant for her.  Love exploded and Little Bit became our new pet in residence.


At home I pondered why so many overlook the black pups and dogs.  Researching the phenomena, I discovered Black Dog Syndrome (BDS).  Black animals are ignored due to a combination of:

  • Size
  • Unclear facial features
  • Dimly lit kennels
  • The “genericness” of black pets
  • Negative portrayals of black pets in books, movies and other popular media
    • A big, frightening black dog can be seen in The Hound of the Baskervilles, the Harry Potter series, both movie versions of The Omen, and even on the common “Beware of Dog” sign.
    • Black cats are readily associated with witches, superstition, and bad luck.(

Essentially these dogs are left behind for two simple reasons – they do not photograph well and bad press.  The average stay for the lighter ones is 12.5 weeks. Black pets may stay in kennels over four times longer. Many adoptions begin on line and result in any but the black dogs and cats getting new owners.  Where white and brown animals show all the nuances that make them special, black ones are a dark blob unless filmed by very expensive cameras and expert photographers.  The personalities are removed by the simple act of taking their pictures.  That did not explain why face to face meetings in shelters had the same result of the black dogs being left behind.

Another visit to the Humane Shelter confirmed that even the human eye, that marvel of God’s innovation, saw every tiny scar, wrinkle, quirk of facial expressions that would endear the lighter animal to their new people.  Not so with the black dogs.  Short haired black dogs do a little better in the showing.  If the light hits them right and they have good coats, it’s easier to see their good and not so good traits.  Dogs like my hairy Little Bit looked more like tired mops, especially if they had yet to be groomed.

If they were silent, nothing came across to promote them into a potential new owner’s heart. They ranked almost up with senior pets as last to be adopted.

If only people could be trained to look within the dark eyes of the pet to see the longing to be given forever homes instead of looking for cute or handsome or almost show dog quality, perhaps these dogs, that have hearts as big as any other, would find homes sooner.

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