Although it sounds like a curse straight out of a Grimm Fairytale, so-called “Black Dog Syndrome” is an all too real phenomenon for those in the shelter and rescue community.

But what, exactly is Black Dog Syndrome? Well, it’s not a disease. And it’s not contagious. What it is is a sad and surprising statistic: black dogs in shelter and rescue situations often take significantly longer to be adopted than their lighter-coated counterparts.

Although official statistics on the plight of dark-colored dogs are hard to find, shelter professionals everywhere know that black dogs are frequently the last to be adopted and the first to be euthanized. Visitors looking for pets tend to prefer animals with white, cream, brown or specked coats. And while it’s anyone’s guess as to why this is, theories are abundant:

  • Black dogs are difficult to see in their crates and cages at shelters.
  • Black dogs don’t photograph as well as those with lighter coats, so pictures for online listings aren’t as eye-catching.
  • Many breeds of dark-coated dogs are often labeled as “dangerous” such as Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Pit Bulls, Chows, and even black Labradors
  • People are less comfortable around black dogs because their expressions are harder to read.
  • Black dogs are often portrayed as aggressive and dangerous in popular culture and media.
  • The color black has associated with evil and misfortune since the beginning of recorded history — these sorts of superstitions easily become ingrained in our collective subconscious.

This inequality isn’t limited to dogs; cat adoptions often turn out similar statistics. But sadly, whether feline or canine, black animals in our nation’s shelters and rescues face an uphill battle to finding loving, forever homes.

Thankfully, organizations everywhere are beginning to implement programs to help undo the stigma of the black dog.

At the Winnipeg Humane Society, a non-profit organization and registered charity in southern Canada, the recently launched “Black Dog Club” gives special benefits to anyone who opts to adopt a dark-colored companion. People who visit the shelter and adopt a black dog are automatically made a member of the club and receive discounts on everything sold by the WHS for life. Any dogs whose coats are at least 50% black are eligible for the special offer, and even pet owners who already have a black dog are eligible for membership into the club.

But there are plenty of other, simple ways to help make black dogs more appealing to potential adopters. Something as small as a bright collar or bandana around the neck or even a few colorful toys or blankets in a kennel can help catch somebody’s eye. Taking dogs and cats outside, or into a well lit room for photo shoots can help make dark-coated pets much more photogenic — and their online listings much more effective.

Of course, these kinds of special programs utilize extra resources, and for shelters that are already struggling to provide a basic level of care for their animals, going the extra mile to help combat Black Dog Syndrome is simply not an option. So if you want to make a difference in the lives of homeless pets with dark colored coats, contact your local shelter and ask them how you can help. Perhaps they need assistance whittling down their “wish list” of goods and supplies. Perhaps they need volunteers to help run adoption events — dressing up those black dogs and cats with eye-catching collars and brightly colored bandanas.

By working together at the local level we can find a cure for Black Dog Syndrome, and a home for every dog and cat, regardless of their breed, size, or the color of their coat.