Black Dog Syndrome: How Fur Color Can Influence Choosing A Pet

Clear the Shelters

A sitting black Chow Chow puppy!A 12 weeks male puppy dog with a blue tongue on green grass.

On Aug. 17, NBC and Telemundo stations around the country will join forces with local animal shelters in the hopes of finding forever homes for pets in need.

But for certain types of adoptable pets, making it out of the shelter can be ruff. While it’s not unusual for older pets or pets with diagnosed medical conditions to wait longer for the perfect home, a surprising factor may come in to play when potential adopters evaluate shelter pets – color. In fact, many shelters and rescues have coined the term “black dog syndrome” to describe the frequency with which dark-coated animals are passed over for lighter-colored pets.

It should be noted that attempts to study black dog syndrome have had mixed results. Some questioned whether this puppy prejudice even existed at all, while others found that although black cats and dogs were eventually adopted, it took substantially longer for them to find the perfect match than for their light-colored counterparts. But seasoned shelter workers insist the phenomenon is real, and I have seen it for myself during visits to our local shelter. Here are some theories as to why these pets have a tendency to be overlooked.

Black pets are tough to photograph
As the owner of a black dog who is often featured on our hospital’s social media platforms, I can attest to this personally. Lighting, backgrounds, and the clothing of the people in the shot all have to be taken into consideration when trying to capture that perfect shot. And once we have it, we usually tweak it by lightening, cropping or adding filters. Busy animal shelters can not often spare the time needed for such fussy attention to detail. As a result, dark-coated pets may not present well on a shelter’s website or social media platforms.

Black pets don’t stand out
Dim lighting and shadows in shelter enclosures can swallow up a dark-coated pet. And if the pet is feeling overwhelmed, shadows are exactly where they want to be. In these types of situations, a potential adopter may not notice the pet at all.

Dark faces hide eyes and facial expressions
We often search animals’ faces in the hopes of making an emotional connection. The eyes of a black dog or cat are less likely to stand out than those of their light coated counterparts. When surrounded by dark fur, their facial expressions are less pronounced and therefore harder for adopters to read.

Media and cultural bias
In many cultures, the color black is associated with evil, misfortune, and bad luck. From Harry Potter’s Grim, to the Hounds of Baskerville, to the universal Beware Of Dog sign, aggressive dogs in popular culture are often portrayed as being black. And the superstitions surrounding black cats have been around for thousands of years. It should be noted, however, that in some countries, black cats are seen as harbingers of good luck, blessings, and excellent fortune. 

Perhaps the best way for potential adopters to avoid the traps of black cat and black dog syndrome is to simply be aware of its existence. Choose pets based on temperament and suitability to your lifestyle, and make sure you have the time and resources needed for responsible pet ownership. Once we’re reminded not to judge a book by its cover, we tend to correct that tendency. The same can be said of judging a pet by its coat as we get ready to Clear The Shelters.

Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic

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Clear The Shelters

Shelters near you


TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) - Thousands of pets are looking for their forever homes and News Channel 8 is On Your Side helping to make that happen in the Tampa Bay area.

We are teaming up with hundreds of shelters across the country to host Clear the Shelters, a nationwide pet adoption drive on Saturday, August 17, 2019, to help find loving homes for animals in need.

More than 150,000 pets found their forever homes since 2015.

Now is the time for shelters to register by completing the online application located here. Organizations interested in participating in Clear the Shelters must complete the Commitment Registration form to ensure proper verification of all interested participants.

When registering, please make sure you select the TAMPA-ST.PETERSBURG-SARASOTA, FL region. This will put your shelter on our CLEAR THE SHELTERS online map, driving families to your shelter. 

Here are the local shelters that are offering no-cost or reduced-fee adoptions for this event:

  1. Citrus County Animal Services - 4030 S. Airport Rd, Inverness
  2. Humane Society of Polk County - 3195 Dundee Road Winter, Haven
  3. Barking Out Loud Rescue, Inc - 300 N Lake Drive, Lorida
  4. Paw Warriors, Inc. - 355 Spring Time Street, Spring Hill
  5. SPCA Florida - 5850 Brannen Rd S, Lakeland
  6. Friends of Strays Animal Shelter - 2911 47th Avenue North, St. Petersburg
  7. Pinellas County Animal Services - 12450 Ulmerton Road, Largo
  8. SPCA of Hernando County - 9075 Grant St, Brooksville
  9. Humane Society of Tampa Bay - 3607 N Armenia Avenue, Tampa
  10. SPCA Tampa Bay - 9099 130th Ave North, Largo
  11. Highlands County Sheriffs Animal Services - 7300 Haywood Taylor Blvd, Sebring
  12. St. Francis Animal Rescue - 1925 S. Tamiami Trail, Venice
  13. FLUFF Animal Rescue - 11220 Park Blvd N, Seminole
  14. Manatee County Animal Services: Palmetto Shelter - 305 25th St W, Palmetto
  15. Manatee County Cat Town - 216 6th Ave E, Bradenton
  16. Pasco County Animal Services - 19640 Dogpatch Lane, Land O'Lakes
  17. St. Francis Society, Inc. - Pet Smart - 12835 Citrus Plaza Dr, Tampa
  18. The Humane Society of the Nature Coast - 7200 Mobley Road, Brooksville
  19. Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center - 440 N. Falkenburg Road, Tampa
  20. Humane Society of Manatee County - 2515 14th Street W, Bradenton
  21. Save Our Strays Inc. Safety Harbor, FL - 3223 San Jose Street, Clearwater
  22. Polk County Sheriff's Office Animal Control Section - 7115 De Castro Rd, Winter Haven
  23. Hernando County Animal Services - 19450 Oliver St., Brooksville
  24. Bishop Animal Shelter SPCA of Manatee County, FL - 5718 21st Ave W, Bradenton
  25. Humane Society of Pinellas, 3040 State Road 590, Clearwater
  26. Rescue Cats of Florida, 211 West Alexander Street, Plant City
  27. Precious Paws Rescue, 5164 S. Florida Avenue (Route 41), Inverness
  28. Hands Helping Paws Rescue, 53 West Bay Boulevard South, Lake Wales
  29. Cat Kids Rescue, 10500 Ulmerton Road, Suite 308, Largo
  30. Suncoast Animal League, 1030 Pennsylvania Ave., Palm Harbor
  31. Cat Haven Rescue of Tampa-Pasco County, 1231 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Wesley Chapel
  32. Cat Haven Rescue of Pasco County, 8529 Little Road, New Port Richey
  33. Suncoast Humane Society, 6781 San Casa Drive, Englewood
  34. Rebels Rescue, 11665 W Hillsborough Ave., Tampa
  35. Humane Society at Lakewood Ranch, 26920 Gopher Hill Road, Myakka city
  36. Cat Crusaders, Inc, 6248 Commerce Palms Drive, Tampa
  37. SPCA Suncoast, 7734 Congress Street, New Port Richey
  38. Rescue Cats of Florida, 3313 Lithia Pinecrest Road, Valrico
  39. Countless Cats Rescue Inc., 3139 Duane Avenue, Oldsmar
  40. Cat Call Inc, Pet Smart 1051 W Brandon Blvd, Brandon
  41. Cat Call Inc, 11331 Causeway Blvd, Brandon

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