Black dogs and cats are often the last to be adopted and the first to be euthanized, something shelter workers call the “Black Dog Syndrome.”
Reasons range from superstitions such as the notion black cats are bad luck, to a simple logistical problem: Black animals are hard to photograph well, and therefore are hard to advertise.
To combat the problem, shelters have come up with a variety of creative measures, from reducing adoption fees to improving the quality of the photos.
Lyndsey Kubik, animal behavior assistant for the Humane Society of West Michigan in Walker, said she can’t put her finger on it, but ebony-furred canines and felines do take a bit longer to adopt than animals with a lighter hue. That’s why the society’s kennels often are adorned with a bright-colored blanket inside them to catch the eye of potential adopters. The shelter once had a special adoption day for black pets, but discontinued it last year.
“They’re easily overlooked,” Kubik said of black dogs and cats. “People just tend to walk by all black animals. A really pink blanket that really pops or another bright color catches somebody’s eye if they’re walking past a black animals.”
Hoax or fact?
Some have called Black Dog Syndrome a hoax, but Inge Fricke, director of sheltering and pet care issues for the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C., insists “it is not a hoax. There is definitely anecdotal evidence. There haven’t been any definitive studies to absolutely prove the phenomenon exists, but it is something commonly accepted by shelter workers as truth.”
Some in the adoption business think there simply may be more black dogs and cats than animals of other colors. Others think the animals may be wrongly perceived as menacing.
Lisa LaPlante, communications manager for the Kent County Health Department, which oversees the Kent County Animal Shelter, believes the problem lies with many who associate black with a type of emotional depression.
“Then, we have the superstition every October, where we see pictures of black cats with their fur raised up,” she said. “People still get nervous when they see a black cat in front of their car.”
LaPlante said the county animal shelter also spends a bit more time ensuring lighting is right when photos of black dogs and cats are taken for display on petfinder.com and adds a colorful bandana or blanket.
Diane Burda, office coordinator for Mackenzies Animal Sanctuary in Lake Odessa, a dog-only sanctuary, said the nonprofit relies on a color code to match adopters and dogs with similar personalities and lifestyles.
“Green” dogs, for instance, are high energy and best for energetic people while the purple dog label is for coach potatoes content to snuggle next to their owners. The sanctuary’s matching system doesn’t take into account the color-of-fur glitch, Burda said.
“Our process is slow and thorough because we want it to be a win-win for the owners and, from that perspective, they don’t notice the color of fur as much,” she said. “We’re looking at those personality matches.”
Photographer Seth Casteel of Little Friends Photo in Los Angeles says any shelter pet can pose a photo challenge, but black ones top the list.
“To photograph a black dog or cat effectively, you want to capture personality, important physical traits and details, and have the photo be in focus,” Casteel said. “The key is lighting and shutter speed.”
Black pets should be photographed in the shade or on a cloudy day, not in direct sunlight, he said.
For years, many shelters stopped offering black cats for adoption around Halloween because some were being abused. But that thinking is changing. Applicants are screened better these days, and too many cats might be missing out on good forever homes, said Beth Chee at the Helen Woodward Animal Center in San Diego.
“Once we are sure that you are truly planning to make a lifelong commitment to a pet, we will accept your application,” she said. “We really encourage shelters and rescues not to stop promoting adoption of those pets at this time of year.”
Neither the Humane Society of West Michigan nor the Kent County Animal Shelter has a policy barring the adoption of black cats near Halloween.
Each shelter believes its screening methods are thorough enough to avoid bad adoption motives.
“We can pick up reasons for adopting, whether they want a cat as a legitimate pet or as a Halloween prop or do something harmful to the animal,” said Nicole Cook, marketing and events coordinator for the West Michigan society.
A free, nationwide, nonprofit program called Second Chance Photos teaches volunteers how to take good photos of shelter pets. The program also gives shelters ideas on ways to raise money for cameras and photo editing software.
- Volunteers can sign up at secondchancephotos.org.
Courtesy of MLive.com.
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