The politics over race has ignited heated discussions across the country for hundreds of years. With the election of President Barack Obama, many wondered if this historic moment meant racism had been obliterated from the nation’s consciousness.
Though that age-old debate rages on, strangely enough, animal advocates across the country believe that discrimination can sometimes go far beyond human-specific bigotry.
A rarely discussed phenomenon continues to build attention as the rates of euthanasia in animal shelters across the country rise: In shelters everywhere, animals are still discriminated against daily – because of the color of their fur.
Big, black dogs are bouncy, wiggly, energetic and just as loving as their light-colored counterparts, but it’s become very apparent that in many cases their fur color is what’s kept them behind shelter bars.
While humans continue to debate racism between humans, it seems that our subconscious discrimination has reached as far as man’s best friend.
Dubbed “Big, Black Dog Syndrome” within shelter, rescue and animal advocate circles, this unfortunate trend leaves such dogs hard-pressed to find homes because of their fur color. Although according to the ASPCA (and as noted in USA Today), concrete studies have not been made regarding the phenomenon, the realities of what most shelter workers and animal advocates see daily seems to confirm this “syndrome” as an unspoken truth.
As reported in Dogs Today, a British canine magazine, black dogs that are larger breeds, particularly Newfoundlands, Chow Chows, Labradors, Rottweilers and mixes of these breeds, are “euthanased at a horrifying rate in pounds and shelters across the United States…” The story goes on to note that “Even in American pet shops, black dogs are often overlooked – which is one reason why light-colored puppies are usually stocked.”
Several organizations have turned up over the years with fierce advocates at the helm, hoping to educate the public and make it easier for shelters to find homes for these dogs. The most talked about is Black Pearl Dogs, founded by Tamara Delaney.
A website dedicated to educating the public about big, black dog myths, Black Pearl Dogs was inspired by Delaney’s own black pearl, Jake, a Lab she adopted from a shelter where he had resided for three years without finding a home until Delaney came along.
She told Dogs Today, “It took six months of my children and me making posters and driving them all over to advertise that he needed a home. We also spoke of his wonderfulness to all we met who were looking for a dog with just good, old ‘word of mouth.’ Then I began to realize that nobody was interested in a well-mannered, already fully up-to-date, healthy, male, black Lab-type dog.”
Soon enough, Delaney took Jake in herself. Though Jake has since passed away, he continues to leave his paw print across the website. His pictures display with the caption, “Click on Jake! He will take you home.”
Delaney told People.com, “I want people to become aware that when they decide to adopt a dog, they shouldn’t just look at what the dog looks like. They should find the best personality match.”
She told Dogs Today, “We all know that a prejudice is a preformed opinion, usually an unfavourable one, based on insufficient knowledge, irrational feelings, or inaccurate stereotypes …You go to a movie, watch a show or read a book … what dogs are they using to show evil or fierceness? Most commonly: a big, black one.”
In a world where posh, plush, light-colored puppies are being toted around by most starlets, the big, black dog might not appeal to human prejudices that desperately yearn for “unique-looking” puppies now being bred in ridiculous numbers.
Still others believe it’s hard to “sell” the dogs to people when their fur color makes them hard to photograph and easy to pass up in dimly lit shelters.
“Black dogs have to be specially lighted for photography and therefore don’t show up well on shelter websites, and in pamphlets and flyers,” reported Hilary Hylton for Time magazine. Dark eyes set against dark coats also makes it difficult for some potential adopters to get a good feel for the dog’s emotions or personality right away.
In an atmosphere where adoptions often happen on first impressions, these color traits leave black dogs at a disadvantage when propped up next to a yellow Lab or Beagle.
Tamara Delaney gives great tips on her website for helping rescues and shelters make their black dogs stand out in photographs. She suggests putting brightly colored bandanas on these dogs to help make them stand out in adoptions; posting signs to bring attention to the dogs’ special abilities or unique tricks; and making sure not to group black dogs together in side-by-side cages.
The plight of big, black dogs continues in the midst of the larger national problem of pet overpopulation. Though the odds seem to be against these loveable mutts looking for homes, many rescues and shelters have not lost faith in their safe placement. Their general plea is to adopt, adopt, adopt, and if you can get past the color of a dog’s fur, then absolutely adopt a big, loving, black dog.
Check out these other organizations that are doing great things for black dogs: