Are Black Pets Less Likely to Be Adopted?

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Jody Trappe / Getty

This dog only wants to be judged based on the content of its character, not the color of its fur.

According to pet shelter workers, ebony-colored cats and dogs suffer from the “Black Dog Syndrome”: they are often the last to be adopted and the first to be euthanized.

There are no statistics to prove the trend, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence and many possible explanations, rooting from a simple logistical problem: Black animals are hard to photograph well, and are therefore hard to advertise. To combat the problem, shelters will change lighting, use light-colored blankets, and even dress the animals up to try to get better photos for websites, ads and fliers.

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Photographer Seth Casteel of Little Friends Photo in Los Angeles just launched a free, nationwide, nonprofit program called Second Chance Photos.  The site, secondchancephotos.org, has tips for volunteers to take good photos of shelter pets. One suggestion?

“With black dogs, do your best to showcase their unique and positive personality. You can take the dog on a short run before the photo shoot so that he or she will pant, which looks like a smile.”

If photographers follow these steps, black-colored pets will hasten the adoption process, which tends to be a bit longer than for lighter-furred animals.

“Overwhelmingly, we hear from the shelter and rescue groups that black dogs, especially the big black dogs, and black cats take longer to get adopted,” said Kim Saunders, vice president of shelter outreach for Petfinder.com, an online pet adoption database.

Apparently, the misperceptions are fueled by the entertainment industry, as well.

“If you think of any movie with a mean, devil dog, it’s always a black dog, and if you see a witch in a movie, they always have a black cat,” says Mike Arms, president of the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.  The latter example, of course, ignores the entrenched superstition about black cats that easily prepares them for typecasting.

Some shelters hold special adoption events for black pets, with incentives like lower adoption fees and two-for-one adoption days. They also make sure the animals are taken out of their cages to meet potential owners as a way of encouraging their adoption.

Even if better photography and movie stereotypes take time to change the pattern, once animal rights agency has a time-honored insight.

On its website, the Oahu Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals talks about Black Dog Syndrome and asks potential pet parents: “Don’t judge a pup by its color.”

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