Black Dog Syndrome

My friend Colleen Thompson recently posted on Facebook about the fate of black dogs in animal shelters. It turns out that they are usually the last to be adopted, the first to be euthanized. There are several possible reasons for this, from the idea that they are just too ordinary to evil folk tales of dark hounds and the fact that people tend to fear that black dogs are more aggressive than their lighter counterparts.

Prince Harry

Guarding the food bowl

But the most probable reason that they are overlooked is that it is hard to get a good picture of them. Consider my own Prince Harry.  This is the best picture I have of him and it doesn’t begin to capture his loving personality.

New dog owners bond with their pets through the animal’s eyes and it’s harder to see a black dog’s eyes. Even now after a couple years with Harry, his little face seems less expressive than Mack’s (our mostly white puppy-mill-reject terrier) because there isn’t much color contrast. But he’s the sweetest, most lovable little fellow we could ever want.

Harry didn’t come to us through a shelter. My niece found him tied to a tree in the middle of the woods without food or water–left to die, either from exposure to the elements, starvation, thirst or predators. Someone’s hard heart is our gain. Harry has been a wonderful addition to our family.

If you’re considering a pet this Christmas, let me encourage you first to go to a shelter instead of buying a purebred. Those purebred puppies are very likely to find homes. The dogs in your local shelter are fighting against the clock. Even in a “no kill” shelter, animals will often pine away if they are not adopted after a time. Dogs need people.

And while you’re there at the shelter, fight against “Black Dog Syndrome.” Don’t overlook the black dogs. They just might be your new best friend.

Do you have a pet? How did you find him/her? Did they find YOU?


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28 thoughts on “Black Dog Syndrome

  1. Such a great post, Mia. I’m all choked up thinking of your sweet little guy tied to a tree. Humans can be so incredibly cruel.

    We have a black lab that we got from one of those adoption open houses where several shelters get together and have their dogs there for people to meet. Her yellow lab brother was there too, but my husband held her in his arms and we fell in love. I’ve heard about Black Dog syndrome and am so thankful that it didn’t affect us. She’s the best dog ever!

    In fact, most of our animals have been rescues. We just adopted a 10 year old cat that my mom’s neighbor was going to take to the shelter when she moved. He’s the sweetest, most affectionate kitty! He and my daughter are inseparable. It makes me teary that someone didn’t love him enough to give him a forever home.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Fortunately, Prince Harry has not let his rough beginning affect his personality. And I’m thankful my sister and her family let us take him–they already had several dogs.

      Harry is such a little lover and assumes “the writing position” snugged at my left hip, every day.

      Both Harry and Mack are “throw aways.” Mack, our terrier, was going to be destroyed because a surgically repairable birth defect made him unsellable for the puppy mill where he was born. Another one of my sisters and her husband saved him from getting a bullet in his little brain and paid for his surgery. Then when their dog didn’t get along with Mack, he came to live with us.

      We couldn’t ask for more loving companions than our two accidental pets. We like to think they chose us.

  2. melanie says:

    It’s the same for black cats sadly.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      I understand they are more likely to be adopted around Halloween, but I’d be afraid of the motives of people who specifially want a black cat then. It might not be in the animal’s best interests.

  3. Thanks for talking about this! I’ve been doing the same. We just adopted a black lab and it breaks my heart that people would think that a dog’s coat color should matter.

    Our one year old Rocky is the sweetest dog. Loved your post, Mia!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Labs have the sweetest dispositions. I’ve never met a mean one.

      Thanks for dropping by, Lila.

  4. Growing up, we had 3 black or black and white dogs. One from shelter and the other 2 from people whose dog had puppies. All were mongrels.

    Don’t forget the cats. I have/ or have had 7 all black cats (I’m partial to them) and 6 black and white cats. All were mongrels. Several came from shelters, a couple of kittens from people, and (sorry) several I have stolen because I didn’t think whoever owned them were taking good care of them. My criteria for good care is (1) neutered and (2) keeping cat inside the house. Cats that weren’t neutered and allowed to roam free are prime candidates for my crime spree.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      The “inside cat” component to pet care is so important, Pat. The life expectancy of the average indoor housecat is 18 years. One who is allowed to roam outside can expect to live only 3.

  5. Jackie Horne says:


    Thanks for this column. I had no idea that black dogs and cats, too, have trouble being adopted! I’m a cat person myself, but I’ve always had black ones, including our current two, Comet and Dusk, both of whom came from the MSPCA shelter in Boston. They both give us so many laughs, and so much snuggly love…

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      I’ve had a few cats in the past myself–Tommy Whiskers was a 25 lb tomcat who loved opera. Whenever I sang, he writhed on the top of the piano in what I assumed was unabashed pleasure. He always scratched to get into my piano room if I’d shut the door, so I’m hoping he wasn’t in pain!

  6. Glad you brought this issue to light, Mia.

    Prince Harry is a sweetie, but I know what you mean about having a hard time capturing his sweetness in photos. I have many more pictures of my mostly-white rescue than Jewel, who, while not totally black, has a black mask covering both eyes. You can only catch them if the light is just right.

    One of my favorite dogs of the past was an almost-pure black greyhound named Athena. When I adopted her, I had no idea that big, black dogs were the toughest to find homes for. I only knew she was gorgeous and had a beautiful spirit to match.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      You’re the one who alerted me to this problem, Colleen, so the thanks go to you, m’dear.

      Hopefully, we’ve spread the word to folks who will think about choosing a black dog if they’re in the market for a new best friend.

  7. Great post. My husband is an animal control officer and I knew from him this problem is true for black cats (except around Halloween, when he won’t let them be adopted!) but didn’t realize it was true for dogs as well. For cats, it’s definitely the “witch” factor. Being married to an ACO, I have rescue critters–none black at the moment since our black cat died a few years back and I won’t adopt another black one until I’m sure I’m not “replacing” him, but bringing in a brand-new friend.

    1. Mia says:

      I know what you mean about “replacing” a beloved pet. My DH asked me several times if I wanted to look for another little dog after we lost Susie (my 17 year old poodle mix) but I wasn’t ready. By the time Harry came into our lives, a couple years had passed and he needed us. I think it makes a difference when the pet finds you.

  8. Donna L says:

    We adopted a black Sheppard almost 3 years ago. She was suppose to be small, but kept growing until she was 3 and also turned out to be part wolf. She takes wonderful pics, but her eyes usually glow green.

    1. Mia says:

      Part wolf, huh? Well in Seattle I used to walk my 8 pound poodle mix all over Belltown, where we lived. One day a homeless guy said to me, “There’s wolf in that dog, you know.” And he was right. They all go back to wolves in some way. Domestic dogs and wolves are all part of the same species. And when we had horses, they loved the barn cats, but wouldn’t let little Susie near them. They smelled the wolf in her too.

  9. Barb Bettis says:

    I never have heard that line of thinking about black dogs. When my boys were young we had a black lab/golden retriever mix. He was beautiful large dog, with long, black wavy fur. As a pup, he loved to chew leather (as in my favorite shoes) and wood (as in the legs of my favorite Queen Anne chair.) But we loved him.

    1. Mia says:

      Oh, I know what you mean about the chewies. Mack desecrated my favorite navy pumps and Harry has reduced one of the braces on our dining room chairs to kindling, but they both seem to be out of that stage now. Thank goodness.

  10. Alisa says:

    I had a black cock-a-poo growing up and my favorite dog breed is a Newfundland. I LOVE black dogs and really don’t understand the reluctance of people to own one. We have two full grown Collies now (tri-color) and people are prejudiced against them because they are BIG! Ugh! So stupid-especially since they are WELL behaved and trained.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      The largest dog we’ve ever had was our 65 pound lab, which really isn’t that big compared to a Newfie. My reluctance to have a big dog now is based on space. We’re condo dwellers with a 25 pound pet weight limit.

      I love seeing well-behaved dogs almost as much as well-behaved children!

  11. Norah Wilson says:

    Wow, Mia. I’ve long known people feared black dogs more than they fear lighter ones, but I hadn’t stopped to think about color making their eyes harder to see/bond with. I set out to get a black dog last time I adopted because I know they’re hard to place. My Chloe is a sweetheart, but when I first took her for a walk outside the SPCA that day, I was a little afraid to get down to her level. She’s a Rotti-Lab X and when she pants, all you can see is jaw muscle and white teeth. LOL.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Rotties get a bum rap. Every one I’ve ever met has been sweetness itself. My crit partner in Seattle, Darcy Carson, had a couple of these gentle giants. There are no bad breeds. Only bad owners.

  12. Diane Haynes says:

    We have a black Bassett Hound who was abandoned in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Thankfully for us, she found her way to a Bassett Rescue. Ruby is adorable and the light of our lives.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks for mentioning Bassett Rescue. I think almost every breed has a rescue organization and I confess I’ve looked at the poodle website, but they require a fenced yard and we’re condo dwellers. Besides with Mack and Harry, our doggy quiver is full.

      For those who want a purebred dog, a breed rescue animal is a wonderful way to bring one into your life.

  13. pophyn says:

    Harry looks like a sweetie in your photo; I’m so happy for you and for him that your niece found him.

    Juliet was one of a pair of cats left behind when her elderly owner passed away. Her sons left them living in the cellar while they readied her relatively new home to sell. The months passed; by the time I heard about the situation, over six months had gone by. The orphaned furries were well treated: multiple visits a day for feeding and playtime, but still, not the best living arrangement for them. Juliet has since taken over my home :)

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      You bring up an interesting issue. We make provisions for our children should we die, but I’ve never thought about making an arrangement for our pets. Something to talk about over the dinner table…

  14. I have a Black Lab and have heard those rumors about not being able to see the eyes very well. Oddly besides a wagging tail that could take over a tree, his brown eyes are one of the most distinguishing (and loving) parts about him;) Giving an animal of any kind a good loving home is a wonderful idea!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      We had a chocolate lab for almost 15 years. Wonderful dog. Our youngest daughter had her senior pictures taken with Ginger and we all still tear up when we think of her.

      BTW, brown dogs are second to black ones in the euthanizing stats.

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