By Linda Cole
Black Dog Syndrome is a very real problem in animal shelters. It seems like the more common or plain looking a pet is, the less likely they will find a home. Trying to give a voice to those who have none isn’t always easy to do, and it can be frustrating when it seems like no one is listening. But it’s important to keep speaking out because one voice can make a difference, if it’s persistent and comes from the heart. A young girl in Kansas is proof that one person can create change; she is speaking up for black dogs and cats in shelters.
A dark colored shelter dog already has one strike against him. If he is large with even a hint of bully breed in his DNA, he automatically has three strikes against him. Many shelters try to help a dark colored pet get noticed by adding a colorful bandanna or collar around their neck, but many potential adopters simply look past them anyway. The ASPCA has found that a dog or cat with more than 65 percent of a black or dark coloring in his coat is less likely to be adopted.
Why people walk right by a dark colored dog or cat is a mystery, but there are some theories. Black cats are often associated with witches and black magic. Some people believe the darker color makes a pet unlucky. Black dogs appear more aggressive to some, and their roles in movies too often portray them as mean and associated with the bad guys. Potential adopters have used phrases like “they’re spooky looking,” “you can’t see their eyes,” or “they don’t look trustworthy.”
It’s possible a black pet is harder to see among lighter colored coat colors that have a tendency to catch someone’s eye. I know from experience with my black dogs and cats how difficult it is to get a good photo of their face, especially if the light isn’t very good. It’s difficult for shelters to capture a cute facial expression when you can’t get a good picture of their eyes.
Madison Bell, a 12 year old Girl Scout in Kansas, is trying to change people’s perceptions of black dogs and cats. As a volunteer at the Kansas Humane Society, Madison was shocked to hear how some pets were being overlooked, and last November she started the Black Dog Club to help raise awareness about Black Dog Syndrome. She has taken on this issue, and impressed many people with her dedication. She started this project as her Girl Scout Silver Award project.
If the black dogs and cats in shelters can’t get people to notice them, they won’t get adopted. Madison understands it has nothing to do with the animal. Most people go into a shelter looking for that one cat or dog that makes them go “awww,” and it’s important to see a pet’s face and eyes. After all, it is those cute doggie or kitty eyes that grab our attention, pulling us towards them. However, it’s often hard to see a black animal’s eyes and facial expressions, and people aren’t always willing to take the time to get to know a dark colored pet’s personality.
According to the Kansas Humane Society, Madison’s Black Dog Club has been a big help to the shelter. Since launching the club, the young girl has raised $1,300 for the shelter. In an interview with KAKE TV in Wichita, Madison told reporter Jordan Shefte that “People just walk by them, they decide that they don’t want them because they aren’t as appealing as a border collie that has colors, the ones with the cute little curl up tails. But black dogs are amazing, they’ve got personality just like any other dog.”
Madison is a great example of how one person speaking up for shelter pets who have no voice of their own can make a difference. This seventh grader found a way to help black pets in her local shelter, and because she had the courage to speak out, more dark colored pets are finding their forever homes. When there’s a need for change, nothing happens if someone doesn’t plant the seeds of change first. And sometimes, that change can save lives.
Dog photo by maplegirlie
Cat photo by Alisha Vargas
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