Do we discriminate against black dogs?

Is it true that black dogs in shelters are less likely to find homes than dogs of another color? I’ve heard this and read about what’s referred to as BBD — Big Black Dog — syndrome in places as diverse as The Bark magazine and on MSNBC.

I grew up with a (black) Scottish terrier and my sister adopted a black German shepherd from her local shelter, so this bias is news to our family. I checked with Twila Cole at the Humane Society of Pinellas, though, and sure enough, she confirmed that this is true. Shelters do have a harder time adopting out not only black dogs but black cats too. She said the humane society has set up a special communal living arrangement, the Black Cat Bungalow, to show off the black cats to their best advantage. And they are currently seeking homes for the beauties pictured here.

So, why do black pets suffer discrimination? A website devoted to exploring (and eradicating) this phenomenon,, attributes doggy discrimination to several factors. These include superstitions, negative associations with the color black, and just plain ignorance.

In popular culture, black has many negative associations — most obviously bad guys. The villain always rides a black horse and wears a black cape. Does he also have a black dog? Superstition and prejudice might also stem from negative images of black dogs in literature, such as the supernatural black hound in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Prejudice could stem from associations between the color black and depression. Winston Churchill coined the term “black dog” to describe his own depression, and black dogs have paid a price ever since.

Or have they? Some say that there are simply more black dogs in shelters because there are more black dogs. Black is a dominant color, some say, and therefore in mixed-breed dogs, black coloring is likely to show up frequently. Is the problem that black dogs are simply too ordinary?

Mary at Pet Pal Animal Shelter said that they find breed to be a bigger impediment to adopting out dogs than color. Others attribute the difficulty in placing black dogs to the difficulty in highlighting them effectively on the Web and in printed materials. It’s simply more challenging to photograph a black dog than a lighter-colored one. It’s harder to read black dogs’ facial expressions, too, and that might be why people more easily pass them by on shelter visits.

What do you think? Do you have a black dog?

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