I'd never heard of Black Dog Syndrome until a couple of weeks ago. I ran across mention of it in an animal rescue website and I was intrigued. It sounded ominous. Black Dog Syndrome. Spooky, like something snarling in the darkness with glittering fangs caught in a shaft of moonlight. I had to find out more.
What I learned about Black Dog Syndrome isn't spooky, just heartbreaking.
Black Dog Syndrome refers to a sad fact that animal rescue workers have known for years: Black dogs, especially big black dogs such as Labradors and Lab mixes, rottweilers, chows or Newfoundlands, are usually the last ones to be adopted. They are frequently overlooked in favor of lighter-coated dogs. Black dogs - and cats, too - are euthanized at a higher rate than other animals.
This can be attributed to any number of causes. Superstitions have given black dogs a horrible reputation. In European and British folklore, black dogs were often depicted as evil harbingers of death. The works of Sir Walter Scott and Arthur Conan Doyle perpetuated these superstitions by using spectral hounds, usually black and bloodthirsty, in their stories and poems.
In contemporary literature, a huge black dog called The Grim stalks Harry Potter in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."
Hollywood has compounded the problem by stereotyping dark-colored dogs as vicious. When was the last time you saw a movie in which someone was attacked by a light-coated dog? I rest my case.
"Black dog" is also an metaphor for depression. In his journals, Winston Churchill often referred to his episodes of debilitating sadness in those terms.
But mostly, the problem is one of appearances. Darker dogs are more difficult to photograph. Years ago we had an adorable black Pomeranian named Yofi. She was a gorgeous girl with long, glossy fur and sparkling eyes. But now when I look at snapshots of her, Yofi is just a black blob on the end of a leash.
It this web-based age, potential pet owners often scroll through pictures on petfinder.com and other rescue sites to select potential pets. Lighter-colored dogs stand out much more. It's harder to read the facial expressions of the black dogs and many of the pictures are shot in less that ideal surroundings, mostly through kennel cage doors in rooms with poor lighting. The dark-coated dogs are just back blobs in a cage. No wonder folks aren't lining up to adopt them.
Although anyone who works with animals will attest that coat color has absolutely nothing to do with temperament or intelligence, these biases still persist.
At the same time, anyone who has worked in marketing knows that color sells. Place black dogs among the white, yellow and red ones and many visitors gravitate to the lighter-colored animals.
Some people don't adopt black dogs because they are afraid shedding will be an issue and the dark hair will be more visible. To them, I offer them the mantra that's seen me through decades of pet ownership: "No outfit is complete without a little dog hair." There. Problem solved.
The Humane Society of Northeast Georgia on Ridge Road is being proactive in finding homes for their black and mostly black dogs. They're having a "blackout."
Through Nov. 14, adoption fees for these pets have been reduced. All black adult dogs are available for $50 and all black puppies are available for $75. They have been spayed or neutered, are up-to-date on vaccinations and have been microchipped.
Earlier this week, I stopped by the facility and visited with some of the potential adoptees. There's Opal, a happy little border collie mix who was oh, so grateful, to be out of her cage. Roy is a laid-back charmer who rolled over in his cage, begging for a belly rub.
And then there's Sara and Ares and Bella. The list is long and the dogs are adorable.
And do I even need to mention the surplus of black cats in the cat and kitten room?
Knowledge is power and being aware of a possible bias is the first step in overcoming it. So if there's room by the hearth or on the couch for a new best friend, please make a conscious effort to check out the black pups and dogs.
If adopting a shelter pet is a good deed, adopting a black shelter pet ranks you right up there with the angels.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and on gainesvilletimes.com.