Would it surprise you to hear that black dogs are more likely to be perceived as troublesome, dangerous or unfriendly? Do you know that black dogs are frequently the last ones to be adopted and the most likely to be euthanized? Who would have guessed that even dogs are discriminated against by color? The people in the trenches (adoption counselors and other Winnipeg Humane Society employees and volunteers) noticed.
In fact, this has been common knowledge at the WHS, and likely at other shelters, for years. But as far I know, the WHS is the first shelter organization to actively start campaigning on the behalf of black dogs with their “Black Dog Club” this past fall.
Their strategy is two-fold: by regularly arranging “Black Dog Club Walks” all over the city, they hope to make an impression on the public, some of whom may be future adopters, to keep the idea of a black dog in mind as a potential companion. Even those who will not adopt may be less inclined to think of black dogs as troublesome, and a positive change in public sentiment can only be good for black dog adoptions as well.
Membership is obtained easily enough. If your dog is at least 50 percent black, you can join for free. Participation in Black Dog Club Walks is optional. The WHS store discount is ten percent, not including food items.
It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But even though nobody has been collecting statistics in any kind of organized way, the “black dog effect” is pronounced enough to be obvious from casual observation by the people who watch dogs come in and be adopted back out each year.
The WHS for the most part doesn’t offer up any definitive explanation for black dogs being, apparently, less adoptable. They note that in folklore black dogs (or cats) are often considered bad luck, naughty or worse.
Perhaps more importantly, it’s not as easy to make out the facial expressions of a black dog compared to those of lighter shades, particularly in low light. As a result, even when the dogs themselves aren’t completely missed in the shadows of a kennel, a prospective adopter may not connect with them emotionally if the dog is not in the best position or angle.
It would not be at all surprising if such an apparently small thing amounted to a significant unconscious bias against black dogs even for those who truly have no color preference. And the reason any significant bias needs to be countered, if at all possible, is that whenever any under-considered group managed to boost its adoptions, the overall adoptions go up, and the overall number of cases of euthanasia go down.
That’s because some adopters are likely to be pickier, and if they don’t see what they want, they may simply not get one. Worse, they may buy from a pet store, therefore supporting a breeder financially and keeping the overpopulation-for-profit machine going. Going out of your way to be aware of dogs that have a more difficult time finding homes (which includes older dogs and large breed dogs) can make a real difference for all dogs.
Choosing a beautiful black dog is an easy way to do that. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that there is absolutely no relationship between the health or behavior of a dog and the color of its fur. Keep an eye peeled for those darker canines in the shadows of their kennels and give them a chance. Current black-dog lovers? Maybe talk to your local Humane Society about starting a Black Dog Club of your own.
All photos credit: Winnipeg Humane Society