Some See Racial Overtones in Norfolk’s Pet-Adoption Event

Debbie Messina, Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Virginia), November 20, 2009

It’s billed as a “Blowout adoption event for our black babies.”

The Norfolk Animal Care Center, the city’s animal-control facility, is offering half-off fees on black dogs and cats starting the day after Thanksgiving, dubbing the event “Black Fur-iday.”

While the promotion might be for a good cause, some worry that the flier circulating about the event might be offensive because it refers to unwanted black animals as black babies. Animal groups everywhere say they find it more difficult to place black cats and dogs in homes.

“On the face of it, I do think it’s insensitive to African Americans who did come to this nation as slaves and were sold,” Norfolk NAACP President James Rivers said. “It does seem sort of strange they would use that as a promotion for selling animals.”

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Since The Virginian-Pilot’s inquiry earlier this week, the wording on the flier has changed to “Blowout adoption event for our black furry friends.” Hays was not working Thursday and could not be reached for follow-up comment.

But Norfolk’s animal care facility isn’t the only group that plans to host such an event.

The Virginia Beach SPCA also is reducing adoption fees on its black animals the day after Thanksgiving, known in the retail world as Black Friday.

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Christie Chipps, executive director of the Portsmouth Humane Society, said that while the society’s shelter has run specials on some hard-to-move animals, such as mature cats, “We try not to push the color issue.”

Still, they all said that black dogs and cats are considered the hardest shelter animals to adopt.

The trend has not been statistically documented, but animal groups across the country say it’s a universal issue. Many local shelters say they don’t keep those numbers and there’s no national clearinghouse to collect that information.

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And of course, there is also the matter of the variety of prejudices that tend to conspire against black animals.

For felines, a commonly held superstition is that black cats bring bad luck.

Canines are more complicated. Animal rescue groups call it Black Dog Syndrome.

Most black dogs are big and are mixed breeds, both considered negatives when it comes to choosing a pet, Terri Crisp, an SPCA International official, said.

“You could walk through any shelter in the U.S. and you’d count more large black dogs than anything else,” she said.

In the shelter world, they’re known as BBDs: big black dogs. Many are mixes that include Labrador, Doberman, Rottweiler and chow.

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BBDs carry a stereotype of being more ferocious, which animal experts bark about.

“Dogs are aggressive based on their environment, on the way they’re raised and treated, not because of breed,” Crisp said.

At least two Web sites were created to dispel the myths that surround big black dogs and to help find them homes–www.startseeingblackdogs.com and www.blackpearldogs.com.

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[Editor’s Note: Another story on pet adoption can be read here.]

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