Puppy Prejudice: Are Black Animals Less Likely to Be Adopted?

Danika Fears, Today Pets, September 21, 2013

It’s a common story animal welfare workers will share: Black pets are often the last left on the shelter floor and the first to be euthanized. The idea is so pervasive there’s even a name for it—black dog syndrome.

“It’s not news to people who have been in animal welfare for a while that black cats and dogs are a little harder to place,” Brenda Barnette of Los Angeles Animal Services told TODAY.com. “I think it’s for the very simple reason that they’re harder to photograph.”

Nonprofits have been founded specifically to find homes for black animals, and several shelters across the country have made special efforts to promote the adoption of black animals, from providing them with better lighting to running special promotions. But despite much media attention and anecdotal evidence from shelter staff, recent research suggests that coat color, be it black, white or brown, has little impact on an adopter’s decision.

“New pieces of research have found that there is no indication that they are less likely to be adopted,”ASPCA Vice President of Shelter Research Dr. Emily Weiss told TODAY.com. “We just conducted a piece of research looking at various traits that drive people to adopt and color did not play a role at all. It busts this myth completely.”

Until recently, there was little hard data to either support or refute all the anecdotal evidence that black animals languish longer in shelters. But two studies from the ASPCA, one looking at people’s reasons for adoption and another at animals’ length of stay on the shelter floor, found that adopters are not biased against certain coat colors and that black animals do not in general remain in shelters longer.

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Another study conducted at Indiana University Southeast found that, with the exception of golden retrievers, people actually conceive of black labs as being “less dominant and less hostile.” Black labs, after all, are one of the most popular breeds in America.

So why then does the “myth” persist despite all the new research? Dr. Weiss believes it could be because there are simply more black dogs in the general animal population, and shelter workers are used to seeing more black dogs around.

“They might see that black dogs are staying around longer, but that might just be because there are more black dogs in the shelter,” she said. “I think some beliefs are hard to change, especially if someone has anecdotal evidence that there have been one or two big black dogs that take longer to adopt.”

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But despite the data, some animal welfare workers still insist that people harbor a bias against black animals, whether that prejudice is because of poor lighting or cultural associations such as the belief that black cats are a source of bad luck.

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