5 min read

Black, White Or Brindle: All Shelter Dogs Face Discrimination

<p>Flickr: jsf306</p>

As almost any animal shelter volunteer will tell you, it's harder to find homes for black dogs. Multiple animal-centric research journals have set out to conduct studies confirming or denying the phenomenon known as "black dog syndrome," which supposedly leaves countless healthy dogs by the wayside while lighter-colored rescues get adopted. One study found that participants perceived of lighter dogs as friendlier or less frightening, leading to a negative association of black dogs and adoption.

But, as Esther Inglis-Arkell at io9 points out, these studies don't tell us everything. For one thing, there are plenty of other factors that go into how people decide which dog is right for them when adopting a pet. But there are also plenty of other studies that contradict findings in favor of black dog syndrome's existence:

A Los Angeles shelter showed that, out of 30, 000 dogs that made their way through the system, black dogs were a little more likely to be adopted than other dogs. In a New York no-kill shelter, black dogs had a shorter stay before they were adopted than other dogs. One researcher examined the records of nearly 17,000 dogs at similar shelters in Oregon, and found that black dogs were adopted faster than other dogs. Even photo studies are not all bad for black dogs. When looking at pictures of poodles, black dogs are considered more friendly than white ones, and people loved black labs more than nearly any other dog.

Still, even if black dog syndrome is "trumped-up" as Inglis-Arkell suggests, it's still important to consider the aesthetic qualities that make some dogs more likely to be adopted than others, so that we can become more aware of how little those aesthetic qualities actually matter. All shelter dogs need homes, and all shelter dogs deserve to find them. If a dog is relegated for one reason or another -- be it because of age, size or (most commonly) breed -- then it's lucky that volunteers pick up on related adoption trends.

That's especially true if it prompts shelters to take even greater pains to find animals loving families, as has often been the case in response to black dog syndrome. So even if the bias against black dogs is really just a myth, it's not entirely without value: black dog syndrome can get us thinking about what we really want in our pets, and it can help people see animals for who they truly are -- without regard to color.

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