Photographing black dogs is a challenge. Black puppies even more so, with all that wriggling. A photographer’s efforts often amount to no more than a silhouette. Dark eyes, nose and mouth vanish completely. “Why does it matter?” one might ask.
With the Internet has come an explosion of virtual dog adoptions. With social media and sites like Patch, shelter dogs can be posted or described in blogs. The potential for finding forever homes is tremendous. That's the good news.
Unfortunately, the migration of dog rescue to the Internet has left black dogs at a disadvantage. Not only are their facial features and expressions difficult to capture on camera, but even in-person they are frequently overlooked or judged differently.
Heather Trocola of Norwalk’s In-the-Lead Dog Training said, “Black dogs get "scrolled" past online. Plus, people are nervous when they see a darker colored dog. Lighter dogs seem more approachable.”
Greenwich’s Kennel manager Kristen Alouisa agreed. “People project traits onto dogs based on their color. They see a black dog in a kennel barking and they think dark, mean, scary,” she said. “The identical dog with a white coat barking in the same kennel has the opposite effect.”
, co-founder of The Little Pink Shelter in Westport described the aversion to black dogs as a phenomenon that spans the globe and said that even in Westport black puppies are the last of a litter to be adopted.
At of Norwalk, shelter manager agreed, adding that she sees black cats often passed over as well.
Transporting Southern Dogs to New England States
Virtual adoption has made popular the transport of unwanted puppies and dogs from south to north. The twin southern patterns of resistance to spay-neuter and allowing dogs to roam results in thousands of unwanted litters of puppies each year.
For nonprofit organizations such as TAILS of Norwalk, whose mission is to promote spay-neuter and end euthanasia, the transports are for now, are a win-win. Families from all over Fairfield County get the puppies they long for and the animals are spared from death row.
In preparation for TAILS’ the volunteers are partnered with Georgia-based veterinarian, Dr. Gloria Andrews of Colbert Animal Hospital and Rescue who will make the trip north with 40 puppies.
Georgia Black Dogs
While excited to come north for Puppy Palooza, Andrews, who is originally from upstate New York, described the grim situation in Madison County, Georgia where she runs her vet practice.
“The sheer numbers of these unwanted black dogs is overwhelming,” Andrews said. “We call them Georgia Black Dogs. There’s a good many down here partly because of color genetics – black is a dominant color in Labradors.”
“My experience up in Connecticut is that people love these dogs. Here in the south some people have a color prejudice … maybe because they are so prevalent, they say ‘Oh, it’s just another black dog,’ and they want something unique.”
Two Rs: Roaming and Reproducing
Andrews described how common it is to see roaming dogs in Georgia. “Here in a rural county like Madison, it’s still farm land. There are broiler houses… 300-foot long buildings full of chickens that supply the processing plants. Properties are separated by cattle fencing and barbed wire. That’s how cattle are controlled. But dogs can go through.”
“The response of owners down here is, ‘Well dogs was intended to roam … You just gotta let ‘em roam,” said Andrews, her tone revealing her frustration. “It’s stupid ignorance like that,” she said flatly. “It’s not the majority, but many people say, ‘If God created an animal with a reproductive system, they’ve gotta reproduce.’”
In a phone interview, Suzanne Pittman of the Tri-State Human Society* in Trenton, Georgia (near the Tennessee and Alabama borders) shared her opinion of the let-'em-roam, let-'em-reproduce culture.
“My saying is that God created these creatures. We made them domesticated. We made it so they depend on us. We’re here to take care of them. God is watching.”
Devoted rescuer Pittman, who set up a 501c-3 and runs a thrift shop to raise money for food and medical expenses, bemoaned not only the lack of laws to protect animals, but also the lack of enforcement of existing laws.
Sharing the story of a puppy who died in her arms after a city shelter didn’t give it the Parvo vaccine that they were supposed to, her frustration was palpable. “Getting to the city shelter is like going to the end of the world, past the sewage treatment plant, through two locked gates, down in the basement to a dimly lit room with a cold concrete floor. How can you show those dogs?” she asked.
Originally from Wisconsin, Pittman said that in Georgia, “Attitudes are ingrained.” Describing “cardboard boxes of newborn puppies left at the side of the road in the middle of winter,” and “driving past dead dogs along the roadways,” she admitted to sometimes feeling hopeless.
Worst for Black Dogs
Pittman reported that the situation is the worst for black dogs. “From what I see, 95 percent of dogs euthanized here are black dogs. Oh, they’re cute when they’re puppies, but not so cute when they grow up. They’re tossed aside like trash. Every mornng I see at least one or two strays on my way to work. It’s bleak when you get down to it,” she said, her voice trailing off. “What little we’ve done has come very hard. I like to send the dogs out of state if possible. The further north the better.”
Though the transport phenomenon is popular – Adopt-a-Dog director Allyson Halm sees the exodus as more nuanced. “I know it’s a huge trend to go down south. So they have family-looking dogs at all of the shelters. My concern is are we enabling the lack of spay and neutering down south? And, for every dog adopted from the south, that’s a dog not adopted from up here.”
Claudia Weber of New Canaan-based , who networks with Pittman in Georgia to all over Fairfield County, agreed with Halm. “Bringing these animals up north only treats the symptoms, not the disease. Eventually,” said Weber, “the north will become saturated with dogs and there won't be so many folks willing to adopt. Yet ... every life matters.”
Adopt-A-Dog’s Alouisa added that there are also disreputable groups on the transport circuit. She said, as a result the highly contagious virus Parvo and Giardia, an intestinal parasite, have moved north. And, unfortunately, “some groups are profiteering, bringing strays up without the proper vetting and selling them for profit.”
“I think God intended people to do a whole lot more," said Andrews from Georgia. "The key is human education, starting in about first grade. By fourth or fifth grade it’s too late. Everything about the human population is reflected in the animal population and it’s bad,” she said. “Our county has one of the highest pregnancy dropout rates. Only 45% graduate high school. They have instituted programs, but still the ignorance perpetuates itself. We also have a drug problem that is out of control too. It’s very sad.”
On a balmy March afternoon at Adopt-A-Dog’s sanctuary, six puppies that had recently arrived from Tennessee and North Carolina basked in the sun. Oblivious to the peril they escaped, most were already spoken for.
“The puppies go fast here. Even the black ones,” said Halm. “For us the challenge is to find homes for the black adult dogs.”
Last week Marilyn Gordon traveled to Adopt-a-Dog to deliver dog toys crafted by third-grade girls in the program. Becoming smitten with a black lab puppy named “Watson,” she later brought the puppy home to join her two-year-old black lab “Beau.”
“I wasn’t really aware of black dog syndrome," said Gordon. "But I can certainly understand. Beau's appearance is rather intimidating. After about 1,000 tries, I probably have about 10 good pictures of him, all of his facial features just blend in."
Weber, of Strays and Others, has long been aware of the bias against black dogs and said she is drawn to their murky photos nonetheless. She said she can read a dog's posture and tell if they're a good dog and can use a friend.
Asked whether she is optimistic, Weber explained that she thinks euthanasia is avoidable in most cases. "Significant change can only come when people who are outraged take action," she said.
In the meanwhile, anyone considering rescuing a dog should take care not to overlook the black dogs. They certainly see you.
*Pittman, of Tri-State Human Society in Trenton, Georgia can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org