Vanishing Black Dogs

Black dogs languish in shelters, experts say. They are the last to be adopted and the first to undergo euthanasia.

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.”

Long-Term Solutions
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.”

Looking Forward
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: suzannepittman@tvn.net 

Leslie Yager March 25, 2012 at 12:50 PM
New Canaan's Strays & Others brought me the sweet black lab in the photos.
Glen K Dunbar March 25, 2012 at 03:32 PM
If I could I would for sure get another black dog. But, we are not able. I would not want to start something I am not able to finish...UNLESS...someone wants to offer me FREE dog training and supplies...Anyone ???? ummm???
Leslie Yager March 25, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Glen, many dogs (not puppies) in local shelters are already trained & housebroken.
Glen K Dunbar March 25, 2012 at 08:41 PM
Thanks Leslie. Thing is, we have dog. It will not walk and lies down. Run back to house. Wife will not walk it. Use pads in house. Hired a very good trainer but could not afford her. Now we are stuck unless I find a FREE service. Would LOVE to be close to dog. Just do not know how. Need someone to talk to wife. I am a care giver to my Mom as is my wife. So, it is a difficult situation. Any advice??? Thanks
Heather Trocola March 25, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Great article Leslie! Thank you! Glen, train the dog as if it's a puppy again. Check out a book like Puppies for Dummies, despite the title it has a lot of great advice.
Mrs bithers March 25, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Don't get a Republican dog again....
Betsy March 25, 2012 at 10:14 PM
Excellent, informative article about a situation that I'm sure many of us are not aware of. Love the last 2 sentences! Give black dogs - and cats - a chance. They can be devoted and loving, too!
Leslie Yager March 25, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Betsy, I learned so much from my rescue contacts. Awareness is good, but wondering what should be "the next step."
Sheryl Shaker March 26, 2012 at 12:04 AM
Spaying and neutering all pets is a good place to begin. Responsible breeders of purebred dogs send puppies home with a contract that offers to take the puppy back if the owner can no longer keep the animal. This is best practice for all responsible breeders, and is even more important in the case of black dogs (ie, Labs, Portuguese Water Dogs, Cocker Spaniels, Poodles).
Leslie Yager March 26, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Sheryl, I didn't know this: "Responsible breeders of purebred dogs send puppies home with a contract that offers to take the puppy back if the owner can no longer keep the animal." Awesome! Adopt a Dog and Strays & Others have this policy too.
Strays and Others, Inc. March 26, 2012 at 12:52 AM
That's a good point, Sheryl. In addition to responsible breeders, most good pet placement agencies will have a take back policy and will work closely with potential adopters beforehand to make sure that they are appropriately, and well-matched, with their newly adopted dog. Just as another note, responsible breeders don't sell puppies through pet shops or over the internet (like mail order). Puppies from those places will be only from puppy mills and back-yard breeders. So buyer beware! If you're ready for a new dog in your life, "Adopt, Don't Shop." Make a shelter dog your next dog...and while you're at it, consider a black dog too!
Leslie Yager March 26, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Glen, Sounds like your priority has to be caregiver to your mother. Maybe consider surrendering the dog to a local rescue. Maybe this sacrifice in the best interest of the dog given your situation.
Sheryl Shaker March 26, 2012 at 04:04 PM
This proves your point about black dogs "vanishing" in pictures: the photo caption in a NYTimes article about rescuing dogs from a Puerto Rican beach refers to "a rescued dog" in a crate. The dog is tan. There's a second -- black -- dog in the crate... http://nyti.ms/Hbv5G7
Leslie Yager March 26, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Thanks for link, Sheryl! 97% euthanasia rate for unwanted dogs in Puerto Rico is a tragedy.
Glen K Dunbar March 27, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Leslie. I respect your OPINON. Yet, we can't give up the dogs. My Mom actually likes them. Though, she scolds me (instead of my wife as She should) about walking. I am glad to walk. Just need FREE help. I am not asking for the Hope Diamond. Just a a bit (ok, alot) of FREE training for the dog. They waste all this money on military and space travel. BUT, I can't get FREE help for my Dogs. What a system this is STINKS!! Strays: Can You help out a poor guy down on his luck ???? GLEN
Heather Trocola March 27, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Thanks for the link, Sheryl. All of these great people taking the time out to try and help creatures who are really suffering, makes me feel encouraged. Their very presence on that beach in Puerto Rico will draw attention to it as an issue and more and more locals and people on mainland US will take part. Awesome!
Ade March 27, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Glen - You got your FREE help. As I have advised you, so has another commenter in this thread. Go to the FREE library and take out a dog training book for FREE and learn how to do it yourself. Stop asking for handouts. Take control of your own life.
Ade March 27, 2012 at 06:26 PM
Oh the irony, Glen.... Today's Patch deal of the day is 2 dog obedience lessons for $50. Jump on that!
Charlene March 27, 2012 at 08:04 PM
I love my black lab! I adopted him 8 years ago, he came from South Carolina. The dog I had before him was also a black lab, adopted from the Stamford Pound. Don't shop, adopt!
Leslie Yager March 27, 2012 at 11:51 PM
I love hearing these stories. I got one of mine from Greenwich Animal Control. He's the love of my life. Yes: Don't shop, adopt!
Strays and Others, Inc. March 28, 2012 at 03:57 AM
It was our pleasure! For some reason, Strays & Others seems to be partial to black dogs, particularly black lab types. Some of our last BEST dog adoptions were 4 black labs, one black and white border collie mix, one black schnauzer mix, and one sweet and wonderful black poodle. Okay, and then there was that gorgeous shepherd mix, Jackson..., who didn't fit the mold of black! Now we have two black and black and white dachshund puppies to place...glad they are with us here in New England and not in Georgia...black is a lovely color, isn't it?!
Glen K Dunbar March 28, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Abe. YES I saw that. I already jotted down the info. I hope it is not the same person I had before. She was GREAT. Was willing to do it FOR me. Would have taken the dogs to her own house and do it. BUT, not for FREE I have another ace up my sleeve. I will talk to her and see if She can talk to my wife (for me so I don't have to) and get my wife to do it!! GLEN


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