ARF Column: The Black Dog Syndrome

Oct 3, 2015 | 2015 Articles, Animal Rescue Adventures

by Wendy Hunter

Wendy Hunter is a volunteer with the Animal Rescue of Fresno. ARF will be sharing their animal rescue adventures with us now every month.

We shall see that at which dogs howl in the dark, and that at which cats prick up their ears after midnight.
-H. P. Lovecraft

Boo! It’s finally October folks, and Fall is upon us once again, when the leaves and temperature (hopefully) begin to drop, sweaters make a blissful appearance, and Halloween rears its ghostly head.

All Hallows’ Eve and the supernatural go hand in hand. Let’s face it, people are gullible. This is a fact. People have superstitions about everything. The myriad of crazy ideas the human race accepts can be downright flabbergasting. For example, to keep nightmares at bay and bring good fortune, hang a horseshoe in your bedroom. Or, suspend it outside your home to ward off illness. Giddy up! It’s considered bad luck to walk under a ladder, but if you do, seek salvation by walking backward underneath it while saying a prayer. The number 13 scares the bejeezus out of most people, and just about every hotel is designed without that fateful floor. If you’re chowing down at dinnertime and accidentally knock over the salt, don’t panic, your destiny can be reversed. Just toss a pinch over your left shoulder, and the demon waiting behind you will be blinded. Got him! Ravens and magpies are deemed bad omens, and their number may determine your future; one for sorrow, two for mirth, three for a wedding, four for birth, etc. And then there’s the wacky notion that a black cat crossing your path is possibly a witch, or even worse, the devil incarnate. Pitchfork, anyone?


Black dog ARF rescue Emilio

Having filled your brain with all that strange and paranormal information, did you know that some people are actually superstitious about adopting a BLACK dog? And no, I’m not pulling your paw. When I was first told about this phenomenon, I couldn’t believe it was actually true. Known as “Black Dog Syndrome,” or BDS, it is familiar throughout the shelter and rescue group communities. BDS occurs when black dogs, especially larger breeds and seniors, are passed up for adoption in favor of lighter-colored ones. In a survey by Petfinder, shelters and rescues reported that most pets were listed for 12.5 weeks, where black animals spent nearly four times as long on their site.

Unfortunately, because they are less likely to be adopted due to their color, black dogs are euthanized at a considerably higher rate. Black cats are not immune to this syndrome either, and are also quicker to be put down than lighter felines. As if shelter animals don’t have it rough enough, there has to be something like THIS? If your brain is having a hard time wrapping itself around this situation, welcome to my world. As you will see, this is where more mysticism, half-witted principles, and possible pet profiling come into play.

There are many reasons black dogs languish too long in shelters, and one of them is the common misconception that they’re potentially mean and vicious. They are frequently stereotyped as badly behaved beasts with nasty tempers. They are often characterized as aggressive, violent creatures, particularly on film. The Omen and the Harry Potter series both feature large, slobbery, fang-baring canines, pitch-dark and ready to attack at any given moment. Another likely explanation is that the color itself is often associated with bad luck and misfortune, similar to the superstitions surrounding black cats.

Some potential adopters may just feel plain uncomfortable or ill at ease bringing an ebony animal into their home. Sound strange? You bet. But not if you think they shed more, another fallacy that can be disputed. If you have a cream colored couch, that new charcoal Chihuahua will certainly APPEAR to lose his coat in a big hurry. (Which reminds me of a story I recently heard, about some knucklehead who surrendered a dog because he didn’t match her couch. Duh.)

To make matters worse, the term “Black Dog” is often attributed to depression, thereby associating black dogs with feeling sad or gloomy. And according to the Daily Mail and Wikihow, the fact that many kennels are dark or dimly lit, may prevent many prospective adopters from clearly viewing the facial features of black dogs. Thus, they are unable to make a true, emotional connection with a given animal. Also, white and tan colored critters tend to catch the public’s eye much easier, and darker pups may get lost in the shadows. Furthermore, black dogs do not stand out well in photographs, making it even more difficult to show them, literally, in their best light.

If you need further proof, then consider a study conducted by the ASPCA in 2011. Potential adopters listed appearance as the number one criteria when adopting both puppies and adult dogs. One last motive we may have in avoiding black dogs can be traced back through the centuries. And that is our tendency to find great comfort and logic in holding onto some old-school beliefs about good versus evil, angels against demons, and light victorious over dark. Golden Retriever trumps Black Lab almost every time. Go figure.

At Animal Rescue of Fresno, we don’t believe in all that hogwash. We don’t believe in threatening clouds descending overhead whenever a black dog lands on our doorstep. We don’t think Cujo the beast is lurking underneath the slate coat of any mutt larger than a footstool. And we certainly don’t subscribe to any of the aforementioned excuses, as to why anybody should not adopt a mud-colored mutt.

Maybe it’s time to think about why you SHOULD adopt one. Look at it this way, if big black dogs already have a bad reputation, why not work with it? Just because your gigantic Rottweiler mix happens to be a lazy couch potato, who cries when you hide his stuffed ducky, doesn’t mean you have to announce it to the whole world. What the burglars don’t know won’t hurt them. But what they SEE, could make them think twice before jumping your gate. And here is the best incentive yet: Black dogs and cats are just as affectionate, faithful and devoted as any other pet. At ARF, we have several pooches that just happen to be the color of jet fuel, or a variation thereof. There may be 50 shades of gray, but nothing beats basic black. So cross your fingers and come find your lucky charm at ARF.



Let me introduce you to “Bradley”, a personable two-tone Chihuahua mix, who literally used to be the size of a football. Seriously, they could have used him in the NFL. But after several months romping and running and generally racing around the Senior yard, he’s a completely different doggie. He’s slim. He’s sleek. Why, he’s almost svelte. Bradley’s owner had him for ten years before moving into a retirement home. With a sweet temperament and mellow disposition, it’s easy to see why she adored him so much. And maybe fed him a few too many sausages.

We’re quite fond of little “Richie,” a small terrier mix who was found in a parking lot at the very tender age of three months. With a coal-colored coat and bashful personality, he’s happy to roll over and give you his tiny tummy before bedtime. Belly rubs, please!



“Emillio” is a fan favorite at ARF, a medium-sized package of scruffy friendliness. This character greets you with a welcome smile, and a wiggly butt. Let’s play!

And then there’s “Little Man”, an eclectic combo pack of Dachshund and Chihuahua who craves the spotlight. Give this scrumptious Oreo cookie of a critter some attention, and you’ll be best pals in no time. Cuddling and kisses welcome! If you’re ready for double the fun, then perhaps you should cozy up to “Gary” and “Swimmer,” a couple of Lab/Border Collie brothers. Wearing shiny soot coats sprinkled with patches of snow, these two are a joyful, bouncy duo of delicious delight. Get your fun on!



For the person with patience, compassion, and more love to give than Romeo granted Juliet, I present to you, “Valera.” This glossy, sable mink beauty has a lot to offer, and requires much more in return. Shy, yet affectionate, Valera was originally discovered at eight weeks old by a UPS driver. Not a big fan of loud noises, she needs the soft sound of a dedicated owner’s voice to help conquer a few fears. Viva Valera!



Join us for some spooktacular scariness at the ARF Halloween Haunted House. BOO! Learn more about the event on KRL’s animal rescue events page:×144.jpeg

Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to a local animal rescue.

Wendy Hunter has been volunteering with ARF for just over a year. She grew up in Fresno and recently became an Office Assistant with Fresno County. She has been writing all of her life, though never professionally, and currently writes personalized poetry for birthdays, weddings, pet remembrances, etc.


  1. Hi Wendy-I am your gr.aunt Clara. I have enjoyed your articles very much. Good writing. My son Steve and his daughter Madeline are also writers, runs in the family;-)). Keep up the great writing.

    • Hi Aunt Clara,

      Of course I know who you are! I know dad is in touch with you quite frequently. Thank you for the nice words, I’m enjoying writing these articles. I didn’t know there were writers on dad’s side of the family, that’s awesome! Are they professionals? Of course, my dad has been working on his life story for ages now, about the many different Reedley houses he lived in.

      I attribute most of my writing ability I have to my late Uncle David, who wrote for the Bee for 40+ years. It’s scary how much I’m like him. 🙂 Nice to hear from you.


  2. I foster for the local shelter where I live in Oregon and the same thing is true for black cats – while I have some friends who always adopt black animals, most folks will walk right by them in favor of other colors. It’s really frustrating.

  3. Interesting stuff, Wendy. I had no idea. Reminded me of when my daughter’s husband brought home a coal black miniature poodle. By the time he was a year old, his coat had completely turned to gray. He was just as lovable and as much fun in either color.

  4. Wendy, everything you say is true about the mistaken perception of black dogs. We have an almost black German Shepherd who was in a kill shelter because they thought him vicious. We are so grateful to have him. Duncan perpetually walks around with a halo over his head. Just last week, we were out on a walk and he needed to use the facilities (neighbor’s front yard). We were close to home and I asked if he wouldn’t mind waiting. Duncan did and everyone lived happily ever after! 🙂 Thank you for the wonderful article!

  5. Yes, I know about this because all the black shelter animals are free at Halloween. Our daughter got one last year, an older black Lab, great family dog.

  6. I’ve always had black cats and they’re great. And regarding superstitions, movie studios do not have a No. 13 soundstage. The stages are numbered from 12 to 14.


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