It's not a disease and it's not contagious, but "Invisible Black Dog Syndrome" is a sad, real condition affecting animal shelters.
The term refers to the propensity of would-be-adopters walking right past the black dogs in the kennels and instead opting for lighter colored or spotted breeds.
"There does seem to be a public perception that black dogs are aggressive or black dogs are associated with evil," said Lynn Chriswell, a volunteer at the Columbus County Animal Shelter.
Hard statistics on this issue are hard to come by, but anecdotally shelters say that black dogs are the last to be adopted and therefore, the first to be euthanized. Besides the aggressive stereotype, Chriswell says lighting has a lot to do with it.
"The budget isn't there to have tremendously wonderful lighting and so a black dog essentially disappears in his kennel," Chriswell said. "He's a black animal in a grey kennel without a light above to show how beautiful he really is."
Walk through the shelter with this in mind and you can see how the dark coats simply don't stand out next to their fair-haired brethren. In some corners, all you see is a big set of shiny teeth.
"They're grinning!" Chriswell exclaimed. "But that can be misconstrued as aggression."
Being hard to see means being hard to photograph and therefore, hard to advertise for adoption. The black pups sit in shelters patiently waiting for someone to take the time to take a closer look; Someone like Pat Hairston of Canines for Service.
"Drop the expectations," Hairston said. "There are so many wonderful dogs that are thrown away every single day."
More than half of Hairston's new recruits from shelters are black dogs – the ones who seem to be left behind.
For Hairston the unexpected consequence of this "syndrome" is that her organization has the Cadillac of breeds: black labs and black lab mixes.
Some of her dogs are now in training to help wounded soldiers get back on their feet.
"Ask the kennel worker if they can pull that dog out and take it to a room so you can meet it," Hairston recommended. "Because if it's in that grey shelter, you may not see its personality and the full potential of that dog."
The "syndrome" also applies to black cats.
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