Is color key in pet adoptions?

Chris Thelen/Staff
Donna Hasty (left) and Elaine van der Linden with Molly's Militia play with Tadpole, Shrek, Solo and Lucas at Mrs. van der Linden's home in North Augusta. Some shelters find that black dogs are less likely to be adopted.

AIKEN - Sandy Larsen just doesn't get it.

 

She's got a black cat.

Her boss has a black dog.

But far too often, potential pet owners come into the Aiken County Animal Shelter where she works and scoff at the prospect of adopting a black animal.

"Stupid superstitions," she says bluntly.

It's an ugly little truth that not many people know but pet shelter workers have picked up on: Black dogs are less likely to be adopted, and therefore more likely to be euthanized than dogs with coats of other colors, shelter workers say.

It's something they've noticed, they say, but not something they've documented with statistics.

"I have sat at this window and said over and over again when they turn their noses up at black animals, 'That's ridiculous! I've got a black cat!'" Ms. Larsen said. "The color doesn't mean anything. It's the way you love them."

But animals of a certain hue are being blacklisted, though being a pure-blooded, fuzzy dog helps.

In the past two weeks, Ms. Larsen said the county animal shelter adopted out 22 pets - only two of which were black.

One was a black puppy taken in by Molly's Militia, a local pet rescue group.

"I've just never been able to figure it out," said Elaine van der Linden, the group's director. "Maybe they think other colored dogs are prettier."

She said her group often takes in black dogs - black is one of the most dominant colors for canines - just because she knows they'll need more help finding a home.

See a black dog in the pound, she said, and "you know that dog has less of a chance than other dogs."

Ms. Larsen said black animals are often associated with evil and superstitions, particularly black cats. They're also often seen as dark omens that bring bad luck if one crosses your path.

But what about the black dogs that end up on the shelter's death row?

Ms. Larsen said black dogs are harder to photograph, leading some people to pass over their pictures on adoption Web sites.

Black dog specters can be found throughout literature, but Ms. Larsen says people might just be afraid of black dogs.

Even worse than normal black dogs are big black dogs, Ms. van der Linden said. They "stand almost no chance," she said.

Even though labrador retrievers are one of the most popular dog breeds in the country - No. 1 on the American Kennel Club's top dog list - black lab mixes "are the No. 1 dog in the shelters that stand absolutely no chance," Ms. van der Linden said.

She theorizes that it's because those dogs can be more rambunctious than people want to risk.

Priscilla Crisler, the kennel operations manager for Augusta Animal Services, said she thinks it's just because there's so many of them.

Being taken to a shelter is a "death sentence" for lab mixes, Ms. Crisler said, confirming that black dog syndrome is also a problem in Richmond County.

But she has a different theory why: "I think it's mostly because the shelters are poorly lit."

People looking for a pooch "tend to pass them up because they can't see them that well," she theorized.

Linda Fulmer, the manager of the Columbia County Animal Shelter, said she's heard of black dog syndrome but doesn't think it applies to her clinic. She said that around Halloween, however, her shelter refuses to adopt out solid black or white cats for fear that they could be harmed in a prank.

Whatever the reason, Ms. Larsen thinks it's all "just a bunch of nonsense" that hurts an animal's chances of going home with a new family.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com.

HOW TO HELP

To watch video of adoptable pets and learn more about how to adopt animals in the CSRA, visit our Pets section at http://chronicle.augusta.com/pets/.