Black Dogs: Last Hired, 1st Fired?

A new study on "black-dog syndrome" attempts to prove that pets with dark fur do get adopted.

Generic image (Thinkstock)
Generic image (Thinkstock)

Furthermore, Weiss’ curious remarks seem fundamentally rooted in flawed logic. The fact that she is willing to acknowledge that black dogs outnumber other dogs in shelters seems to reinforce the very point she is attempting to disprove. After all, are wanted dogs more likely to populate shelters than unwanted dogs?

I’m not the only skeptic of Weiss’ newly cheery outlook on this subject. Gwen Cooper is the best-selling author of  Homer’s Odyssey, a memoir of life with her black cat Homer. Through the success of the book, Homer, who was also blind, emerged as an international poster cat for felines that have a tough time getting adopted.

Cooper said that she learned from her book tours, as well as the advocacy work that she did with hundreds of shelters after the book’s publication, that “black cats do not make it out of shelters. They just don’t.” She added that in addition to Homer, who recently passed away, she has adopted two more black cats for this very reason. She has also been told by shelter volunteers and animal activists that her book has saved countless black cats by popularizing their adoption. ” ‘Thank God you’re putting the word out there that black cats are adoptable, because nobody wants to adopt them,’ ” she said she’s been told.

She explained that she has heard all sorts of theories from the animal-advocacy community, including that black cats play into people’s superstitions, while black dogs, especially larger ones, are perceived as scary. She added, “I also think people just don’t notice the black cats. They are not as noticeable, and people assume cats in other colors are prettier. I don’t. I have two black cats. I think some people feel that way about dogs, that aesthetically [black dogs] are just not as pretty.”

When asked about Weiss’ theory that the perceived lower adoption rates among black dogs might simply be due to darker dogs being overrepresented in shelters, Cooper replied, “If the shelter population was in any way reflective of the general population, then every animal-owning household in this country would have at least one black cat and at least one pit bull.” Cooper explained that in her national tour of animal shelters, pit bulls are among the most common dogs there.

It is certainly possible that some of us are reading too much into the ASPCA’s conclusions. But from my vantage point, it is always unsettling when people seem a bit too eager to say that bias in any form isn’t really a problem, so we should all just stop wasting our time worrying about it. I also find it unsettling when those who are suspected of practicing a form of bias are left to simply voluntarily acknowledge it, without being directly confronted about it.

Don’t get me wrong. There are certainly worse problems in the world than doggie discrimination; I understand that. But that’s not really what this story is about. It is yet another reminder that as long as black is associated with bad, dangerous, scary or ugly, the world will be tougher for anyone or anything that is black.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.