Black Dog Syndrome
As animal lovers, we know how indispensable pet adoption agencies and shelters are. According to the United States Humane Society, 379,000 rescued pets were adopted into loving homes across the country last year. Even though this number is the highest it has ever been, we must not forget about those dogs and cats that do not get adopted. It is unfortunate that many shelters are allotted only a short period of time in which to get their rescued pets adopted—and if they are not able to, it could mean a troubled life cut short.
Behind all of the good intentions and lives saved by choosing to adopt, there is a dark side to pet adoption. It is something that is out of a shelter’s control and mainly caused by the people who are looking to adopt. Although they are doing a great service to rescued pets by providing them a happier, healthier life, people need to be aware of the all too common scenario that the staff and volunteers at pet adoption facilities often witness. A family comes in to adopt a dog and they are only interested in the cutest or most purebred looking puppy of the group, regardless of what kind of behavior that specific breed might be known for. This phenomenon is often known as Black Dog Syndrome, because black dogs are the hardest to get adopted out of shelters and rescue organizations. Other factors that often affect the adoptability of a dog are age, size and breed.
If you are interested in adopting a dog, and especially if you are a first time pet owner, you should take some time to evaluate your own individual needs and lifestyle prior to visiting your local pet adoption facility. It is also important to try to keep your emotions out of the way when trying to choose between the available dogs.
“The emotions of humans play a huge part in Black Dog Syndrome related cases – when it comes to a cute, cuddly puppy versus a bigger, but already trained dog, the puppy will win over the human 80% of the time,” said Rachel Aycock, public relations director for the SPCA of Lakeland, Florida, “We have to think outside the box and realize that there are special cases and chances for each one should be given.”
When trying to decide which dog you want to adopt, you should not only consider the dog’s temperament and personality, but you should also examine your own personality and temperament as well as that of anyone else living in your home. Candace Eley of the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA always suggests that visitors to the shelter consider the following when trying to decide which dog to adopt: Do you live in a big house with a fenced in yard, or a small apartment? Do you work long hours? Do you have young children?
Unfortunately, it is very common and normal for people to pick pets based on looks or ones that are popular at the moment or are perceived to be of a certain social status.
“The biggest offenders we see are people who pick puppies because they are so cute and cuddly, not thinking about the training, time and expense this pet will require or the fact that the puppy may grow up to be a big pet,” said Laurie Hoffman, the Director of Development and Communication for the Human Society of Greater Miami Adopt-a-Pet.
The last thing a shelter wants is for an adopted dog to be returned to them only to wait until it is adopted again, because it got too big or was too hard to train.
Teri Goodman, who runs a website that advertises dogs over the age of five in need of new homes, said she has heard many stories from rescues and shelters about people not choosing dogs because they are too old. She calls it “Old Dog Syndrome” and believes people just do not realize how valuable older dogs are.
Although many people would probably disagree at first, older dogs are often the best choice when going the adoption route. There is less initial training to do, they need less attention and exercise than younger dogs and have lived long enough to know how to behave as a member of a “pack” or family.
“It’s very unfortunate that older dogs have a difficult time getting adopted, because, not only are older dogs euthanized more often, but people are missing out on some of the very best companions— dogs who are calm, already trained, and ready to become part of a family without the hassle of house breaking, teething issues, and puppy shots,” Goodman said.
When visiting an adoption facility, you should let go of any previously perceived impressions or things you have heard about a certain breed. Each dog has its own personality and traits, some good and some not, depending on your own wants and needs, available time, patience level, and lifestyle.
People often select Beagles because they are a good medium size dog, but what they forget to take into consideration is the incessant ‘howling’ for which Beagles are known. Another breed that is often incorrectly perceived is the Greyhound. They are often not chosen because many people assume that because they are larger dogs, they will need a lot of room and a lot of exercise.
“In reality, Greyhounds need the smallest of spaces, just enough room to curl up at one’s feet or next to their owner on a couch,” said Hoffman. “Greyhounds are known as the 50 mile an hour couch potato, because they are retired and have no desire to run anymore.”
Other things to consider are shedding, grooming needs, slobbering, etc. If you would rather not have to pay too much attention to the hygiene of your pet, then a pet that has long hair and who should see a groomer every month would not be a good match. If you or someone you live with is very particular about the cleanliness of your home, you should not select a dog that is known to slobber or shed excessively.
Since many shelter and rescue organizations are non-profit organizations, funds for creating the best atmosphere in their facilities may not be available. Sometimes just the way a shelter is set up can make a potential adopter discriminate against breeds, colors, size or age without even realizing it.
“When the public is in a shelter ready to adopt and they walk down the aisle to start choosing, looks come first, not the behavior,” said Aycock. “When humans start a human friendship the interaction they have determines the compatibility, not the color; the shelter environment is our worst enemy because adopters cannot see interaction first, only color and size.”
Finding creative ways to make all dogs look adoptable is vital because not all dogs are lucky enough to stay at shelters that can keep them as long as needed. Although there are cases where they can stay until they get adopted, each one that stays decreases the chances and space for more dogs to be housed and later adopted.
“Here at the Humane Society of Greater Miami Adopt-A-Pet we do not euthanize for space or based on time limit, so all black dogs are safe with us,” Hoffman said. “However, the longer a pet stays with us, the fewer animals we can save.” The Lakeland SPCA, like many other shelters and rescue organizations, is taking a proactive step to ensure that all of their dogs, no matter what breed, color, or age have the same opportunity to get the loving home and family they all deserve.
“Since our black-coated pets are much more difficult to get adopted than the others, we recently held an adoption drive for St. Patrick’s Day called ‘Pet of Gold’ where we offered 20% off any animal with a gold coat of fur, or any animal wearing a gold bandana, which of course were worn by our harder to adopt black dogs and cats,” Aycock said.