Ah, Friday the 13th – it’s a calendar day that still has the power to raise hair on the backs of superstitious people the world over. But contrary to freaky folklore fables, black animals are not harbingers of bad luck – not by a long shot, and not on Friday the 13th or any other day of the year.
All the black dogs (and cats) I’ve ever known have been the sweetest, most wonderful companions, with exceptionally sensitive spirits. Sadly, however, the lingering fear of black animals – especially large, black dogs – is a strike against shelter pets. Big, black dogs are always the last to be adopted.
This lingering prejudice is a form of racism, and it kills. Because they are so frequently overlooked, black dogs – especially Labradors, Lab mixes, Rottweilers and Rottie mixes – are killed at an alarming rate at pounds and shelters all over this country. The sad fact is that shelter visitors tend to gravitate to dogs with flashier, lighter-colored coats.
There are several reasons to explain this persistent phenomenon. For starters, animal shelters tend to be poorly lit, so it’s often difficult to see more than a pair of sad eyes peering out of the cage. If resources are available, some shelters will tie a colorful bandana around the necks of resident black dogs, to help increase their visibility to potential adopters. But photographing black dogs can be a challenge, and sometimes it’s hard to make out details in snapshots featured on adoption sites.
Then, of course, there’s the stigma of “black dog,” the unfortunate name Winston Churchill gave the depression he famously battled. Movies like “The Omen” certainly didn’t help matters by portraying beautiful, black dogs as an ugly, evil menace; in the 1976 original and the 2006 remake, black dogs appear as the faithful familiars of the toddler Antichrist. The end result is that many people cross paths with a big, black dog and recoil in fear. That means certain breeds, such as Dobermans, are automatically, irrationally feared and discriminated against despite being adorable and sweet beneath their “menacing” exterior.
My beloved, solid-black Chow-Rottweiler cross Tiki, a cuddly teddy bear if there ever was one, would pace his cage at the animal shelter where I first met him, because the staff apparently perceived him as an actual bear. Everyone was too terrified of Tiki to take him out for exercise, opening his cage door just enough to slide his food bowl in there. This is unimaginable to me.
But finally, black dogs are getting their due. A web site called Black Pearl Dogs is dedicated to raising awareness of, and creatively combating, what it calls “Black Dog Syndrome” at animal shelters.
One big advantage of adopting a black dog is this: if your wardrobe tends to be basic black – the favorite hue of fabulous fashionistas – then shedded hairs will be less noticeable on your clothes! This is no small plus, as the hairs of lighter-colored dogs are comically apparent on any basic black outfit. So if you inadvertently leave the house after a dog walk without brushing off with a lint roller, you won’t have to endure random snarky comments and smirky looks.
Proving that basic black never goes out of style, and beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, now a new book is shining a well-deserved, long-overdue spotlight on the enduring beauty of the black dog. Black is Beautiful: A Celebration of Dark Dogs is a photographic tribute to these underappreciated gems. The author, writer-photographer Pam Townsend, is a volunteer with the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George’s County in Maryland.
By her count, Townsend has lived with black dogs for 17 years. “Of course, I’ve always thought my dogs were beautiful,” she says, “and it never occurred to me that other people wouldn’t think so.” But when she learned of the tragic plight of black dogs at animal shelters, she decided to create a special tribute to them. That was black dogs’ lucky day: Her book is an 8-inch-square, 72-page tome guaranteed to bring beauty and elegance to any coffee table. Remember, basic black goes with everything!
“My goal is to get people to look at black dogs differently…to appreciate their attractiveness and diversity and to give more thought to adopting a black dog if they’re looking for a new fur friend,” the author concludes. A copy can be yours for a donation of $15 plus $3.13 for shipping and handling. To order, go here.