I don't remember exactly when she told me about it, but after my wife's parents gave us Rupert, our cockapoo, she mentioned that he had been the last of his litter to be adopted, and that he was alone for some time after the last of his litter mates was gone.
I've always known Rupert to be an awesome little man in a fur suit. At the time, I couldn't imagine why he would be last.
“Well, it's because of his coloring,” my wife told me.
Rupert has been wearing a tuxedo all of his life. Except for a splash of white almost exactly like a dress shirt in the right place, he's as black as black gets. I’d not heard of Black Dog Bias (or Syndrome, if you prefer) until that conversation, and while I kind of get it, I really don't.
Black Dog Bias is the explanation a lot of veterinarians and shelters use when they see dark-colored dogs that seem to be consistently passed over for adoption. There could be a number of reasons behind the bias, if it indeed exists.
Movies and television shows often use darker-colored dogs when they need to portray a dog as being aggressive, perhaps to set the tone or mood. Another reason that black dogs may get passed over is that they aren't perceived as “cute” or that they are harder to capture in a photo.
There's even perhaps a superstitious basis for the bias, much like the “black cat syndrome” where dark-colored cats are seen as bad luck.
Does Black Dog Bias exist? I couldn't find any definitive proof one way or another. One study, which looked at the bias in 2008, didn't conclude that it was real. Conducted by the Los Angeles Animal Services Department, it found that the rate of black dogs adopted from local shelters was consistent with the number taken in. The local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals disputed the results, saying that it typically took weeks to find a home for a black dog while only days to place a lighter-colored dog.
Some volunteers are determined to overcome the bias, and work extra hard to get black dogs adopted. Websites now try to educate the public about the issue and encourage people looking to adopt a new dog to not overlook the black dog at the shelter.
It's unclear whether the effort is having a long-term effect. As for our own black dog, I couldn't imagine never having known Rupert. He's 13 now and is still as dark as ever. I can’t say that I've ever gotten a good photo of him, and he overheats rapidly in the summer sun.
Still, even given the chance, I wouldn't ever change anything about him. He’s a smart, old little guy in a teddy bear suit who’s just a perfect fit for our little family.
Gordon Murray is a make-believe grown-up from Wichita, Kansas, who is often confounded by the behavior of his two dogs and cat, and feels compelled to share his experiences with complete strangers. He's pretty sure that the cat would kill him if the money was good enough.