What is Black Dog Syndrome? | Topic

♪ [music] ♪ – [Woman] I had always wanted a dog.
I had joked that my first dog would be a Basset Hound named Zeppelin.
So when I saw a puppy actually named Zeppelin up for adoption,
I took it as a sign. He wasn’t a Basset Hound but a black
Lab mix, a real mutt. The first time I got to see Zeppelin was on one of those
adoption trucks in New York, five years ago. There were many small
fluffy lap dogs with kids banging on the glass and those dogs were getting all the
attention. And there was one black dog, a little older and bigger than the
rest, napping through all of it. Zeppelin came from a high kill
shelter in the south. And I was told no one wanted him. When I met
Zepp, there was nothing not to like. He was friendly, calm,
goofy with an underbite, and just damn cute. In our
minds, Zeppelin was a catch and we wanted to bring him home.
But what if we hadn’t adopted Zeppelin? What would have happened to him?
And what happens to other black dogs like him? It’s called black dog
syndrome. The notion that black dogs are adopted last, euthanized first.
They’re overlooked in shelters and killed more frequently than dogs of any other
color. Zeppelin was born in a cage and the only time he was going
to leave it was to be put down. – [Sarah] Five years ago, when
Zeppelin was a small, adorable, little puppy with his underbite,
and he was looking for a home, he couldn’t find an adopter. And it
was the strangest thing because he was a beautiful puppy.
He just happened to be black. – At the time, I wasn’t sure what black
had to do with it. I needed to find out. I reached out to Heather C. Lum,
a professor based in Philadelphia. Heather had done numerous studies
related to dog color and likeability, including a study where she presented
subjects with an image of Labrador dogs. – [Heather] The yellow Lab was considered
the most friendly, most adoptable, most likely to want to be around children,
things like that. Chocolate Lab was a little bit less so. And then once we
got to the black lab, they are far less likely to be considered adoptable,
far more likely to be considered aggressive or less friendly,
all based on color. – Less friendly, these subjects haven’t
met Zepp. Here’s Zeppelin with my seven-month-old baby,
as loving and gentle as can be. While some people are scared of black cats
because they are associated with bad luck, others are terrified of black dogs
because they assume they’re violent, how depressing. From The Hounds
of Baskerville to Harry Potter, black dogs have long been associated
with evil. Even the common “beware of dog” sign, depicts a big black dog,
teeth bared, and eyes bulging. – [George] People associate dark
colored dogs and black dogs with some sort of aggressor. You know, there’s
never a cute movie where it’s a black dog. Lassie is very light-colored,
you know. All the jokes aside, those same kind of stereotypes apply
into the canine world. The black dog is usually like a Doberman
chasing you down the street and, like, tearing the bad guys,
like, the seat of his pants. – [Suzanna] In general, there
have been…people think of black animals as just scarier. I think
they’re, like, in movies and t.v. shows, where if you have an evil animal,
they’re often dark and black. And I think that can, kind of, play
into what maybe already preconceived notions around breed
or what a dog looks like. – I have physically watched people
get nervous and get scared when crossing the street. But we’ve had him for so long that he’s family. that I just kind of laugh it off now. – Fact, not even 100 years ago, Winston Churchill named his depression
“black dog.” And it remains a scientific term in mental health. I’m not
sure what Churchill was thinking. Zeppelin always cheers me up. Dogs
like Zeppelin are dependent on rescue groups who go into high kill shelters
in the south and pull them out into other cities like New York and L.A.,
where they have a greater chance of being adopted. Social
Tees based in New York was the rescue group who found Zeppelin. – [Lashley] Dogs just like Zeppelin come
from an organization in Tennessee that we work with, along with other
rescues, to pull in all of the puppies and dogs that, again, are either
abandoned or have been in high kill shelters and puppy mills. – So they will be taking the black
dogs, often litters of black puppies. There could be eight-week-old puppies that
are beautiful. And they’re going to be large or small, whatever size.
But it’s just because they’re black, nobody is interested in them. – [Zarina] I’m told by shelter
managers, “This is a black dog.” I know what that means. This
dog will have less time and less opportunity to be adopted locally because
they’re just not going to risk the chance of having this dog in a kennel
longer than it needs to be, when they have
an overpopulation of incoming dogs. – Almost every rescue group I met
with had a story about how black dogs are at a higher risk. – [Rachael] A dog named Captain had
been in the shelter since he was six months old. And he was three
and a half, so literally in the shelter for three years. And he was a, probably,
80 pound, 75, 80, pound black pit bull. People would have passed by and see this
giant black pit bull who had been there for three years and assume, well,
something must be wrong with him. The longer dogs are in rescue or in the
shelter, the more people assume that. So it just makes it harder for them
as, you know, as they’re with us longer. But Captain got adopted.
He went into a foster home. And he got adopted in two weeks. – [Eva] Had we not rescued Wedge,
even though I believe he was the sweetest dog at the shelter. We used him for temp
testing for days, and he passed every test with flying colors. I don’t see that he
would have gotten out because their local adoption rate is probably in single
digits, like maybe 1%, 2%, 3%. You’re much more likely to survive
if you are white, or if you’re fluffy, or if you’re small, or if you have brown
spots. But a black dog, not so lucky. – So what would have happened to him? – He would have been euthanized. – It’s also true that there are so many
black lab mixes and pit bull mixes down south, that, you know,
if you just have a row of black dogs, I guess, in people’s minds, they
don’t become individuals anymore. It’s just a sea of black dogs. And it’s
just one pen after that, the black dog, black… You know, I think people just,
again, they don’t see the individual. They just see another black dog.
Black dog, black dog, black dog. Well, look at that cute
white dog, you know? – Everyone I spoke to, from dog owners
to rescue groups, believe that one of the main reasons black dogs have a
hard time is because they just don’t photograph well. I know better than to try
to take a picture of Zeppelin at night. He’s a black blob. He blends in to the
couch. And it’s hard to see his features in a quick snapshot. A few times,
I almost sat on him accidentally. – When you go to shelters, very often,
you know, the lighting is very poor. You know, it’s very dark.
And a black dog just doesn’t stick out as will a white
dog in that environment. – When we pull dogs from the
south, you get one crappy photo that’s texted to you. The dog is often
petrified, ears back, and looks nothing like the dog that I get after I fully
vetted and transported them up from the south. And with black
dogs, the photos are terrible. – When you photograph a black dog,
it’s really hard to see their expression, whereas dogs that have multiple colors,
and textures, and, you know, are fuzzy, or what not, those read a lot
better online and that is in the initial impact of where you meet your dog. – When we have a black dog in the program,
we are prepared to do many more things to get that dog adopted,
to advertise the dog, to have him/her professionally
photographed, groomed. We dress them up to make them look
friendlier, softer, always have kids and people around them, and just we have
to do much more to push that black dog than any other dog. I know the number
of black dogs that we come across that are just simply not adopted. And I know
they have a limited amount of time. ♪ [music] ♪ – [Shaina] I think shelters have a
hard time promoting black dogs. Because shelters are really busy.
They have a lot of work to do. And getting a great picture
isn’t always the priority. – Working with rescue groups
in New York, Shaina created the overlooked black dogs project. – I started the project because I wanted
to bring awareness to the issue. If you’re getting hundreds of dogs
in a day or a week, you can’t spend more than a few minutes
taking a great picture. – Today, Zeppelin gets to be the star. – I thought showcasing
these beautiful dogs against the black background,
well, most people would think that you wouldn’t be able to see a black dog.
So really being able to highlight the beauty of those dogs and show
that you can take pictures, beautiful pictures of black dogs. – I didn’t know black dog syndrome
was a thing when I first got a dog. But the fact remains that according
to a study published in 2010, over 50% of black dogs
are euthanized a year. – I know, just from my own experience
with my dog, Ozzy. He turned out to be gorgeous, and shiny,
and happy, and healthy, and a great dog, no different than any
other dog in the shelter. Just because of his color,
he was was overlooked. – You know, I have a black pit bull
and I think combination of his color and his breed, make people feel
really afraid of him on the street. Like, I’ve run into a lot of people who
have literally crossed the street when we see him walking by. And they just
have no idea that he’s the friendliest. – I remember when I first saw Zeppelin
in that adoption truck. Back then, I was looking for a dog with the right
personality, who would belong in our home, just like this little dog Joplin. I don’t know what would
have happened to Zeppelin if we hadn’t stumbled across him
that day on the adoption truck. I don’t want to imagine his
story ending any other way. He’s black. He’s beautiful.
And he belongs with us. ♪ [music] ♪

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