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Zora's Future: Is It Really Black or White?

Black dogs spend a longer time in shelters waiting for homes and are euthanized at a higher rate due to a pervasive perception problem dubbed "Black Dog Syndrome"

If you do an online search for “Black Dog Syndrome”  you will get a number of hits that include stories from animal shelters nationwide and even a Wikipedia entry.

They all focus on a stigma that much of the general public is not aware of: an apparent and possibly unconscious bias by those seeking to adopt pets and it causes them to pass over black dogs in favor of adopting lighter colored ones.

While evidence is more anecdotal than scientific (there are no hard statistics on the syndrome), animal rescue professionals across the country have long noticed that black dogs at shelters are ignored and under-adopted in larger than normal numbers.

And it’s not just dogs. The unfortunate phenomenon seems to be true for cats too.

Reasons and theories vary on why black animals are often overlooked and have a lower adoption rate. Some suggest that it’s because the darker colored pets might not show up as well in photos for adoption listings or that they might be harder to see in cages at a poorly lit shelters.

The perception might be that black dogs look mean or that black cats are unlucky, a perception that Hollywood often enforces in movies and on television.

Another theory is that these dogs and cats may simply appear too “ordinary” to people who like lighter colored breeds or prefer pets with a pattern on their fur.  

Whatever the reasons, animal rescue workers and advocates say the syndrome is real and regrettable. They feel that as a result of the bias many dark-colored animals with friendly personalities and special qualities are left in shelters and put down at an alarming rate.

Some shelters come up with inventive ways to highlight their population of black dogs and cats, hoping to get them adopted quicker. They might dress them  up with bright bandanas, give them super-hero names or ask potentional adopters to give them a second look, to judge them on the content of their character and not the color of their fur.

A local victim of Black Dog Syndrome could be Zora, a dog rescued by 

“There is absolutely no good reason that Zora has not been adopted yet,” says Debbie Setzer, LifeLine’s community and outreach director. “She’s a perfect dog.”

Zora is young canine who is full of energy and has intelligence to spare. She’s sleek and smart, a combination of two breeds that are hardy and loyal – the Labrador and the Pit Bull. She loves to run and play. She gets along very well with other dogs.

Gene Stamey, the director of LifeLine’s Dog House, has spent a lot of time with her and believes Zora could learn to do just about anything because she’s so smart. 

She is a good looking dog -- healthy, lively, loves people and is the color of dark chocolate.

No one has offered to foster or adopt her.

When you meet Zora she is so enthusiastic about the introduction you must brace yourself. She’s a solid 75 pound dog with a very affectionate and perceptive nature. It’s impossible not to smile as you watch her launch herself into the world with joyful abandon.

When she goes on a walk nothing is too insignificant to stop and sniff, no person in the vicinity is overlooked, lest they might need to be licked.

Zora needs a loving owner who is active; perhaps a runner or someone who likes to take long walks or is prepared to play hard. Hanging out and doing nothing with a human friend is fine with Zora too. Training time is a must for a dog this intelligent. She enjoys people and is good in a variety of situations.

If you are looking for a lively, fun and funny dog who could learn to do tricks and would be your running or walking buddy, this dark colored beauty is a sure bet.

To find out more about Zora, e-mail adoptions@atlantapets.org

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