Stigma and superstition plague black pets

Stigma and superstition plague black pets

Pity the black dog or black cat waiting when it comes to pet adoption; they have an additional challenge: Black Dog/Black Cat Syndrome.

Separating fact from fiction

There are many myths, superstitions and stigmas surrounding cats and dogs of the darkest color. For instance, did you know that a black cat crossing your path from right to left is bad luck, but from left to right is said to be good? Were you aware that, according to ancient folklore, the apparitions of black dogs were believed to be the unquiet ghosts of wicked souls? Did you know as well that here and now, in modern times, black dogs and cats are the last to be adopted?

Black and other dark-furred cats and dogs are the proverbial black sheep when it comes to pet adoption. According to the Washington Post, they are the last to be adopted and the first to be euthanized. Shelters need to work that much harder to draw attention to and dispel the myths surrounding the adoption of darker dogs and cats.

Winston Churchill had a black dog
his name was written on it
It followed him around from town to town
It’d bring him down
took him for a good long ride
took him for a good look around ~ Black Dog by Reg Mombassa

Big Black Dog Syndrome

While both black cats and dogs both suffer unjustly earned reputations, black dogs seem to bear the brunt. BBD – or Big Black Dog Syndrome – is a somewhat unexplained, but widely known phenomenon among shelters. In addition to having the curse of dark fur, their large size can make them appear menacing. While there is no clear rationale, there are theories as to why black dogs and cats are harder to adopt. They do not photograph as well as lighter colored animals, and their features get lost and don’t translate well in photos, making them hard to market to a discriminating and – at times – discriminatory public.

They physically get lost, as well. Kennels can sometimes be poorly lit or are in warehouse locations with tons of shadowy corners, where darker colored animals can blend in and go unseen. In addition to the stigma attached to them in folklore, Hollywood also positions them in an evil light. They are cast as companions to villains or symbolize impending doom. In the mental health arena, depression is commonly referred to as the Black Dog.

To combat negative stigmas and to draw more positive attention to these animals, shelter workers will do things like accessorize black cats and dogs with bright collars and bandanas, and hold functions, such as “Black is Beautiful” or “Black is Back” to try and raise awareness that these animals are need homes, too. Many shelters reduce their rates around Halloween to entice people to adopt darker hued animals. Some even offer black cat adoption for free.

Black pets are great pets

However, free black cat adoption around Halloween has experienced some serious backlash, as pets being adopted for the purpose of Halloween can sometimes be done with ill-intent. Black cats have reportedly been tortured or used in ritualistic killings around the holiday. Because of this, many animal welfare organizations across the country halt the adoption process in an attempt to prevent cruelty to black cats. Mike Arms, President of the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, California, says, “I have heard this old wives’ tale more than once in my career.  You would think by now that pet adoption agencies would be professional enough to be able to screen potential adopters in evaluating a good home life.”

In terms of personality, temperament and behavior, black dogs and cats are no different than any other. In fact, Black Pearl Dogs gives a top 10 list as to why black dogs, in particular, are the best dogs. There’s a top 10 list for cats, too, and some folklore even sees a black feline as a good omen. The Scottish believe that a black cat arriving on their doorstep signals prosperity, and a lady who owns a black cat is believed to have many suitors.

A stigma is just a stigma, and a pet in need of a home is a pet in need of a home. Superstition only has power if it’s given to it, and the only thing superstition does is potentially cost these animals their lives. So why not help debunk the myth and welcome a black cat or dog into your home this Halloween? It may not bring you luck or prosperity, but it will surely give you unconditional love.


  1. Frank R

    We adopted an outgoing black cat from a shelter. She started talking to my wife when we walked into a room full of cats. She was sitting in the top of a cat tower and we had no idea she was a tripod until she jumped down and followed my wife around. We fell in love with this beautiful 3-year-old wonder. Extremely smart, and quick to get around despite single wheel drive in back. My daughter told us after the fact that we were awesome for adopting a ‘two strikes’ pet – black and disabled. We wouldn’t change a thing – she’s awesome and a wonderful people lover.

  2. Kmonster

    Human stupidity strikes again and animals suffer this time. People need to grow up. Really. Black cats are very beautiful!



  4. Joyce Paulson

    I am not surprised about black animals. There are a lot of ignorant people out there. The stupidity

    I feel is getting worse. I hope educating them will

    Help !!!

  5. Hairless Cat

    Hi P4P and Megan,

    Very sad to hear about the difficulties black cats and dogs have both in getting adopted and how they are viewed and treated by the main stream.

    Glad to hear that the shelters are doing all they can to combat this issue.

    Hard to believe that a pet would get discriminated against simply based on it’s color but it’s true for black cats and dogs and it’s been that way for quite a long time.

    Unfortunately, even in modern civilizations, the main stream generally holds onto ridiculous superstitions. It’s even worse in less developed countries.

    There is no basis for this type of discrimination and there was never a time when there was a good reason for it.

    How can an educated civilization hold on to silly and baseless superstitions? I’ll never understand it.

    I’ve had several black cats and they were among the most wonderful companions I’ve had. None of them have ever given me any “bad luck”.

    I would argue that the main stream is still very primitive, fearful, and ignorant and this article is hard proof.

    The superstitious have always offended me and always will.

    Thank you for raising the issue.

    =^..^= Hairless Cat Girl =^..^=

  6. Bill

    Very sad to see this kind of discrimination carries over to animals; there’s just no excuse for such beliefs. I own an Alaskan Malamute who was largely black until she was 18 months of age; she’s a big girl at 101 pounds but a true teddy bear and so gentle. Many people were afraid of her and asked me why I had a ‘wolf’ living with me. People just need to break out of their self absorbed shells and at least try to meet other people and animals with a neutral perspective.

  7. Pets for Patriots

    Su, that’s terrible! Did anyone admonish this woman for her behavior?

  8. Su Tuttle

    I have a big black dog being trained as a service dog for my PTSD. Oso (meaning bear) is a big Teddy bear. At 1yrs and 73 lbs, he is nothing but a big puppy. I had him on the local transit bus. A lady kicked him in the face. Oso o only barked once. She kicked him in the face again. It has really sent his service training way back. And all because he was a big black dog. I don’t get it. Gtrrrrr!

    • Shaeron

      you should have kicked her back after she kicked the second time. I would have have had something to say the first time. My thought is, don’t let let anyone push you around for any reason. Especially when it comes to harming an animal that don’t know why it’s being kicked.

      • Carlyn

        I would’ve kicked her right in the face the first time.


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