Friday, January 9, 2009

SC No Kill Shelter Targets Black Pets for Adoption

You may have heard of Black Dog Syndrome - black dogs (and cats) being more difficult to adopt out than other rescue pets. The general public seems to be put off by black pets perhaps because they appear intimidating or have a "generic" look to them. My local no-kill shelter, the Animal Protection League (APL), examined this problem at their own facility:

Over the years, a variety of unaddressed problems resulted in too many APL kennels being occupied on a long-term basis by Black Pearls with nowhere else to go. The APL adoption rate was declining annually.

APL offers some of the contributing factors to the problem , including:

  • Indiscriminate and out-of-control breeding of rural pets, with dogs being mostly lab/chow mixed
  • High numbers of abandoned or straying animals
  • Uneducated pet owners
  • Superstitions regarding black cats
  • Low per-capita income leaving rural families little or no resources for spaying, etc.
  • Limited resources within the organization
  • Remote shelter location
  • Formation of other pet organizations that handled small- and medium-sized pets
  • Formation of breed rescue clubs
  • Growing apartment communities wanting smaller pets
  • Turnover of uneducated staff
  • Lack of public awareness
  • Untrained rescued animals

These and other factors resulted in a challenging situation:

The APL shelter population began to mirror the rural pet population. Large, middle- aged, mixed-breed black dogs and solid black cats occupied available space for much longer periods of time because they were passed over for adoption while younger, more interesting, lighter colored pets were chosen.

APL's solution was to create a Black Pearls Program specifically targeting these black pets for adoption. This included staffing changes and education, community outreach, and a rotation program so that all pets had a chance to be seen by the public at off-site adoption events. In the one year period following implementation, APL reports that 79% of their black (or mostly black) cats were adopted and 42% of their black (or mostly black) dogs. In addition, they report a "ripple effect" resulting in more pets being adopted overall due to interest generated by the Black Pearls Program. Their success even earned them grant money so they were able to help still more pets!

How's that for thinking outside the box to get pets into homes? Certainly beats the blue-needle-solution offered to pets who might be slightly more challenging to adopt out by so-called "rescue" groups like the Houston SPCA and is most definitely superior to PETA's kill-them-all solution.

Innovative thinking and action on the part of shelters are both important means to achieving a successful no kill community. If a rural shelter in the South can do it, we can do it all over the country. We may not have our own phony baloney TV show to make us look like heroes, and we may not have celebrity endorsements and millions of dollars, but instead of lying to the public and trying to come off as something we're not, we can quietly walk the walk and get shelter pets into homes. Yeah, we can do that.

Black Pearl: Former APL resident Thor in his forever home


jan said...

I love it when shelters find creative ways to move their dogs and cats out into the community instead of just blaming people for the problem.

As a side note I read where one shelter had a program to lower prices for adopting black dogs and cats. They were accused of being "racially insensitive."

No, seriously.

Caveat said...

Jan lol!

I've heard of the black dog syndrome. One explanation I read somewhere was that they are harder to see because of their colour, ie, black absorbs light, so they seem more mysterious.

People are afraid of big, black dogs.

Funny because I love black dogs and cats. Not that colour is a big deal anyway although to be honest, I'm not crazy about white dogs and cats.

smartdogs said...

With the popularity of sites like PetFinder and the increasing number of people who look for a pet to adopt online, a huge problem with black-colored animals is that it is very difficult to get good, expressive photos of them.

I don't remember where it was, but I heard of a shelter that spent money for some special lighting equipment, trained volunteers to take better photos -- and greatly improved the numbers of black pets adopted.

What we need more of in today's media-obsessed world are image consultants for shelter animals

YesBiscuit! said...

Jan - Maybe that's why no shelter has picked up my BLACK POWER suggestion for adopting black pets, hehehe.

Selma - Reverse racist!

Janeen - Good point. Black pets are also harder to really SEE in dimly lit shelters, especially when they are at the back of their kennels/cages. I know I've looked at a number of black blobs on Petfinder and thought "good luck getting adopted" which is a shame.