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.