Black Cat Syndrome: Fact or Myth?

Do black cats and dogs get passed over at animal shelters in favor of their more colorful counterparts? It's a theory based on anecdotal evidence, a phenomenon vouched for by veteran shelter staff, and the impetus for special "black cat" and "black dog" adoption events. But is it true?

Faster Adoption Rate?

black dog syndromeIn 2012, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASCPA) reported the findings of a study involving 1,500 people who adopted cats and dogs from 5 shelters throughout the United States. The study found that most adopters chose an adult cat based on the behavior of the individual animal, not on its appearance. As for dogs, most adopters already had an idea about the type of breed they wanted and were visiting the shelter looking for that breed.

Another study conducted by master's degree student Heather Svoboda at Canisius College examined the adoption records of more than 16,800 dogs at two animal shelters in the Pacific Northwest. Her findings indicated that at those 2 shelters, black dogs actually found homes faster than dogs of other colors. A similar study published by the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science found that coat color had no bearing on the length of time dogs stayed at 2 shelters in New York.

Negative Image

black cat syndromeHowever, another student-led study, this one undertaken by Mikel Delgado at the University of California, Berkeley, found that orange cats or those with a pointed pattern like a Siamese were adopted much more quickly than black cats. Delgado further interviewed 189 visitors to shelters in the San Francisco area, asking them their opinions on cats. The respondents said that they believed orange cats were friendly, tortoiseshell cats were aloof, and white cats were shy. They also said they had negative or no opinions about black cats.

For years, anecdotal evidence from seasoned shelter workers has suggested that black dogs and cats may be at a disadvantage when it comes to finding new homes. Whether it is an association with the old wives' tales that "black cats bring bad luck" or "you should never let a black cat cross your path," shelter staff repeatedly report difficulty in placing the dark-coated animals. The same seems to apply to their canine cousins.

Adoption Strategies

black cat personalitiesWhether the "black pet syndrome" holds true or not, animal shelters often turn to unique promotions to encourage potential owners to take a closer look at a black cat or dog, and hopefully bring home an animal of any color. Some shelters will reduce the adoption fee for a cat or dog with a black coat, while other shelters will bring only black cats and dogs to adoption events to highlight the pet appeal of the animals.

Some speculate that the studies cited here indicate that "black pet syndrome" may be regional or seasonal. Whether the phenomenon is true or not, shelter staff urge potential adopters to evaluate a cat or dog on its pet qualities, and not simply by the color of its fur. You never know--that sweet black cat or dog just may be the best pet you've ever had!

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