Shelters Stand Ready

Shelters Stand Ready

Now is perfect time to adopt a new fuzzy friend

Making Ripples

The year was 2005, and I was a student hoping to adopt a kitten after moving into my new apartment. The animal shelter, located in a rural Missouri area, was helpful and friendly but informed me there was only one kitten left that nobody had wanted. The reason they gave for this dismissal of a cuddly ball of fluff? It was black.

Almost 15 years later, my black cat Solo remains one of my best friends. The current pandemic has caused a spike in shelter adoptions — and that’s great news! But is the alleged bias against black cats and dogs true, or is it just a myth? “Black Dog Syndrome,” the name given for the mostly anecdotal observation that black dogs (especially large ones) get adopted less often and euthanized more frequently than other colors of dogs, is claimed to be a myth by some and true fact by others. The same controversy surrounds Black Cat Syndrome.

It’s easy to see why there is confusion – after all, black labs are a very popular breed, while the superstitions about black cats are well-known. There are small studies contributing evidence for both the bias and the myth of bias, but they don’t refute one another. Combined, they suggest that context matters in black animal adoptions.

A 2013 study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science showed that dogs’ coat color did not affect length of stay in two New York no-kill shelters. The Open Veterinary Science Journal published a 2013 study of two Colorado shelters which found that black cats and kittens, regardless of age or sex, take longer to adopt than other colors. Studies measuring assumptions of personality based on pictures of dogs were also mixed: some concluded that viewers held no bias against black dogs, but other studies demonstrated that viewers perceived black dogs as more aggressive.

Some veterinarians argue that there are simply more black dogs and cats being surrendered at shelters, so naturally, it would take longer for them to be adopted, and they would be most likely to be euthanized based on sheer numbers. Are there more black dogs and cats in the general population, accounting for larger numbers in shelters, or are they more likely to be surrendered than other colors? It appears we don’t yet know.

Solo, columnist Amanda Bancroft’s 15-year-old black cat, was adopted as a lone kitten at a rural Missouri shelter. The shelter staff said no one wanted him because he was black.
(Courtesy Photo/Amanda Bancroft)

Black cat adoptions are strangely affected by time of year. In October, for example, some shelters don’t allow black cats or kittens to be adopted for fear of animal cruelty at Halloween, while other shelters don’t have such a policy. On the flip side, in the months after the movie “Black Panther” was released, shelters saw an increase in black cat adoptions and some even marketed their felines with slogans like “adopt a mini panther!”

Black animals are more difficult to photograph, which makes it harder to promote them. Commercial photographers often donate time to take professional photographs of black shelter animals to boost their adoption rates. Luckily, since the 2000s, “the cat’s out of the bag” and more people know about this potential bias. Some families come to shelters specifically asking to adopt black animals, which would affect modern measurements of bias.

So is it a myth or a fact? We can’t conclude anything broadly. But bias negatively affects adoptions in some geographic areas and at certain times, there tend to be more black pets at shelters, and it’s an undisputed fact that general appearance plays a big role. If you want to adopt a pet, why not check out the black ones first and see if they fit your family?

Amanda Bancroft is a writer, artist, and naturalist living in an off-grid tiny house on Kessler Mountain. She and her husband Ryan blog about their adventures and offer tips to those wanting to make a difference at

Categories: Making Ripples