A recent episode of Animal Voices covered a topic new to me, Black Dog Syndrome (BDS). BDS is defined as “the low adoption and high euthanasia rate of black dogs in shelters.” Two activists working on behalf of black dogs in shelters, Tamara Delaney of Contrary to Ordinary: The Black Pearls of the Dog World and Heather Rosenwald of Start Seeing Black Dogs, were featured on the show.
It’s so crazy to me that black dogs get intentionally or subconsciously ignored and abandoned. Here are some of the reasons why:
- The color black is often vilified and associated with evil or bad luck in the US.
- In the media, black dogs are often associated with aggression and menace.
- Facial features of black dogs don’t show up as well on pet adoption websites.
- Black dogs “get lost” in shelters, too–they don’t stand out as much as lighter colored dogs
- Black cats also get a bad rap since they are particularly associated with bad luck and superstition.
Of course, all of these theories are inextricably linked with how people of color are so often viewed–menacing, strange, foreign, bad, unattractive. The show’s host, Lauren Corman, did ask both guests to touch on how ideas of race and racism have made black dogs invisible or undesirable. While they did not personally see this playing out in the communities they worked in, they did agree that this was an issue raised by others in the BDS community.
During the episode, Corman also breifly shared a story about a shelter who was criticized by the NAACP for using the phrase, “Black is Beautiful,” during a campaign that coincided with the holiday, Juneteenth, which celebrates the abolition of black slaves in Texas. My reaction to the comments on the news article I linked to could be a separate post in and of itself. Most of them tell the NAACP to just chill and stop harassing the innocent animals. I’m inclined to take a similar, though more muted, position. Now that I know what BDS is, I am all about getting the word out on behalf of these animals and when I am ready to care for another dog, I will go out of my way to adopt a black one. The response to and from the NAACP, however, is again a case where activists in the animal welfare/rights movements and in other social justice movements are seen as diametrically opposed. I have not seen the NAACP’s original statement to the shelter so I can only assume that the organization thought that using such a powerful phrase as “Black is Beautiful,” was disrespectful and that even subtly comparing the plight of black dogs with the plight of black Americans trivializes that human struggle. Since black American slaves were legally considered property in much the same way animals are, this bristling is even more understandable. This is a shortsighted view, however, that ignores how the same systems of oppression that create and sustain racism are the same ones that enable animal use and ownership by humans. The comments to the NAACP to “just get over it,” is an example of how issues of race are often so easily dismissed by those who are not on the receiving end of racism.
In an appropriate side note, Philadelphia’s homeless animals (mostly cats and dogs) are facing a crisis. Due to budget constraints, the city is looking for an outside contractor to take over the Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Agency (PACCA), which would probably change the focus from trying to get the animals adopted to just killing them. Citizens for a No-Kill Philadelphia (http://www.phillynokill.com)* is lobbying City Hall to save PACCA. The Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) was formed in 2004 as the adoption arm of PAWS. Prior to the formation of PAWS, 9 out of 10 animals were killed by the city. In the first quarter of 2008, their save rate went up to 70%. If you’re in the Philadelphia area, or are just interested in helping homeless cats and dogs, I encourage you to check out the work of these organizations.
* Typed out the link because when it was embedded, it went to a funky, virus-looking site. Don’t know what happened in the translation but the site is legit so I typed it out.