Black Dog Syndrome is Real — And Lola Really Needs a Home – West Side Rag

By Lisa Kava

You don’t have to be an animal lover to know that there are many dogs in shelters and in foster care who need forever homes. But fewer people may be aware of a phenomenon known in the dog rescue world as Black Dog Syndrome, where black dogs are often passed over, or take longer to get adopted than dogs with light-colored fur. According to Petfinder, the online pet adoption website, most pets are listed for 12.5 weeks until they get adopted, but black dogs spend almost four times as long on the site.

Animal Lighthouse Rescue (ALR) a non-profit organization which rescues stray dogs from the streets of Puerto Rico, and finds homes for them here in New York City, is trying to change that. The organization is hosting an event at Black Lab Café, on 420 Amsterdam Avenue (80th Street) on Sunday, July 17, from 2-6PM. Adoptable black dogs will be in attendance. So will Upper West Sider and ALR volunteer Harry Leff, who will speak about Black Dog Syndrome in hope of providing education and awareness.

Stray dogs in Puerto Rico are known as “satos,” by locals. Prior to Hurricane Maria in 2017, there were approximately 200,000 satos in Puerto Rico. Today there are an estimated 500,000. Animal Lighthouse Rescue partners with a shelter in Humacao, Puerto Rico called El Faro de Los Animals to provide medical care, socialization and, ultimately, transportation to New York City for the dogs.

“We at Animal Lighthouse Rescue experience Black Dog Syndrome as most rescues and shelters do. Our black rescues take a longer time to get adopted and spend a much longer time in foster care,” Tania Isenstein, Chair of the Board of ALR told West Side Rag. Isenstein is the former owner of Camp Canine, a dog day care, boarding and grooming facility at 46 West 73rd Street.


Rescue group leaders say that black dogs often do not come across well in photographs. “We do our best to take excellent pictures of the black dogs which can help. Sometimes we hire a professional photographer,” Isenstein said.

Jane Moskowitz, founder of Cunucu Dog Rescue, witnesses Black Dog Syndrome regularly. “Most of our black puppies take many weeks to be adopted. It usually has to do with the fact that they don’t tend to photograph as well,” Moskowitz confirmed.

The way black dogs are portrayed in the media may also be a contributing factor to Black Dog Syndrome. In film and television, many times, black dogs are portrayed as aggressive. Dobermans or Rotweillers are often the growing attack dogs protecting villas or secluded areas,” to the website Cesar’s Way, according to renowned dog trainer Cesar Millan. The Petfinder site points out that a big frightening black dog is even seen on the common “Beware of Dog” sign.

J.J. Not for adoption! Photograph by Joy Bergmann.

“I had heard black dogs were adopted less often, so it was part of my decision to choose JJ when I visited Bideawee’s shelter. He’s been a wonderful addition to our family,” says Joy Bergmann. “Though he’s a large mix, most people respond lovingly toward him. His prancing gait gets a lot of smiles. The only downside to his black fur is that he overheats a bit more quickly than other dogs might during the summer.”

“We are working out details with Black Lab Café to make use of the outdoor and indoor space for our meet- and-greet and sharing of information about ALR and Black Dog Syndrome,” Leff told the Rag. “We are planning for now to have only black dogs at the event. But we may add to the mix if we have dogs of other colors ready for adoption.”

Advanced registration is not required to attend the adoption event on Sunday, everyone is welcome. ALR does not do “on the spot,” adoptions, rather potential adopters are vetted by adoptions counselors. Those interested in adopting a dog can fill out an application here.

“We hope that we can bring awareness to Black Dog Syndrome, and start the conversation to make change,” Isenstein said.

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