A recently published study by Canisius College Assistant Professor of Animal Behavior Christy L. Hoffman, PhD, suggests that Black Dog Syndrome (BDS) does not exist in animal shelters. BDS is the idea that black dogs wait longer to be adopted than dogs of other colors.
Hoffman's study (Investigating the role of coat colour, age, sex, and breed on outcomes for dogs at two animal shelters in the United States), which was published in the journal Animal Welfare, examined four years of adoption records for nearly 16,700 dogs at two animal shelters in the Pacific Northwest. The study focused on dogs between one and 13 years old. Puppies and young dogs were not included in the data set because they are already known to be adopted faster. The results of the study found that black dogs actually had shorter shelter stays when compared to dogs of different colors.
"In the first shelter, the average length of time a dog was available for adoptions was seven days, while black dogs were out in 6.5 days," explains Hoffman. "In the second shelter," she continues, "the average length of stay for a dog was 10.5 days, while black dogs were out in nine."
The study also concluded that age and breed group were more important than coat color when it came to adoptability. For example, bully breeds, which can include American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers or Staffordshire bull terriers, face disproportionately longer stays in shelters.
"When these dogs were adopted, their shelter stays were two-and-a-half to three times longer than the average," explains Hoffman. "Bully breeds were also much more likely to be euthanized than dogs belonging to other breed categories." Hoffman cautions that the study does not prove Black Dog Syndrome wasn't once a more universal problem that has improved due to education and marketing efforts. Instead, she hopes her research findings encourage individual shelters and rescue groups to carefully examine their own data to make sure education and marketing efforts are being directed appropriately.
"If a shelter invests efforts in promoting black dogs when, in fact, black dogs might have the same success if they were not promoted, then these resources could be better spent promoting other animals in the organization that are overlooked," says Hoffman.
Black cats may be among them.
In a separately published study (An Evaluation of the Role the Internet Site Petfinder Plays in Cat Adoptions), Hoffman examined the adoptability rates of cats whose primary coat color was black to cats of all other colors. The study analyzed a total of 892 cat adoption records at a Western New York animal shelter, via Petfinder.com, from October 2012 to October 2013.
"When we compared cats whose primary coat color was black or smoke to cats of all other colors, the black/smoke cats received significantly fewer clicks per day and had a significantly longer length of availability," explains Hoffman, who also investigated the features of photographs that were associated with a cat's popularity.
The findings from this research, which were published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Sciences, revealed that a cat's popularity was not influenced by whether photos showed the head or body of the cat, whether the photo was taken from the cat's front or side, whether the cat was looking at the camera, the size of the cat's pupils or the position of the cat's ears. Photographs that included toys, however, were found to increase a cat's popularity more than cats photographed without toys. Additionally, cats photographed outside their cages tended to be more popular than those photographed inside their cages.
"If a shelter is operating with limited resources, it may not need to put effort into manipulating features of the cats' for photographs," says Hoffman. "Shelters may, however, benefit from photographing those cats that are overlooked by including toys in the picture or photographing them outside their cages."
Heather Svoboda MS '13, a communications and development manager at the Cat Adoption Team in Portland, OR, collaborated with Hoffman on the research about Black Dog Syndrome; Miranda Workman, an adjunct professor of animal behavior at Canisius, collaborated with Hoffman on her research relevant to black cats.
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