2006-08-24 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Pets of the Week
...by Joanne Anderson

Big, black dogs. Not a selling point at a shelter. Although huge, they seem invisible when people walk through the kennels. The big, black dog is often the last to be adopted. Many in municipal shelters, even magnificent ones, never find new homes. There are many reasons they are overlooked; none are the big, black dogs' fault.

Why do big, black dogs lose out? There are too many black dogs, especially when you factor in the many Rotties, black Labs, and mixes of these breeds that are in the pounds. They all blend together. Black dogs do not show up behind the bars and wires of a cage or run. People (including me) walk right by them and do not notice them.

Black dogs are not photogenic when advertised in a newspaper. Their expressive eyes rarely show up in the photo. For about 20 years I used a Polaroid for the column. I threw away enough wasted Polaroids of black shelter dogs to buy a house in the Hamptons. A black, scruffy dog is even worse. Black Benjis may be adorable "in person", but blur in a picture.

Black show dogs have the same problem. It takes a top notch photographer to capture their essence. Trevor, one of my solid black Afghans, was the half brother of the top Afghan ever. His profile was exquisite but it was hard to get a good close up of him. Luckily he was a cross dresser, so all my best photos are Trevor posed in fashionable outfits that broke up the black. My black & tan Beauty Queen Afghan lacks his caliber pedigree, but she's much better on film because her tan accentuates her exotic eyes.

Lulu, left, the Beagle and Sheba, Shepherd mix, right Lulu, left, the Beagle and Sheba, Shepherd mix, right The spotlight of age and pseudo age shines on any black dog that shows any hint of white around the muzzle. They need Grecian Formula for Dogs. People think these pooches are older than they really are, just like dark haired people who go white prematurely. Some black dogs (and also some Golden retrievers and Irish setters) start graying as early as 2-3 years old.

Scars and knicks show up on dark dogs more. You see this on the black Pit mixes often, because their coat comes off easily. The hair seems thinner. Scars can make dogs look mean, as if they were in a fight. Sometimes they were beat up by other dogs (or people), but sometimes they just hit themselves on the cage or have pressure sores from lying on the cement.

Finally there may be a subliminal suggestion that "black is evil" like the symbolism of Scar vs. Mufasa in the Lion King. This is worse for black cats with their superstitious Halloween baggage. It's interesting that when a shelter has a Golden retriever and a Flat Coated Retriever mix, identical except for color, the light colored dog will usually go before the dark one. Blondes have more fun, and find homes faster too.

Black dogs (and cats) need adoption gimmicks. In a photo, a tongue hanging out or a ball in the mouth animates the dogs and breaks up the black, while showing teeth is never a good idea. Any picture of a dog barking or eating looks vicious. Hats and props are perfect. Last fall I put sequin devil horns on Happy, a black Shepherd at Babylon. This got her a spot at the Last Hope Center and now a happy home in Queens. Profile photos silhouette, and can be better than full face. Colorful nylon collars and patterned blankets in the cage make the dogs more noticeable. The neon orange "Adopt Me" vest looks great on a black dog out in public.

Moving the merchandise helps. Just changing a cage can be the charm. Black dogs shouldn't be clustered together in a row. They need to be interspersed with different colored dogs. We take the black dogs out of the cages when prospective owners are wandering around. Sometimes folks, particularly the nosey ones, are interested by virtue of the fact that you have a certain dog out already. The same dog shows up much better in the yard, or in the shelter prep room. This trick works well with purebred Labs. A lot of Labs go ballistic when people walk by. It's not aggression; it's their exuberant way of saying: "Get me out of this place!" Labs sell themselves better outdoors.

Black shelter strays need creative names, not the overused "Midnight" or "Blackie", to make them stand out in the crowd. Sometimes I go a bit over the edge with names that some may construe as racial, but most people see the humor or compliment. Recently I named a senior Retriever "Cosby" because he was older and wiser. In the '80s I christened a tuxedo kitten "Berrigan" after the protester priest. Original names give the common big, black pet a distinct identity.

Shelter dogs are like real estate. Big, black dogs need curb appeal so they get more than a drive by. Just as a rundown house improves with a coat of paint, an unkempt dog sparkles with a make over. Many people can't see the black Poodle under the curls or mats. We groom the dogs, black and other colors, whenever the coat condition impedes their health or chances at adoption. Black dogs need more primping and publicity. Smithtown Shelter has Petfinder's banner promoting big, black dogs on their website. It says: "Think Big. Adopt Big."

In 1992 I visited Oyster Bay Town Shelter and adopted a big, black dogmy tall, dark and handsome Afghan, Alan. I am so glad I did. He was precious gift from the dog deities. This week's assortment of big, black dogs at Oyster Bay Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset includes a pair of male Lab mixes"Bruno" and "Blockhead", and "Samson", a male Rottweiler. Go check them out.

Our poster pets shown here are more varied. "Lulu" #060805 is a sweet 3 year old Beagle that was attacked by another dog. Her neck and shoulder have been stitched up. "Sheba" #060735 is a mature Shepherd mix. She'd make a lovely companion.

Cats: "Ally" #060470the smudge faced female; a longhair gray tabby and white hunk #060777, and an assortment of kittens.

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