Back in Black hits home (Literally!)

May is Back in Black month, Best Friends’ national promotion for boosting the adoptions of black shelter pets. In the spirit of the times, I recently adopted a black dog from Best Friends Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center in Los Angeles.

Why a special promotion for black shelter pets? Ask shelter staff anywhere and they’ll tell you that black dogs and cats take longer to place, and consequently constitute a greater proportion of animals killed for space considerations. There’s a lot of speculation on the reasons for this. Some favor the explanation that in the cement gray kennels that are common in municipal shelters, a black dog can appear to be little more than a silhouette. Others point to the usually poor shelter photos that serve as online advertising for shelter pets. Without skillful lighting, it’s hard for would-be adopters to make out the all-important eyes and facial features of a black pet. It’s also a fact that owing to the genetic dominance of the black hair color, there are simply more predominantly black dogs out there. So choose your reason, but it is clear that black pets need the attention and time that Best Friends' second annual Back in Black adoption promotion offers them.

Shadow, pictured here, is a perfect example of what has been called "black dog syndrome." Shadow is a beautiful dog. He was turned in at Los Angeles Animal Services’ North Central shelter as part of the fallout of a divorce in his former family (you can fill in your own commentary on that!). After a brief stay there, he came to Best Friends Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center in Mission Hills. Everyone expected this handsome and well-trained dog to go to a new home quickly, but that didn't happen. Even in the airy, daylit outdoor kennels at the adoption center, Shadow just wasn’t as visible and eye-catching as his lighter or multicolored shelter companions, and the same held true for him at the L.A. Pet Super Adoption at the La Brea Tar Pits Park at the end of April.

So here is a dog who has classic looks, is good with other dogs, including small dogs, gets along with cats, is well trained, and yet got passed over day after day, week after week as hundreds of other dogs, large and small, headed for new homes. It’s impossible to say for sure that this is because he is a black dog, but he is, and when I first met him at the adoption center in April, I had to get right up to the front of his kennel to get a good look at him. Despite Shadow’s need and the fact that I was in the market for a large dog, I felt sure that he would be adopted based on his looks, behavior and smarts. That wasn’t the case. When I checked back on him a few weeks later and learned that he still hadn’t been placed, I decided it was a good time for him to come home and live with Julie, me, our three cats, our two L.A. Chihuahuas — Esther, old, lovely and rather chubby, and Ray, blind and not entirely house-trained — and a rather noisy conure parrot named Hector.

Shadow fits right in, although he does stand out. Ray and Esther come up to slightly above his ankles, and the cats are not quite sure what to make of the new giant in the house. Shadow and Ray have struck up a friendship and nap together in the sun on the living room floor.

It’s chilling to think that an amazingly beautiful and easy-to-accommodate dog like Shadow might have been history in another circumstance owing to something as inconsequential as the color of his coat.

Best Friends' Back in Black promotion ends later this week, but the needs of black shelter pets remain. We are waiving all adoption fees for black animals, and so are hundreds of our No More Homeless Pets Network partners. Next time you are looking for a pet, be sure to adopt, and be sure to give a second and maybe a third look at the silhouette in the shelter.

No-Kill 2025

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society