Take a Second Look at Less Adoptable Dogs

Lea Jaratz

Less Adoptable Dogs

Looking over the October and November calendar I saw a slew of dog “holidays” coming up. October 1st was National Black Dog Day. October 28 is National Pit Bull Awareness Day. In fact, the month of October is generally considered to be Adopt a Shelter Dog Month and November is Senior Pet Month. But, the shelter worker in me sees a challenge. There are some traits that make it harder for shelters and rescues to place dogs. It has nothing to do with temperament or history or even their personality. It has to do with appearance.

Black Dogs

Most experienced shelter workers will tell you that black dogs (be it black Labs, Shepherds, Rottweilers, you name it) are often passed over by potential adopters. It’s true. I’ve seen people walk past kennels as if there was no dog in there at all. My theory is that their dark features are less photogenic and their dark eyes on dark fur don’t plead “adopt me” in the same way. Most shelters don’t report the statistics of the color of the dogs they adopt out versus those euthanized, but the idea of “big black dog syndrome” is very real to most in animal welfare.

Upside to black dogs: Having had fluffy white dogs and fluffy black dogs, I can say, hands down, I’d much rather combat the issue of black fur on my clothes. Wardrobe win!

Big Dogs

That brings me to the “big”-dog factor. There’s a stigma to large breeds like the Rottweilers and German Shepherds. People even walk by big mutts. While it’s not uncommon for adopters to line up before opening hours to adopt a Shih Tzu, Retrievers, Mastiffs, and other large dogs often languish in the shelter. (Oddly, there is sometimes the opposite effect for giant breeds, like Great Danes, as their extreme size is seen as exotic to some adopters. I once fostered a geriatric Irish Wolfhound that had a wait list for adoption.)

Upside to big dogs: Most large breeds are considered to be “calmer” than small breeds. Your average Rottweiler or Retriever is more likely to be a couch potato, needing fewer walks and even fewer potty breaks. Despite the old line of thinking that small dogs are easier, big dogs are often more compatible with apartment living and busy lifestyles.

Senior Dogs

Speaking of geriatric Wolfhounds (R.I.P. Snuffy), the senior dog factor is perhaps the biggest strike against a dog’s likelihood of adoption. Litters of puppies fly out of the shelter cuddled in adopters’ arms, while people pity the senior dogs on their way out the door. The risk of health issues is a concern to some. But I think the bigger issue in terms of adoption is that senior dogs are more likely to be depressed in the shelter, possibly missing their old owners or fellow pets, and their personalities are a bit subdued as a result. Their personalities just don’t shine through in the shelter system. Many shelters even have reduced pricing for adult or senior pets and increased adoption fees for youngsters - that’s how difficult it is to get these older pups adopted.

Upside to seniors: Talk about calm! Most senior dogs are grateful for a few belly rubs a day and need less exercise. And, as one adopter of a 12 year old Belgian Malinois told me, “they’re a shorter commitment.” He was right. He wanted a dog at home while his kids were coming and going from college, but knew he wasn’t undertaking a 20 year relationship.

Pit Bulls

Bark Post breaks it down like this: “Each year, 1.2 million dogs are euthanized, approximately 40% of whom are Pit Bulls. This means that nearly half a million Pit Bull-type dogs are killed in shelters annually. Of all the common dog types to appear in shelters, Pit Bulls are by far the most likely to be euthanized, while they’re only the third most likely to be adopted.” Speaking from experience, my former shelter used to pull dogs from a local shelter that had an entire segment of their kennel known as “pit bull row.” And let me tell you,that was not an uplifting spot to visit.

Upside to pit bull adoption: You’ll get more smooches than any other dog owner on your block! Don’t believe the myths. Pit Bulls and other blocky-headed dogs can make loyal companions.

A friend recently adopted her first dog, brought him home to her two little girls, and named him Dexter. I was so excited for her, and even more excited for him when she sent me photos. Turns out Dexter is a large, lanky, black Rottweiler and Shepherd mix. While he’s young, he definitely had two strikes against him in the “adoptability” category. (He was also heartworm positive, which makes him almost completely unadoptable by many groups, but that’s a post for another day.) I was so proud of my friend for using her heart while searching for her new best friend. She remembered dogs that she had grown up with, other rott/shepherds, and knew that they could make amazing companions for families.

And she’s right. Speaking as the owner of a 70 Lb. black Pit Bull mix, I know firsthand how off base the biases can be. He’s a doting buddy to my small kids, well mannered, calm, and sweet. His adoption photos were abysmal. Nothing about him stood out as remarkable or attractive. But we fell in love walking him around the sanctuary grounds and, in the 6 years we’ve had him, we’ve had at least a half-dozen friends and family members say, “You know, if you ever need to find him a new home, I’d LOVE to have him.” My coworkers love on him. Every new vet that meets him looks at him a little extra after the exam and tells us what a remarkably good dog he is. And they’re right. His size, breed, and color aren’t strikes against him. They’re just descriptors of a dog who happens to be a great dog

Next time you’re looking for your new best friend, take a second look at the dog you might have passed over. It could be life saving for her and life changing for you.

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