black dog syndrome

“Well hello! Look at you, you’re a big lover, aintcha! Come here! Aww, who’s a good – boy? Boy! Who’s a good boy!”

Falkenburg is the only kill shelter in the county, so it’s where the lost and unwanted wind up. The aim is to get the animals out the door as quickly as possible. They are not as particular as some of the rescues in town, because they don’t have that luxury. They don’t insist on home visits and legally binding co-ownership paperwork for the life of the animal, because their goal is seeing animals walk out of the front door, instead of getting wheeled out of the back. They try to avoid having to send their intake into the euth room, where a person who’s stronger than I could ever hope to be tells the animal how sorry they are, before gently injecting them with a fatal mixture of drugs. There are worse ways to go: illness, injury, cars, predators, starvation, exposure, drowning, abuse, neglect.

I think Logan would have wound up in that room, with the apology and the injection. I can’t say for sure, but I think he would have.

The way Falkenburg works is this: if you want to adopt an animal, you apply to Be An Adopter. There is a bit of questioning here, and you fill out a form. You tell them why you want a new animal, update them on any previous animals on record as being yours, tell them where you will keep the animal. Once you’ve been approved, you go into the back and pick out the animal you want. Two people can put in an application for a pet; this way, if the first interested party cancels, someone else can still bring the animal home. This works the same if the animal is on a hold like Logan was, though the difference there is that the applicant(s) have to wait until the hold period expires.

“Ma’am, that is one gorgeous dog you’ve got there, I just wanted to say.”

Logan had, when I found him, been there on hold for a week. The hold period was ten days. I didn’t ask how long he’d have after that, since during that hold period anyone interested could put in an application on him. Nobody had. Some dogs nearby had two applications: smaller dogs, cuter dogs, puppies. No applications were put in after I submitted mine, either. Logan just didn’t get noticed. And I’m as guilty of that as anybody else. I’d been checking the shelter’s website for weeks before I went up there to visit. I’d made a mental note to have a look at Logan, after making a mental note to look at black dogs in general because of the Black Dog Syndrome, and even then I walked right past him. The friend I was with says I stopped and let him sniff my fingers before moving on. It’s possible. Likely. He was just a plain quiet dog. Didn’t even bark. His owners didn’t try to get him back, and if I hadn’t adopted him, who knows? The old man who brought Logan out for us to visit clapped me on the shoulder and thanked me for saving a life. I could tell he meant it. I think he was right — not because it somehow makes me feel better about myself, or that it makes Logan more special somehow — because even if Logan’s experience at the pound didn’t back it up, the numbers sure as hell do.

There is a theory that large black dogs are the least likely to get adopted. Black-dog syndrome, it’s called. There are arguments about whether it’s really a thing, and if it is, why it happens. Different theories — black cats are bad luck so black dogs are too; black dogs are assumed to be aggressive; black dogs do not photograph well; who really knows? But I’m pretty sure that it does happen. Shelter staff are familiar with it. I’m familiar with it too, because it happened to Logan, and that wasn’t the first. We walked right past Buster, 18 years ago. He was a weird little black mutt too. Best dog I ever knew — though, of course, they’re all the best dog.

“Aren’t you a handsome boy! Look at you!”

Logan can’t escape attention. He laps it up, of course, because he is Logan, and being ignored is the worst possible thing to ever happen to him in his entire life. Being scolded is better, to this dog, than being ignored. When I take him to parks, people want to pet him. If we’re running errands and he’s sitting shotgun in the car, people smile at him, or wave. I am told, often, how handsome he is, how smart, how sweet, how cute, how well-behaved, what a treasure he is, how lucky I was to find him at the shelter.

It’s sort of hard to square this with knowing that, me included, if all of these people had lined up and walked through the kennels out at Falkenburg, not a one would have stopped at run 118. I’m happy I did, even when the rotten little jackal coyote dingo shedmonster is nipping at my butt to herd me around the house. Dogs. Bless their annoying faces.


“Am I good? I want to be good. Here’s a leaf. Here’s a bit of paper. Am I still good? Can you zip me into your hoodie? How about now? Here’s a ball. You didn’t notice it before. Am I good now? You’re getting up? I’m going with you. What are we — the bathroom? Okay. I’ll lie here on the mat and wait while you shower to make sure you don’t accidentally go down the drain. I didn’t bring a toy. I’m bored. Can I be in the water too? I like water. I’m still a good dog, right? Right?”