Combat the phobia of Black Dog Syndrome: Adopt a black pet
The myth behind the devil hiding in black dogs
Today is the first day of Black History Month, which usually leads me down a path of trying to scope out more activities to do than I’m already doing the other 11 months in a year. I’m not quite sure how I ended up on a particular Amazon page during my search, but I saw a tank top in pan-African colors with the words “Black Dogs Matter.”
I rolled my eyes with the same energy that I give to mattress sales on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s federal holiday celebration. Some folks will do anything to market their products. Even worse, the username for this tank top has the words “Funny Black Lives Sayings.” In real life though, there’s nothing funny about the Black Lives Matter movement nor black dogs being least likely to be adopted. I’m not laughing.
According to the American Kennel Club, the Governor of Medina came to the Prophet Mohammed regarding concerns over stray dogs found all over the city. Due to worry about rabies, the original resolution to deal with the strays was to “exterminate” them. But a day later, he changed his mind for two reasons: 1) He felt that because dogs were Allah’s creation, they shouldn’t be killed. 2) He felt that “he who created the race should be the only one to dictate that it should be removed from the earth.”
But even after all that, he still decided to pick and choose which dogs were worthy of saving—guard dogs, hunting dogs and shepherd dogs. That is, unless the dogs who performed these services were black. Black, stray dogs? He came to the bizarre conclusion that the devil often hides inside of black dogs, so that particular color of dog (no matter the breed) could be killed.
I knew none of this the entire two years I was a dog walker nor was it something I thought about when I adopted a black Hound mix, but I damn sure am happy I got a black dog now. Even better, I adopted her on Juneteenth and named her Junee. Every time someone asks her name, they have no choice but to acknowledge Black history. (The adoption shelter originally named her Ducky. There was no way on Earth I would’ve humored the idea of keeping that name, no disrespect to Daffy.) I did, however, find it strange that she was the only dog left in a collection of puppies (about 15 or so, all tan but her) that came in that week. I just knew she would’ve been out the door before she could step foot inside.
The random superstitions about black dogs go on and on—a black dog that visits the grave of a priest means he didn’t honor his vows and a black Poodle near a woman’s grave means she committed adultery. Even the Hellhounds in the film “The Omen” were black.
I don’t know if Stephen King knew the controversy surrounding black dogs and purposely made sure his dog was not black in the book “Cujo.” But as an adult, I respect that the dog in the 1983 film “Cujo” is a combination of four light-colored St. Bernard’s. And in one of my favorite childhood films (with two childhood crushes—one of which I interviewed as an adult), 1993’s “The Sandlot” had another light-colored dog: Hercules, an English Mastiff.
Even for beloved dogs like Labrador Retrievers, which have been number one on AKC’s most popular dog list for more than 30 years, Black Labrador Retrievers were considered 27% less friendly than Yellow Retrievers and categorized as more aggressive. As both a woman and a black person, I already can relate to someone viewing me as aggressive or “intimidating” for just showing any amount of emotion. Sometimes you don’t even have to do anything besides breathe. Meanwhile the worst thing a black dog has ever done to me (out of a total of 84 dogs of varying breeds and colors that I’ve walked, not including three I owned) was to drink my tea straight out of the mug!
And while Carter G. Woodson clearly wasn’t thinking about four-legged animals in 1926 when he founded Negro History Week (which later became Black History Month in 1976), I can’t help but notice the parallels when it comes to negativity being affiliated with blackness. But every time I look down at my black girl dog, all I can think of is how much I love her. Even better, she was born on February 11 (the same day as two of my favorite two-legged black ladies: Kelly Rowland and Brandy).
So throughout the month and beyond, and especially if you’re in the market for pet adoption, please do not let Black Dog Syndrome cloud your judgment. The myth did nothing but hurt a set of dogs who did nothing to deserve how they were treated then and it doesn’t help us to humor these horrendous myths now.
Shamontiel is a dog lover to her core: 500 completed walks with 84 dogs, eight dog-housesittings and six dog boardings at the time of this publication.
Did you enjoy this post? You’re also welcome to check out her Substack columns “Black Girl In a Doggone World,” “Homegrown Tales,” “I Do See Color” and “Window Shopping” too. Join Shamontiel as a paid Medium member, and subscribe to her free weekly newsletter.
If you’re not ready to subscribe but want to support my writing, you’re welcome to tip me for this post! I’ll buy a dark hot chocolate on you. Thanks for reading!