Dogs

unnamedIn case you missed it, October 1st was National Black Dog Day. Don’t fret – after reading this blog you’ll be in much better position to properly celebrate next year. Maybe “celebrate” is the wrong word – one organization says it’s about “the plight of black dogs in shelters around the country” [from their Facebook listing]. So “understand” and “act” are better verbs.

At its heart, the “Day” was born out of “Black Dog Syndrome.” Apparently, black dogs are largely ignored in the shelter adoption process. People view them as scary, loaded with misfortune, reactions to our superstitions lying right beneath our skin. Same as the feeling toward black cats I imagine. Black dogs need a good PR Agency to recast their image based on the truth. That’s sort of what National Black Dog Day is about.

There are selection criteria are for animals [“Why did you choose this pet?, ASPCA, E. Weiss, et.al., 2012] One is appearance [breed and color] followed by personality. Maybe your experience and predisposition to certain animals. I had a friend who let the dog decide – he went out to his car and called to the puppies and took home “Tucker.” The one who, when called, ran out to him and his voice.

I knew I wanted a lab, specifically a black lab as I had fond memories of Forrest, and Tory and Cinder – wonderful dogs that friends had owned. Friends that I trusted, who seemed content with their selection. And, after all, labs are uber-popular in the polls each year.

I guess I wasn’t prone to ”Black Dog Syndrome,” because we had two black dogs. The first was Gizmo, a shih tzu. There are probably a bazillion dogs with that name, after the character in the 1984 film Gremlins. Seems as if Shih tzus are usually lighter or mixed colors. I think being black attracted my wife to him – he was cute and a great addition to our family. Until finally, old age caught up with him, he lost energy and retreated to his basket where we kept him comfortable and he died at home. unnamed

That was really tough – tougher than I expected. And it took a couple of months until we started thinking about a new dog. Different. Bigger. A lab, or, more precisely in our case, a lab-mix. Which led us to the breed-specific Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida. His name is Chino and everyone in the litter was named after a fabric. We kept that name since he seemed to respond to it, and it was also a character from West Side Story. His mother was a lab and father, some type of arctic breed – maybe Shiba Inu or Chow, due to Chino’s corkscrew tail.

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It wasn’t until I started writing and interacting with the rescue community that I learned the dark secret: 10,000 animals lose their lives in US shelters each day. Breed discrimination, puppy mills and retail stores, and lack of spaying and neutering all contribute to this heart-breaking reality.

My brother-in-law Frank Hashek, himself a husky foster/rescue operator in Southeastern Michigan, directed me to www.nokilladvocacycenter.org, a national group with success leading the efforts to deal with the situation. Another great organization is Best Friends (bestfriends.org) Please do visit their sites and consider donating or getting involved!

They say that an animal loves you more than they love themselves. That’s HUGE! Loving them back just seems so inadequate. Shouldn’t we meet their energy with something equally huge? Like eliminating the operational consequences of “Black Dog Syndrome”?

We can all make a difference by learning and sharing about National Black Dog Day, and seeing beyond an animal’s appearance to the heart of who they are.

Chino comes to me with a smile, gleaming white teeth in contrast to his red mouth and black furry face. With his rubber ring for a game of “fetch,” and an enthusiastic wag. His jet black, panther-like coat glistening.

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Todd Winninger is a Freelance Writer, specializing in volunteer assignments with non-profit organizations. His online portfolio is at [http://www.linkedin.com/in/winncomm] He lives in South Florida.

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