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SPCA (HK) 香港愛護動物協會
Photograph: Courtesy of SPCA (Cola is a black puppy still waiting to be adopted)

Are we prejudiced against black dogs?

The dark-furred pups that are less likely to be adopted in Hong Kong
Written by
Fontaine Cheng

I’m sitting on the floor of a local shelter, playing with a corgi mix puppy that I was immediately drawn to when the adoption volunteer tells me that they have other puppies waiting to be adopted. She asks if I’d like to see them and I happily agree. As we step into another kennel with the cutest little dark-furred pups, she tells me that she’s glad that I’m interested since so few had asked to see the black puppies today and that they often take much longer to get adopted. I’m baffled at first. After all, I’m definitely not opposed to adopting a black dog, but at the same time, my first instinct was to adopt a lighter coloured puppy as opposed to one with darker fur. Then it struck me. Are we all unknowingly prejudiced against black dogs? 

Hoping it’s not true, I’ve decided to ask around to see what others think. Sally Anderson, the founder of Hong Kong Dog Rescue (HKDR), doesn’t necessarily agree. “I don't honestly think black or dark dogs are usually discriminated against,” says Sally. “Some older Hongkongers may still have the idea that black dogs are unlucky. But in general, it's the appearance that people are attracted to. A fluffy coat or floppy ears, for example, are always popular.

“The hardest to home are dogs with the typical Hong Kong village look: curly tail, prick ears, and heavy shoulders. These dogs are usually black or tan.” – Sally Andersen, HKDR founder

Founder of HKDR Sally Anderson with puppies that were up for adoption.

Over at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), a spokesperson says, “In general, black dogs take longer to find a home. Currently, we have 11 black dogs at our centres looking for a home, some of which have been here for months while other lighter-coloured animals that arrived around the same time have already found a new home.”

It seems that black dogs are deemed much less friendly, to the point that some may even fear black dogs, particularly the larger ones. The SPCA spokesperson puts it down to perception, and sometimes, superstition.

“Some people think black dogs are more aggressive, and some, due to traditional Chinese thoughts, think that black dogs are ominous.” – SPCA spokesperson

Much like black cats have been considered an omen in western cultures, black dogs are sometimes perceived as bad luck in Chinese culture. In Chinese folklore, Tian Gou (Heavenly Dog) is a deity depicted as a black dog that devours the sun, causing an eclipse in the process. And since solar eclipses were considered bad news back then, warding off hungry sun-eating dogs was deemed pretty damn crucial. But there’s no way that we still believe in these ancient stories, right? Today, it may have more to do with the Chinese word for black, hak (黑) in Cantonese, which is used to describe bad luck, darkness, and even things that are illegal. 

From left to right: Cola, Lup Lup, and Mochi are still waiting to be adopted at SPCA.

Owner of four dogs, two of which (Sooty and Raven) are black and adopted, Jessica Leung, says it’s down to the dogs’ appearance in photographs especially when you don't have the best lighting or equipment, as well as how they look in person.

"Black dogs may not be chosen for adoption as we initially only see the dogs' photos online before visiting them, and their features or expressions don't show up too well in the photos." – Jessica Leung, adopter of two black dogs

On how these dogs appear when they're in front of you, she adds “A lot of people are scared of big dogs and back off regardless of colour. But I think having a large black dog walk towards you at night may seem scary. As if they’re creeping out from the shadows or something, or it just shocks people as they can't see them at first and they seemingly pop out of nowhere.”

Two of Jessica Leung’s dogs, Sooty (left) and Drake (right).

As for the prejudice that black dogs are more aggressive, Jessica strongly disagrees. “Raven is a very happy dog, carefree and loyal. She's quite protective over the family, but not aggressive. Sooty, she sticks to me like glue, wary of new things but also curious. Both girls are extremely smart and loving.”

There seem to be varying views on whether our prejudice against black dogs exists, but there is one recurring point that age and size also affect dog adoption choice. According to SPCA, “Younger and smaller animals tend to be more popular due to the limited living space in Hong Kong. Some older animals, especially those with conditions that may require special care and potentially expensive medical expenses, find it more difficult to find a new home.”

HKDR’s Sally agrees, “The biggest factor is the size for sure. We can find homes for smaller dogs of any colour, but the larger mixed breeds wait a long time, sometimes all their lives and they end up dying before finding a home.”

Molly, a mixed breed 10-year-old black dog is still waiting to be adopted at HKDR.

There is, however, no hard evidence or statistics supporting the struggles these dark-haired pups might be facing. But this strange mix of bias, irrational fear, and ‘supposed bad luck’, still lingers in the air at these dog shelters. 

But it’s not just black dogs. There are already so many stray, injured and abused animals at shelters that are just waiting to be rescued. The SPCA stated that an AFCD report found more than 600 puppies are being sold in pet shops every single month. Meanwhile, the most recent government statistics revealed that 1,269 stray dogs and cats were caught in 2019. A year in which the rehoming rate of dogs and cats received by AFCD Animal Management Centres (AMCs) was only 28 percent, while the euthanization rate was about 48 percent. 

I have to admit, a light coloured coat had caught my eye when I was looking for a dog to adopt at the shelter, but the truth of the matter is that a dog’s fur has nothing to do with its character or the connection that you're going to have with this animal. So, as I leave my prejudice at the kennel door and consider adopting a black dog myself, the big question is, will you?

If you are considering adopting, you can check out our list of where to adopt pets in Hong Kong for the shelters and rescue centres doing great work to save dogs, cats, rabbits, turtles, and more in the city.

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