TODAY   |  March 29, 2014

‘Black dog syndrome’: How fur color influences choosing a pet

Black dogs at shelters across the country are often overlooked, and are euthanized at a much higher rate, leading to many to brand the issue “black dog syndrome.” TODAY’s animal advocate Jill Rappaport reports.

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>>> this morning in "today's pets," black dog syndrome. it turns out, about 8 million animals live in shelters across the country, and one group of dogs is routinely passed over, simply because of the color of their fur.

>> and our animal advocate, jill rappaport, has more on why this continues to happen. jill , good morning.

>> this syndrome is so upsetting. it's unbelievable. despite the fact that most of these animals are healthy, beautiful, loving pets, a majority of them will get euthanized simply because they're black. they are sweet, loveable, and often unwanted.

>> if you're a black dog and you come to our shelter, your chances of getting adopted is pretty poor. unfortunately.

>> reporter: this growing plight is called black dog syndrome.

>> black dog syndrome is simply where black dogs get overlooked, and they're euthanized at a much higher rate.

>> reporter: from coast to coast , shelters are overrun with animals like these, even puppies who are just discarded because of the color of their fur. all because of what shelters claim are unwarranted misconceptions.

>> there are some old wiv's tales that black dogs are mean, and i think one of the biggest problems is they don't photograph well unless you have the right lighting and good photography equipment, so their pictures don't stand out.

>> reporter: in north carolina , hundreds just march to raise awareness about black dog syndrome.

>> more the larger ones, like the black labs, pit bulls , rot wilers, donor means are more affected. every dog should be judged on their own. a big black dog

>> reporter: this cause strikes a chord with country legend emmy lou harris .

>> there are so overwhelming numbers of them.

>> reporter: it was the rescue of her black dog , bella, that changed her life forever.

>> sweetest dog in the world.

>> reporter: the grammy award -winner has turned her nashville estate into a shelter.

>> i love music, but to have something else come in to fill your heart and know that you are making a difference, it's a gift.

>> reporter: advocates like emi lou harris say the stigma facing black dogs is an ongoing situation impacting shelters nationwide and that shedding a light on this problem could save more lives in the future.

>> there's plenty of black dogs out there in shelters waiting for a home, and maybe you'll be lucky enough to find yourself one.

>> jill has some friends that she brought along. we're making friends with them quite quickly.

>> i know.

>> they love you.

>> so sweet.

>> i see someone going home with somebody. now, here is the perfect example. black lab pure-bred puppies, no less, available for adoption from mainland animal rescue . look. stanley and stella !

>> stella .

>> they're very dramatic.

>> stella !

>> but really, the biggest problem, they say, with the black animals -- and i feature that in the story -- is that they don't photograph well.

>> right.

>> it's very hard to picture and pick up their beautiful features.

>> if they shed, you don't see it, huh?

>> there you go, another reason to adopt a dog.

>> and it's just unbelievable. and of course, they'll get very big, but they are so special, so beautiful.

>> they're really good dogs.

>> i'm really glad you brought attention to this. i hadn't heard it before and i think it's fascinating.

>> a very serious plight and they're beautiful animals and we need to give them a beautiful, loving home.

>> you have to leave the phone alone. how else can we take pictures of you?

>> they are adorable.

>> you bring up a good point, we need photographers to go to shelters to make them look more beautiful and help them.

>> a great way to help them and help them find a loving home. you two are not going to have a problem, i don't think.

>> oh, i don't think so.