It is that time again—the time when folks start talking about black cats, including the potential myth that black cats are less likely to be adopted. For the past few years we have taken a peek at the data from the shelters we work closely with, and year after year we note that, at least in these organizations, black cats are adopted more than any other color of cat.
When talking to reporters on this topic, I am often asked why the belief that black dogs and cats are less likely to be adopted is so strong. Personally I think it comes from two things—one is human behavior, and the other is perception based on total numbers of animals entering a shelter.
There is a concept called "backfire” that I first learned about from the ever-curious Dr. Stephen Zawistowski. The essential idea is that sometimes facts counter to beliefs do not change minds, but instead cause folks to hold harder to their beliefs. We tend to grip hard to myths, and sometimes when our beliefs are challenged by data, we grip even harder. There was a nifty article in the Boston Globe a while back on the subject, and the author summarized as such: “Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.”
The research on backfire has focused mostly on politics and polarizing topics. Our field has polarizing topics and strong beliefs—such as free cats, gift adoptions and, yes, the belief that black animals are less desired.
The second reason I think keeping the myth alive is one we have hypothesized for a while. Could it be that there are simply more black dogs and cats entering the system, making it appear that they are more at risk? Let’s say 4 black dogs and 1 white dog enter the shelter, and the next day 1 white dog and 1 black dog are adopted—that leaves just 3 black dogs in kennels, shifting a perception of risk. However, the same number of black and white dogs were adopted!
Black dogs and cats—the chatter around the risk factors for these ebony cuties continues even as the evidence debunking the myth increases. I can never resist the opportunity to dig in with another view, using our Comprehensive Animal Risk Database (CARDS) that allows us to delve into individual animal data.
With a sample of the CARDS data, we are able to explore this a bit more. In 2013, we combined the data from 14 communities that partner with us to look at the risk for black dogs and cats vs. other colors. Almost 300,000 dogs and cats made up this data set, making for a rich sample.
As we dug in, what was most striking was the intake percentage. Just take a quick peek at the charts below and you can see that black is a popular color, and more black dogs and cats came in than other colors.
You will see this pattern continue when we look at adoptions. A higher percentage of black dogs and cats were adopted than any other color. For dogs, 10% more black dogs were adopted than the next highest color—brown dogs at 22%. And the difference was about the same for cats (other than gray being the next highest color adopted in cats).
And this year is no different. I recently pulled the numbers, and with the combined data of 65 agencies representing over 186,500 cats, we found that black cats are adopted more than any other color.
Same is true for black dogs! Also consistent is that more black cats are entering the shelter than other colors, and the end result is that while more are adopted, more are also euthanized.
It is for this reason that I urge you to take advantage of the season to run your very best black cat promotions and boost live outcome opportunities. Here are some ideas for inspiration.
Swinging back to backfire…
I understand some of you will read this and say that this is just not the case for you. And I will respectfully ask you to look at the data with an open mind and heart—as I think it may really be time to put this puppy to bed and focus on more cats going home.
ASPCA Vice President, Equine Welfare
Dr. Emily Weiss, PhD, CAAB, oversees strategic direction of the ASPCA Equine Welfare program, a part of the ASPCA's Anti-Cruelty Group. Weiss is a lifelong horse owner and trainer and has conducted research regarding adoption and rehoming of horses. Recently, she began leading the ASPCA's collaboration with The Right Horse Initiative, a collective of industry professionals and equine welfare advocates working to improve the lives of horses in transition by increasing training opportunities for horses and promoting adoption. Weiss leads efforts such as a pilot program with veterinarians and global animal health company Zoetis to provide access to vital veterinary care and increase the likelihood horses can remain in their homes. She also served as the ASPCA’s VP of Research & Development, overseeing research related to the animal sheltering field and developing assessment tools for shelter animals, including the SAFER assessment and Meet Your Match Canine-ality, Puppy-ality and Feline-ality. Before that she created training programs to improve husbandry and decrease stress for many zoo animals. Weiss is co-editor of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science and has published and lectured extensively in the field of applied animal behavior.
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