Thursday, March 27, 2008

College Park resident helps darker canines get adopted with book

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Black dogs are more often overlooked and take longer to be adopted from shelters than other dogs, primarily because of their coat’s color, said members of several animal rescue organizations.

Trying to change those perceptions, College Park resident Pam Townsend wrote the book ‘‘Black is Beautiful, A Celebration of Dark Dogs.”

‘‘I wanted to educate people about the plight of black dogs in shelters and to get them to look at black dogs in a new way,” said Townsend, vice president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Humane Society of Prince George’s County. ‘‘They don’t all look the same. They are varied and distinctive.”

Townsend started volunteering at the SPCA⁄HS of Prince George’s County after adopting two black puppies and becoming intrigued with the plight of black dogs in rescue shelters.

‘‘It’s a national problem,” said Ann Ensminger, senior operations coordinator for Animal Friends in Pittsburgh, which puts up dogs for adoption. ‘‘The black dogs don’t jump out at clients who are walking through a kennel. We have done a lot to promote them.”

On the day after Thanksgiving, the center hosts a special event to promote the adoption of black-coated dogs. In 2007, Ensminger said there were 41 adoptions that day, which is typically the weekly average.

Maryland SPCA executive director Aileen Gabbey said that anecdotally, because no statistics are officially kept on what color dog is adopted, she would say that 1 in every 10 dogs adopted is black.

‘‘We try to decorate them or their cages like with a bandana or have a sign that says ‘I’m special. Don’t pass me by,’ but they do get passed by and it’s sad.”

The Montgomery County Humane Society in Maryland also experiences ‘‘the black dog and cat syndrome,” where people consider them bad luck, said Ashley Owen, society communications and marketing manager.

‘‘Some people come into the Humane Society looking to adopt a dog, and they choose that dog based on looks or appearance when they should be looking into the dog’s temperament, behavior, energy level and how that dog will fit into their lifestyle,” Owen said.

The society had a black cat adoption event in August 2007 in an effort to get more of them placed in homes. Thirty-six were placed, which Owen said was 75 percent more than the past six months.

Kim Intino, director of animal sheltering issues for the Humane Society of the United States, said there are additional challenges in promoting black dogs for adoption.

‘‘It can be a problem especially when they are housed next to each other and people might not notice them,” Intino said of darkened kennels that make black dogs less visible.

Townsend hopes to change that perspective with her book.

The book, released in December 2007, is mostly a pictorial, displaying 34 black dogs and a brief description of the dog’s pedigree.

Townsend contacted two publishing companies, but both rejected her proposal saying the focus was too narrow, she said.

Undaunted, she found a printer through her connections at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she works as a writer and editor for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. She self-financed the publishing of 500 copies, but declined to say how much she paid.

‘‘I liked the simplicity of it and the way the words matched the emotions on the dogs’ faces,” said Rob Esworthy, who purchased the book.

Townsend said profits from the sale would go to the SPCA⁄Humane Society of Prince George’s County.

The book is available at pgspca.org⁄store.

Townsend estimates that about 100 books have been sold so far.

E-mail Deborah Stoudt at dstoudt@gazette.net.

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