Sherri Stankewitz is an animal rescuer who takes a special interest in Black Dog Syndrome, an animal shelter phenomenon in which black dogs are passed over
Sherri Stankewitz is an animal rescuer who takes a special interest in Black Dog Syndrome, an animal shelter phenomenon in which black dogs are passed over for adoption in favor of lighter-colored animals. (Brittany Murray / Staff Photographer)

Sherri Stankewitz runs West Coast Animal Rescue in Long Beach and is an advocate for Black Dog Syndrome awareness. The group's Web site is www.westcoastanimalrescue.org.

Question: I wasn't aware that black dogs were so difficult to find homes for. What's the problem?

Answer: There are a few reasons. One, is they're perceived to be menacing. They usually have dark eyes and they just look dangerous to some people. Another is they're hard to photograph well, so when people are looking on Web sites to adopt an animal, black dogs just don't come across well.

Q: Do any black dogs get a pass? Aren't black labs pretty popular?

A: Not as popular as chocolate labs. If you go to a breeder, whatever they're charging for chocolate or other labs, the black lab will be $100 cheaper.

Q: And everyone still wants a golden retriever. Aren't those bred into craziness by now?

A: A little bit. Everyone wants one. A while back I had rescued a golden retriever and a flat-coated retriever, which is exactly like a golden except it's black. When I posted them on our Web site I got almost 100 calls asking for the golden, and none for the black. I told them the black was a lot better dog between the two. It was smarter, gentler, just a way better dog, but they wanted the golden.

Q: What about Obama's dog, Bo. He's black.

A: He's a Portuguese water dog, and they do get adopted quickly.


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It's an Obama thing, absolutely. The two breeds of black dogs that will get adopted quickly are the Portuguese water dog - and that's only since Obama got one - and the black standard poodle. Not other poodles, just the standard.

Q: And Barrack Obama's dog has a lot of white in him. I'm starting to see some kind of Bo-bama connection here... Does a black dog get adopted quicker if it has a little white on its nose or chest or paws?

A: Yes.

Animal rescuer Sherri Stankewitz takes a special interest in Black Dog Syndrome, an animal shelter phenomenon in which black dogs are passed over for
Animal rescuer Sherri Stankewitz takes a special interest in Black Dog Syndrome, an animal shelter phenomenon in which black dogs are passed over for adoption in favor of lighter-colored animals. (Brittany Murray / Staff Photographer)
If a dog has a litter and there are four black pups and a pup with a white stripe or paws, the one with the markings will always get adopted first. It takes two to three months longer for black dogs to get adopted than the other dogs in the same litter.

Q: Is the photography thing a big part of the problem?

A: It really is. I now make it a point to get a professional photographer to take pictures of black dogs we get.

Q: What dog is the hardest to find a home for?

A: Tan chihuahuas.

Q: How bad is the "tan chihuahua problem?" Should it get its own syndrome?

A: It's more like a plague. I was at a shelter the other day and just during the short time I was there at the counter, nine tan chihuahuas were brought in. You go to the shelter in Long Beach and every other cage has a tan chihuahua. From Jan. 1 to Sept. 19 this year, 235 tan chihuahuas - not all chihuahuas, just tan ones - were brought in to the Long Beach Shelter.

Q: And they're so common, I guess people don't go to the shelter to get one, they just get one from somebody down the street.

A: That's how I got started in animal rescue. I used to be a fashion designer in downtown Los Angeles, and you could drive around down there and just see 10 or 12 running around wild. If you wanted one, you could just pick one up. If you call any rescue group and tell them you want to bring a dog in, they'll ask you what kind of dog, and if you say tan chihuahua, they'll just laugh at you and tell you they're full.

Q: How do you try to increase awareness of Black Dog Syndrome?

A: We try to get people to actually see the dogs. Every year we do a 12 Days of Christmas at the PetsMart in Seal Beach where we'll bring dogs for adoption, many of them black dogs. This year's starts on Dec. 20. This is our fifth year. The first year we did it we got 108 dogs adopted.

Q: Do people want puppies the most?

A: It used to be that everyone wanted puppies, but they're a lot of work for the first year. Now we're getting more people that want a little bit of an older dog. That's why people like rescue groups like ours. We get them leash-trained and housebroken and they're all ready to bring home. At West Coast, we don't euthanize dogs. Eventually, even the senior dogs get a home. We recently placed a 10-year-old black Rottweiller. Some we've had for several years. We really ask people not to buy dogs from breeders or backyard puppy mills. What's really good is to get one from a shelter, because you really are saving a dog's life.

tgrobaty@yahoo.com, 562-714-2116, twitter.com/grobaty