|Niobe in her Hannibal Lector issue muzzle.|
As a note, Niobe and Kieran always wear their muzzles in crowded places. For their protection as much as anyone’s. As much as I trust that they would never hurt anyone, there’s always the unexpected or unexplained. Such as the time that while trying to socialize Kinley (who is not particularly friendly or trustworthy around strangers. She was also born deaf and startles easily.) we took her into a pet store and a stranger walked by and saw her Halti. Wrongly assuming that the dog bridle was a muzzle, the woman said ‘look that dog is wearing a muzzle!’ and then for no sane reason that I could discern reached down and grabbed Kinley’s face. Surprisingly, Kinley did not bite the woman, although I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had. I always keep in mind that woman’s stupidity when walking into crowds with my dogs.
Anyway, the market was a bust. Most of the vendors were packing up to leave. The only thing I purchased were some perogies from our Russian food vendor. On the way home we stopped off at the drugstore and as I was securing Niobe to a tree in the shade to wait for me a cyclist approached to chain his bike up. ‘Your dog looks vicious’ was all he said as he walked past. Niobe was just standing there staring at me, ears pricked forward since she’d been listening to me talk to her moments earlier. Her curly tail was wagging slightly. No, he didn’t ask if she was friendly. Which is common enough and usually perceived as perfectly polite. He stated that she was vicious.
I was immediately filled with a great deal of annoyance which was probably obvious in my voice as I replied very curtly: ‘She’s not. She only looks that way to you because she’s wearing a muzzle and she’s black.’ He said nothing more and I walked away. Niobe sat patiently awaiting my return. In my experience the statement I made is true. When people see my dogs without the muzzles I have scores of people who want to pet them or remark on how adorable they are. Well actually, Kieran gets called adorable (I suspect the floppy ears and goofy expression are to blame) and Niobe is referred to as beautiful. When I put their muzzles on...they become vicious monsters in the eyes of the ignorant. Amazing that a couple of leather straps can achieve this. But it’s more than just the muzzle. A large part of this falls under the category of Big Black Dog Syndrome.
Big Black Dog Syndrome is defined as a phenomenon in shelters and pounds where unusually high numbers of big black dogs (BBDs) are overlooked by potential adopters and are left sitting in cages for years or are euthanized to make room for new dogs. There are many theories for why this happens:
• Black dogs do not photograph well. I can attest to this. I’ve spent much time trying to photograph my lovely black furballs, and the pictures never do them justice. I have many blurry photos of black fur with teeth or tongue. Because they don’t photograph well they don’t catch the eye of potental adopters.
• Black hair is more visible on light furniture and carpets. Since I have neither of these things it is not a problem for me, personally. My white cat Mau, on the other hand, leaves evidence of his presence everywhere.
• Black holds a superstitious element for many people. Black cats are bad luck (and also have a hard time being adopted from shelters). The bad guy is always black. Black signifies evil.
• Black dogs are seen by many to be more aggressive or unfriendly.
And it is this last theory that came into play at the farmer’s market. There is no reliable evidence to suggest that colour plays any part in the temperament of dogs, and yet perhaps on an unconscious level many people associate black dogs with meanness. This may be because of the general media portrayal of black dogs. Since black dogs aren’t easy to photograph, they aren’t used as often in commercials, television, or still ads.
Which dogs are best known in the media? Lassie, of course. The light coloured and long furred wonder-dog. Old Yeller...until the ending. Another light dog. The 101 dalmations. Lady and the Tramp. Benji. More recently homeward bound and Beethoven. All these ‘good dogs’ are portrayed by light coloured dog actors.*
When do you see Big Black Dogs in the popular media? Dobermans, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers are frequently used as guard dogs and attack dogs in movies. How many times has the human hero broken into a yard or building only to be chased by a black blur with teeth? And that’s the key. It’s an ill defined black blur of vicious teeth and growls. Scary and mean and without personality. You don’t need a dog to photograph well to capture that message.
And so with such a background Niobe is seen as a vicious dog before the person has done much more than glance at her colour, her alert ears, and her black studded leather muzzle. All forty pounds of her. The fact that she’s sitting nicely, watching her owner, obediently waiting for the next command, and the slight wag of the tail are not seen by the average person. She’s been stereotyped. The fact that she’s wearing a muzzle confirms it. She must be a dangerous dog.
|Niobe and Kieran. Clearly they are both vicious Big Black Dogs.|
Kieran and Niobe are both BBDs. They were also both rescued from shelters. Niobe, with her pointy ears, intelligent alertness, and vocalizations was abandoned at the shelter three times before she was a year old. I’m her fourth owner and she’s been with me for two and a half years. She has been with me sufficiently long enough for me to be offended when she has been unfairly cast into the roll of ‘bad dog’ based on her appearance alone.
‘Your dog looks vicious’. Honestly, what a rude statement to make to a dog owner.
*Yes, I’m aware that Cujo was also a Saint Bernard. He was also the star of the movie...and rarely is the bad dog cast as the star.