Black Dog, Black Duck

Do you know about Black Dog Syndrome?

It’s when black dogs are passed over for adoption, in favor of lighter ones. Black dogs are said to be put down more often in the South, a combination of superstition and residual racism.

I’d never heard of it. Nor had Amy Scarella. But after the 1994 Staples graduate began an animal rescue effort a few years ago, she did.

“Pretty twisted,” she calls it. So she made black dogs her “pet” project.

Little Black Dog Rescue is an outgrowth of her “Bark Camp” doggie play group, which morphed into a dog-walking business, which became a full-time gig.

Amy Scarella, and one of her black dogs.

Amy Scarella, and one of her black dogs.

Working with Westport Animal Shelter Advocates and the Animal Center in Newtown, Amy learned about unwanted dogs brought north for adoption. Then she saw other dogs on Facebook. One — with 150 flea bites — had been abandoned.

She arranged to transport it here. It would cost $600 to fix its leg, so she started her own rescue organization.

Soon, she was working with 1 or 2 black dogs at a time. One had a litter of 9 puppies, which she placed in Westport, Fairfield and Norwalk homes.

Little Black Dog Rescue was privately funded. Recently, it received 501(c)(3) status. Now Amy can apply for grants, and donors earn tax deductions.

She’s also planning her 1st real fundraiser. It’s at the Black Duck next Thursday (February 5, 6-8 pm). There’s an open bar, appetizers, silent auction, live music, and a slide show of doggy success stories.

Two days later (Saturday, February 7), 8 dogs will be featured at the Natural Pet Outlet in Black Rock. They’re available for pre-approval.

Storm is ready for adoption. He was left in an apartment in Bridgeport to fend for himself this winter.. He may be a mastiff/bully breed mix and is gentle and quiet. He is great with other dogs and knows basic commands.

Storm is ready for adoption. He may be a mastiff/bully breed mix. He is gentle, quiet, great with other dogs, and knows basic commands.

“I don’t do same-day adoptions,” Amy says. “I pride myself on matching dogs and families very well.”

She is passionate about her work. “All of these are ‘last-chance’ dogs,” she says. “If you can take a dog just for a day, you’ll see how great they are. They’re not wild; they’re sweet. And every black dog we save opens up space for another one.”

She has many helpers. Earth Animal supplies food. Greenfield Grooming cuts all the dogs, gratis. Pete Aitkin at the Duck has been “very generous.”

Amy also lauds her youth volunteers. Some are as young as 8 years.

Over the past 18 months, Amy has placed more than 70 dogs. One went to a family with 3 autistic sons. The animal was very energetic, but had not played well with other dogs.

It turned out to be a perfect fit. The 11-year-old son wrote Amy, thanking her for saving the dog and bringing him “my best friend.”

Kids love Amy's dogs.

Kids love Amy’s dogs.

Another dog — in a shelter for 6 months — was adopted by a Weston priest at St. Francis of Assisi. (“He’s the patron saint of animals,” Amy notes with wonder.) That dog is beloved by all the pre-school children there.

Rescuing animals is not all that Amy does. She still has her dog walking business (for all colors), and she works for a clothing line.

But Little Black Dog Rescue is her labor of love. Next Thursday, we all can share her love for dogs.

At the Duck.

(Tickets for the fundraiser are $30 in advance, $35 at the door. Order by PayPal, using this email address:




12 responses to “Black Dog, Black Duck

  1. Barbara Greenspan

    Amy is so special! I am truly impressed with her commitment to help animals. She connects with dogs on a whole other level. Go Amy!!!

  2. Thought of you and Belle when I read this. Hope you and your girls are well. Mary

  3. We met Amy at my stepson’s wedding in Cabo. My wife had read about Black Dog Syndrome and told Amy we had recently lost our 11 year old yellow lab. I wasn’t sure I wanted another dog, but Amy was willing to bring some dogs to our home, just to see if there was a good fit. She brought over two males on Saturday who freaked our cat out and then two female puppies on Sunday. She left one of the girls with us and before she had backed out of the driveway, my daughter said “this one is perfect for our family”. We now have a 5 month old black lab mix that is as sweet as can be and who has filled a big void in our hearts. Amy is wonderful!
    Lou Mall

    PS The puppy and the cat are becoming friends on the cat’s terms.

  4. Jeff Launiere

    I would not be so quick to partially blame racism in the south for this. Though from Westport, we have lived in the South since 2003. I always had black dogs in CT, however people need to use some common sense before blaming everything on racism.

    Wear black clothes in the middle of the summer and you overheat. Work on roofs or on the blacktop roads in the summer and you suffer. When we moved down south we had our black dogs and they were so uncomfortable.

    We still have one black dog and one with tan hair. The black dog wants to stay inside in the cool and when outside pants and looks miserable.

    Maybe we do not get black dogs out of necessity.

    • Marcy Anson Fralick

      I think you have something there. I have two black dogs and a black cat. They did just fine in the mountains of Colorado where the maximum summer temperature was maybe 80, at best. But, after three years here in Tucson, come summer, and they will not go outside at all. Fall, winter and spring, they’re fine, though. So, I do put stock in the dark fur, high heat theory.

      As an aside, you will see lots of dark colored cats and dogs either shaved, or with crew cuts in summer around Southern Arizona. A local groomer will advertise starting in mid-May, “Time for your fur babies’ annual summer hair cut”.

  5. Amy is a saint, the relentless work she does for and with these dogs is amazing. My family adopted one of her black lab mixes, Noah, back in September, and we could not be happier with this big guy. A great cause! Hope everyone can attend the fundraiser!!!!

  6. Black dog syndrome is real. I live in another area of the country and train dogs professionally as well as do volunteer work with dogs in a local shelter. We are well-aware of this syndrome. The dogs that get passed over time after time are the black lab/black lab mixes as well as chocolate labs. They’re a close second. Very sad. Labs are very loving dogs who make incredible family pets and good watch dogs for young children. I never feared for my young daughter’s safety with our lab out in the back yard with her. Labs do need lots of training and exercise to be a great house dog but once you pass that curve – great dogs for a family. Great for Amy — it’s hard work that can break your heart.

  7. Steve Axthelm

    Great work Amy! We got our wonderful Black Lab Walter as a rescue from the south five years ago with the help of WASA.

  8. Why Dan Woog! You old softy! Who would have known you’re really an animal lover a heart. Your post brought tears to my eyes.

  9. Laz - Dan Lasley

    I’ve heard of similar adoption issues for black cats. Subconscious superstition is often blamed.

  10. Sharon Paulsen

    “And we’re Back in Blaaaack!” (sing to AC/DC).

    What a feel good article!

    I’m going to tell my Mom about this as she is considering bringing a dog into her previously cat-occupied home! (maybe, lol).

    Incidentally, our family really never gave a hoot about the color or breed/origins of our furry friends, (many of which were rescue’s and feral’s over the years), that made their way into our lives. I am currently privileged to have a black n white long haired kitty gracing our home (feral, from the neighborhood). She would not enjoy the heat of the south very well, long haired ‘n all. I trained her to be an indoor-only-safe-and-sound cat anyway. Claws and all, ha! (Don’t ask me about the condition of our old couch).

    My hubby had a beloved black lab before we met, and “they” were living in the heat of Vegas, of all places! Needless to say, that dog spent a lot of time in the pool to stay cool!

    Hope The Duck can handle what could be a very large crowd of animal lovers – it’s not the largest place to host an event, but certainly a fun one!

    Good luck with the fundraising!

  11. Eric William Buchroeder 'SHS '70

    When I was a kid I always thought black was the only color Labs came in. I had two black Maine coon cats (both rescue animals) and a black dog (although it had a tan muzzle and paws). This “black dog syndrome” is a cause looking for a travesty. If you go into any shelter there are rescue animals of every size, shape and color. If someone cares enough to go into a shelter and provide a home for any pet I don’t think there’s any reason to lay a guilt trip on them. And equating color preference as to choice of animals to racism is just plain ridiculous and insulting to people of color and also people who love animals but don’t happen to have black-haired ones. The skin of every dog is the same color but superficiality doesn’t see that.