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Black shelter animals weren't getting adopted. A photographer had an idea: glam shots

Maggie Epling was looking for a chance to do something good during her summer break from college. She wanted to find an activity that combined her interests and she found the perfect opportunity at a local animal shelter.

"I thought about volunteering and I've always loved animals and photography," she told NPR.

For the past two weeks, Epling has been taking portraits of cats and dogs at the Pike County Animal Shelter in Pike, Kentucky.

The idea came to her after reading articles saying that animals with good photos are more likely to get adopted than those without. "So I just called the shelter and asked if I could come in and they seemed really grateful and appreciative," said Epling, who is a student at the University of Kentucky.

After hearing from other volunteers that black cats and dogs struggle to get adopted, she has been especially dedicated to making sure that those animals get great pictures. "They think part of it is superstition about black cats in particular, but it kind of carries over to black dogs, " she said.

Epling said that the shelter is in a rural area that's difficult to reach. But since her photos were added to the shelter's Facebook page, "they say they can't believe how many calls they're getting."

Part of her success, she said, is that she gets to know the dogs before taking their portrait. "That's how I get a sense of their personality," she said.

There's Blinky, a pit bull mix with one eye. She's been at the shelter the longest, and Epling hopes their recent photoshoot will lead to a new home for the pooch.

"She absolutely loves to go out and run and is a super sweet dog that loves taking photos. She just smiles for me and everything. I've really fallen in love with her and I'm hoping that somebody will come and take her."

There's also Jersey, a one-year-old female mixed breed that Epling describes as calm and well-mannered. Meanwhile, Tiny is a small mixed breed female with one blue eye and one brown eye with a silly personality, Epling said.

The phenomenon in which prospective pet adopters shun dark coated dogs is called black dog syndrome; for felines, it's black cat syndrome. But it is unclear how much the issue actually affects pet adoptions. A 2002 studypublished in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science found that black fur negatively influenced adoption rates for both dogs and cats. According to the report, "Black dogs had the least likelihood of being adopted compared to the reference coat color of black and tan." And dogs of all other colors, such as red, merle, and tricolor dogs, "were preferred only slightly over black and tan."

Meanwhile, a 2013 study that examined how long dogs remained in two New York shelters concluded that a pet's coat color had no effect on their length of stay. It also noted that Black dog syndrome may be limited to certain parts of the world where cultural traditions attach meaning to the color of an animal.

As of Tuesday, Epling said at least one of her glamour dogs had been adopted. Winona, a small beagle, found a forever home last week. In that case, the person came in and said, "We want to adopt this dog because we saw the photo on Facebook," Epling said.

"And when I came in today people at the shelter told me that I had no idea how many people had come in and bragged about my photos and talked about how the photos made them want to come to the shelter," she added proudly.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.