Pooch photo se­ries aims to counter un­fair rep­u­ta­tion of black dogs


It was a sum­mer day at the dog park when Fred Levy, a pro­fes­sional pet pho­tog­ra­pher, overheard a con­ver­sa­tion that he couldn’t shake off.

A woman was talk­ing about “Black Dog Syn­drome” — a the­ory that black dogs are less likely to be adopted than those with lighter coats, per­haps be­cause of su­per­sti­tion or a no­tion that black dogs are ag­gres­sive. Ex­perts de­bate whether it’s a myth or re­al­ity, but it struck Levy.

“A dog shouldn’t be over­looked just be­cause of its coat,” Levy said. “That’s a mi­nor el­e­ment when it comes to the dog.”

That dog park visit was al­most two years ago, but it in­spired Levy to take on a project that’s still gain­ing in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion. He calls it the Black Dogs Project, a photo se­ries that fea­tures black dogs against black back­drops, aim­ing to cap­ture their beauty and counter neg­a­tive stereo­types.

The pho­tos struck a chord on­line and quickly went vi­ral. Com­menters raved about the strik­ing de­tails Levy brought out in each por­trait — the soul­ful eyes, that one floppy ear, a Poo­dle’s ears blos­som­ing with fur. The mi­croblog­ging web­site Tum­blr counted Levy’s blog among its “most-vi­ral” of 2014.

Levy, 45, did it all in the base­ment stu­dio of his May­nard home, where he lives with his wife, two young boys and a black-and-white rat ter­rier named Toby.

“I knew that, for this project, it would hit a nerve with two dif­fer­ent groups,” Levy said. “Pet-lovers would love it, and pho­tog­ra­phers would like it if I did a good job.”

Af­ter ad­just­ing to the sud­den on­slaught of at­ten­tion, Levy de­cided to pub­lish the work in a book. It’s slated to be pub­lished this Septem­ber, ti­tled “Black Dogs Project: Ex­tra­or­di­nary Black Dogs and Why We Can’t For­get Them.” Part of the pro­ceeds will go to a res­cue group for Labradors in San Diego.

In the book and on his blog, Levy in­cludes sto­ries about each dog to counter myths about black dogs. Among those he high­lights is Den­ver, a 2-year-old black Labrador that’s also a ther­apy dog. Den­ver works at an el­e­men­tary school and spent time in a Bos­ton fire­house af­ter the marathon bomb­ing.

Amanda Lukowski, Den­ver’s owner, said the pho­tos were “breath­tak­ing.”

“It cap­tured his whole per­son­al­ity,” said Lukowski, of North­bridge. “Den­ver is a gen­tle gi­ant. He’s 40 kilo­grams — he’s a big boy — but he is the most kind, car­ing, com­pas­sion­ate dog ever.”

Early on, the black dogs that Levy pho­tographed came from own­ers he re­cruited through his Face­book page. Re­cently he also started work­ing with aban­doned dogs re­ferred to him by shel­ters. Af­ter train­ing his cam­era on them, he shares their pho­tos on­line in search of a per­ma­nent home.

But his mes­sage to view­ers isn’t nec­es­sar­ily to adopt black dogs. Mostly, he wants peo­ple to think be­yond ap­pear­ance when they’re adopt­ing pets.

“I want peo­ple to make in­formed de­ci­sions on the best dog that will fit into their life­style,” he said. “The fur shouldn’t be the de­cid­ing fac­tor.”

There’s no firm science to sup­port the ex­is­tence of Black Dog Syn­drome, and some stud­ies have dis­missed it as a myth. Maryann Re­gan, direc­tor of shel­ter op­er­a­tions at the An­i­mal Res­cue League of Bos­ton, said she doesn’t see wide­spread bias against black dogs. Still, she sup­ports Levy’s work.

“Any­thing that helps to break down any bar­rier to ben­e­fit an an­i­mal is won­der­ful,” she said.

Among the vic­to­ries that Levy ties to his project is the story of Annabelle, an 8- year- old black Labrador mix that was aban­doned for more than a year, en­dur­ing a bru­tal win­ter out­side. Af­ter hear­ing the story, Levy snapped three por­traits of Annabelle and posted him on his blog last month. Two days later, a fam­ily adopted her.

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