Big black dogs are among the last animals to be adopted, but local shelters are trying to turn that around with makeovers and a little better marketing.

Sometimes, all it takes is better lighting, a brightly colored collar, or even a unique squeaky toy in its cage for an animal to be noticed, shelter workers say. Black dogs just need a little help standing out.

Employees at local shelters said they have problems finding homes for black dogs.

That's definitely "the shelter worker's perception," throughout the country, said Jacque Schultz, the senior director of community outreach for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "If you see a row of 20 black dogs, they fade from your memory," she said.

"There's very little in the way of research" on whether black dogs are euthanized at higher rates, she said, but it's likely. "The longer you're at a shelter, the greater the risk," she said.

Adult black cats don't fare any better, said Emily Laurie, public relations coordinator for Pet Helpers on James Island. About half of the cats up for adoption at Pet Helper are black. "Some of the nicest animals here have black coats," Laurie said.

"It's such a desperate situation for black animals," said Kay Hyman, director of outreach and communication, for the Charleston Animal Society.

And the big black adult dog has three strikes against the likelihood of it being adopted. Many people tend to shy away from dogs that are large, more than 2 years old and black, Hyman said.

And big black dogs are one of the most common animals brought into the shelter, she said. "In the South, we see a lot of labs and lab-mixes," she said. Sometimes, she said, shelter volunteers transport the dogs to other parts of country where the large black canines are less common, she said.

The shelter is planning to hold an event sometime this summer called Black Dog Sunday, she said. People can come in that day and adopt a black dog at a reduced price. It has held such events twice in the past, she said, and the events have been successful.

Marcia Atkinson, director of the Doc Williams SPCA in Berkeley County, said with black dogs, "we make efforts to showcase them in extra special conditions."

The shelter keeps the black dogs near a light so their coats look shiny, and puts colorful collars on them, she said.

Shelter employees said they really don't know why black dogs are adopted less often, beyond not standing out as much as their lighter-coated counterparts.

Sharon Atkinson, manager at the Frances Willis SPCA in Summerville, said it's difficult to see black dogs' faces and that a sweet face can win over a person looking to adopt a pet. It's especially hard to see their faces through the bars of a cage, she said. So shelter staff members try to get the dogs out to adoption events where people can interact them and "see their full potential."

It's important that animals at shelters get noticed because many shelters have to euthanize animals if they run out of space to house them. Employees at local shelters said they don't track euthanizations by an animal's color.

Kim Intino, director of shelter services for the Humane Society of the United States, is an expert who disagrees with anecdotal reports from shelter workers that black dogs are euthanized at a higher rate. A study conducted by Pet- health Inc., a pet insurance company, suggests they're not, she said, but added the study didn't include a representative sample of shelters. Intino agrees that it takes longer for black dogs to be adopted. The trouble shelters have in finding homes for black dogs motivates staffers to "make them noticeable for their personalities," she said.

"You don't want them to blend together and become the six black dogs at the shelter," she said.

Kristin Kifer, operations manager at Pet Helpers, which doesn't euthanize animals, said it's even tough sometimes to find homes for black puppies, though nowhere near as hard as it is to find homes for adult black dogs.

The shelter now has a litter of six black puppies that are about 8 weeks old. They've been at the shelter for a week and none of them have been adopted. "Puppies usually fly out the door," she said.