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man leaning on hand that covers his face
figure 1  


black dog. Melancholy, depression.

In describing her antipathy for the holiday season, columnist Maureen Dowd wrote of “embracing my Christmas black dog.”reference 1 The OED Online comments that “in some country places, when a child is sulky, it is said ‘the black dog is on his back’”reference 2



1. Dowd, Maureen. 2004. Jingle Bell Schlock. New York Times, Dec 5, 13.

2. The Oxford English Dictionary Online. 3d ed. Oxford University Press, 2005. Accessed Mar 6 2005 from http://
Bill and Hillary Clinton wearing tee shirts that each has a picture of a black dog on the front
figure 2  

Black Dog, The. A hot spot on Martha's Vineyard in Vineyard Haven, visible the moment you get off the ferry.

It's said that for those who know, the logo alone is enough to speak of not just the Tavern and Bakery that bear the name, but also the Vineyard as a whole. The Vineyard (which is what you call it if you are a familiar) is a very chi-chi spot: summer home to presidents, pundits, and personalities. Being in the know about this topic puts you in special company. One observer likens the Labrador silhouette that adorns the establishment's T-shirts to a kind of Hard Rock Café insignia for the upper classes.reference 3

The original black dog, known as “Black Dog,” was the trusty companion of the Shenandoah schooner captain, Robert Douglas, who started the tavern in 1971.reference 4


3. Plastic user, unknown. 2001. Black Dog. Plastic. Automatic Media, Inc. Accessed Sept 2 2001 from http:// www. altculture/ 01/ 04/ 06/ 2115218.shtml.

4. The Black Dog Story. The Black Dog, 2000. Accessed September 2 2001from http:// Community/ index.cfm? BD_Story and Douglas, John B. 1998. Black Dog. Black Dog Tavern. Accessed Sep 2 2001 from http:// artvt/ blackdog.htm andTime Warner Bookmark. 2001. The Black Dog Summer on the Vineyard Cookbook by Joe Hall and Elaine Sullivan. The Books. Accessed Sep 2 2001 from http:// books/ 66/ 0316339326/ index.htm.
A pub sign that says 'The Black Dog Bar Le Tchan du Bou˘lÚ'
figure 3  

black dog. (ghost) Originally from British folklore; sometimes used in literature. The ghostly dog comes out only at night, and is especially large with glowing eyes. It is considered an omen of death.

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a picture of a black dog in a cage with a sign that says "adopt me" spacer
figure 4  

black dog syndrome. This is not another term for Seasonal Affective Disorder. Apparently, black dogs are so unlikely to be adopted from an animal shelter that shelter workers have a name for the problem.reference 5

“There's not a lot of that type of statistics on many aspects of sheltering,” says Kim Intino, the director of animal sheltering issues for the Humane Society of the United States. “But I think that every person that has worked in a shelter can attest that in shelters animals with black coats can be somewhat harder to adopt out—or to even get noticed.”reference 5

The article on offered a number of theories for the problem from the idea that black dogs look older to superstitions about black dogs and their association with depression. Maybe it's unconscious prejudice, what do you think?

5. Dahl, Melissa. 2008. Black Pups Face Doggie Discrimination. NBC. Accessed Jan 13 2009 from http:// id/ 23472518/.

6. Ibid.


About the illustrations: Figure 1 shows a depressed man. While the black dog is not visible on his back, the sense of hopelessness and melancholy is evident.

Figure 2. Here we see two of the more recently famous habitués of Martha's Vineyard sporting their Black Dog identities. However, I have to admit that the paparazzi did not take this snap; I had to manufacture it.

Figure 3 is a photograph of the Black Dog Pub Sign by Man vyi, who has released it into the public domain.

Figure 4 is collaged from several images trouvées.

see also: “A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.” Last updated: January 13, 2009
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