When I was very little some of my cousins had German shepherd dogs. I think they were retired police dogs because one of my cousins was a Chicago cop. These dogs and we children were always segregated at family gatherings. Nevertheless I became enchanted with the breed and as soon as we closed on the house I was in the market for a German. A couple months later we adopted a two-year-old black-and-tan named Heidi. (From a farmer named Hans. Honest.) I phoned my best friend immediately, who said she’d never heard me so excited. (This was before I got pregnant. Honest.)

Heidi barked almost not at all and she herded the cats so well we sometimes felt bad we didn’t have a couple sheep on hand for her enjoyment. Her judgment and temperament were superb. Bomb-proof, they call it. Our toddler goddaughter crawled all over her. One day at home I ended up in a heated exchange with an acquaintance who had worn out his welcome but was disinclined to leave. He took a step toward me but Heidi walked between us and stopped there. He stepped back again, visibly startled, and left.

Such was the subtle power of the dog and she helped me keep a promise to my grandmother about personal safety. I like to hike trails in our parks and forest preserves or take a late evening stroll through the neighborhood, not always with human company. Heidi was Granny-approved. Gran had grown up behind the Chicago stockyards and once while returning home by cutting through the railyard she was grabbed by a tramp and saved by her bulldog Buster.

Heidi’s been gone seven-eight years. About a year after her death we began monitoring the DeKalb County Animal Shelter via their list o’ pets in the classified section of the Sunday Chronicle. Whenever they listed a shepherd, I’d take my pile of old Chronicles up to leave there and check out the dog in question before I left. One day I returned home with a prospect in mind. “Husband,” I said, “I have fallen in love. He’s big, he’s black, and he has a wonderful voice.”

“Found a shepherd, huh?” asked the Hubster.

“How did you know?”

“Just seems unlikely that you met Barry White.”

Buddy is not your classic black-and-tan or sable but all black with light brown eyes, smaller and without the incredible hip angulation (and the dysplasia that often accompanies it) because he’s from a working line rather than a show line. Unlike Heidi, he is super-sensitive and requires more ingenuity and supervision. If you try to trim his nails he gets hysterical in the worst way, and he thinks toddlers are minions of Satan. With Buddy we have to do the segregation thing. A lot. Sometimes we refer to him as “the police academy drop-out.”

Still, he’s quite loveable and loyal to his friends though even less approachable than Heidi on sidewalk or trail. Buddy is hardly larger and no more wolflike than she was so over time I began to suspect that his being black had something to do with the extra wariness. One time he and our collie mix sneaked out together and meandered half a mile to Twin Tavern for a beer. Half a dozen people called Animal Control about Buddy, but nobody even mentioned the other dog.

I was astonished. “Buddy’s been profiled,” I told the Hubster.

Yesterday my suspicions were confirmed when I came across mention of “black dog syndrome.” This is conventional wisdom at animal shelters that big black dogs will be the last to find homes and are more at risk for being euthanized. I’d like not to believe it but my experiences suggest otherwise. Sure, it could be the big part or the shepherd/wolfish part but don’t you wonder at the psychology of breeding a black dog in the first place? Think Rottweiler or Dobie, or the type of shepherd you see working for the police or military. The default mutt, two generations from the purebred, is always brown or brownish.You have to want black to get black.

So, I think there’s something to the notion of a “black dog syndrome” and to compensate for this calamity, there will always be a place in my life for a big black buddy.