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Norton barber criticized for ‘Black Labs Matter’ sign seeking MSPCA donations

A barber in Norton is drawing criticism for posting the phrase “Black Labs Matter” on a sign outside his shop.

Tom Stevens, who has owned the barber shop on West Main Street for 10 years, said he was trying to raise money for the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and people are misconstruing his message.

The phrase is similar to the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” a national protest movement that was spurred by the deaths of unarmed black people during confrontations with police officers in recent years.

Daunasia Yancey, lead organizer of Black Lives Matter Boston, said the sign is “awful.”

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“I think that the idea that folks can even make a tongue-in-cheek statement shows how clueless they are to the movement we are fighting for,” she said. “It’s not a joke where you can turn it into something else ... The fact that you feel like you can laugh about it is the problem.”

Some people who took to the barber shop’s Facebook page, where an image of the sign was posted, agreed.

“This sign skirts the line of good taste,” one person wrote.

Stevens said he was merely trying to raise awareness about a claim that black dogs — like Labrador retrievers — are not adopted as frequently as other canines due to their color.

“Everybody is trying to make me something I’m not. People are really reaching,” he said.

The activist group “The Black Dog Rescue Project,” which “roots for the underdog” by raising awareness about what’s referred to as Black Dog Syndrome, has championed the idea that black rescue dogs are typically the last to be adopted due to superstitions and Hollywood stereotypes.

That theory has been disputed, however. And in Massachusetts, it’s not a problem, according to the MSPCA, the organization Stevens said he was trying to raise money for.

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Rob Halpin, a spokesman for MSPCA-Angell, would not comment directly on Stevens’s sign. But Halpin did say in a statement that “black dogs are not surrendered to nor adopted from our three adoption centers in Massachusetts at a rate any different from that of any other dog.”

Stevens said some news reports had “tried to make me look like a racist,” but the sign was “about the animals.”


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.