Three to four million healthy, adoptable cats and dogs are euthanized every year at shelters across the country, and others are released to the streets by previous owners. American Humane Association wants to discover the most effective ways for dogs and cats to find forever homes.
AHA’s Animal Welfare Research Institute yesterday released the results of the first phase of a three-part study, “Keeping Pets (Dogs and Cats) in Homes Retention Study.”
Phase I of the study, funded by a grant from PetSmart Charities, examines why so many American households don’t have pets.
Research indicates that of the 117.5 million households in the U.S., only 46.3 million have a dog in their family and only 38.9 million own a cat. Understanding why people choose whether or not to own a pet is the first step to develop ways to increase pet ownership and limit homeless cats and dogs and resulting euthanasia rates.
Reasons for Not Owning a Dog or Cat
In the first phase, “Reasons for Not Owning a Dog or Cat,” AHA interviewed 1,500 previous dog or cat owners and non-pet owners about their pet ownership decisions. Respondents who had owned a cat or dog in the past talked about their previous experience with pets, how they obtained them and what happened to those cats or dogs.
Phase II, also funded by PetSmart Charities, will find how many dogs and cats from a sampling of shelters and animal control agencies still remain in their new homes six months following adoption and what happened to pets who are no longer in those homes. Phase III will test practical interventions for improving retention rates for a new cat or dog.
What Stops People From Owning Cats and Dogs?
The study found that multiple major barriers exist – some suspected, some surprising – to dog and cat ownership:
• Perceived lack of time to care for pets
• Dislike of pets, especially cats (more than a third of non-pet-owners said they dislike cats)
• Lasting grief over the loss of a previous pet was cited as a significant obstacle to procuring a new pet by one in five (20%) of previous dog owners and one in six (17%) of previous cat owners.
Overall, almost half (49%) of respondents who have never owned a pet as an adult had a dog or cat as a child.
Some data were disheartening but pointed the way to future improvements and interventions:
• Fewer than one quarter of previous dog owners (22%) and one fifth of cat owners (18%) obtained their prior pet from a dog or cat shelter or rescue group
• 64% of prospective owners who previously owned dogs indicated that they would adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue organization
• 56% of prospective owners who previously owned a cat indicated they would adopt a cat from a shelter or rescue group
• Despite widely discussed physical and emotional benefits of pet ownership for older people, senior citizens were among the least likely to consider a pet. Among those 65 or older nearly six in 10 previous dog owners would not consider getting another dog and 66% of previous cat owners would not consider another cat.
o Among those who had never owned an animal, the figures were even bleaker: An overwhelming 90% of seniors said they would not consider getting a dog.
o 94% of seniors are not open to owning a cat. The study also details numerous demographic, societal and economic issues affecting pet ownership in the United States.
Lowering Barriers to Dog and Cat Ownership
The findings suggest that some of the more promising ways to increase pet ownership include:
• Supporting younger future cat owners and continuing to assess negative attitudes toward cats
• Finding ways to help people work through grief, celebrate the prior pet and reenter the ownership pool, because ongoing grief is a barrier to new pet ownership
• Supporting future owners who are more likely to adopt cats and dogs from shelters and rescue agencies
• Working with broad and diverse segments of society to reduce existing barriers to ownership, such as housing restrictions, veterinary costs and general expenses.
“There are still significant hurdles to overcome in helping to keep more of these healthy, adoptable animals out of the nation’s shelters,” said Dr. Patricia Olson, chief veterinary advisor for AHA and head of its Animal Welfare Research Institute. “Using the data gathered and the work to be done in future phases of this study, we hope over time to decrease pet homelessness and relinquishment.”
“We’re proud to fund this critical research on pet ownership and retention,” said Susana Della Maddalena, executive director, PetSmart Charities, Inc. “The information uncovered in this and future studies is sure to help us achieve our goal of finding a lifelong, loving home for every pet.”
“By understanding the reasons why so many Americans do not own a pet and learning what we can do to increase lifelong retention of those that do,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, President and CEO of the American Humane Association, “we can take the necessary steps to change minds, change policies and change activities to help get more of these beautiful animals out of shelters and into the arms of loving families.”
The complete study can be found here.