American Humane Association Study and Literature Review Indicates Hundreds of Thousands of Adopted Pets are Given Up, Lost, or Die Each Year

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 8 ” New research published today by American Humane Association indicates that more than one in 10 animals adopted from animal shelters are no longer in their homes six months later. Based on this data and a comprehensive literature review, this could represent several hundred thousand animals each year who are given away, are lost, die, or abandoned to uncertain fates. The study, which is being released during American Humane Association’s “Be Kind to Animals Week®,” is part of a major effort to determine why many healthy, adoptable pets are relinquished and reduce the numbers of animals euthanized each year before finding loving homes.

For the past year, American Humane Association, the nation’s leading charity dedicated to the protection of children and animals, has been conducting research to better understand why people own or do not own pets, why they give them up, and what strategies might be developed to ensure animals find”and stay in”adoptive homes.

Today, the organization’s Animal Welfare Research Institute published the results of Phase II of the “Keeping Pets (Dogs and Cats) in Homes Retention Study,” funded through a generous grant from PetSmart Charities®, examining the fates of dogs and cats adopted from six shelters in three cities across the United States. While Phase I of the study was designed to learn why so many adult Americans did not have pets in their homes, Phase II surveyed people who had obtained a dog or cat from a shelter six months post-adoption. Topline results include the following:

  • Overall, more than 1 out of every 10 pets was no longer in the home six months after adoption. Half of the pets no longer in the home were returned to the shelters of acquisition and half had other outcomes (given to another person, lost, or died).
  • Retention rates ranged from 87 percent to 93 percent across the six study shelters, with no significant differences in retention rates by state, type of shelter, or shelter services. There were no differences in retention rates between dogs or cats, or between male or female pets.
  • There was a significant difference in retention rates associated with veterinary visits. The retention rate among pets that had had a veterinary visit was 93.3 percent, with no difference between dogs and cats. However, among the relatively small number of pets who had not seen a veterinarian, only 53.3 percent of dogs compared to 79.4 percent of cats were retained, and 92.9 percent of non-retained dogs and 61.5 percent of non-retained cats had left their homes within two months of adoption. Overall, dogs were slightly more likely to have had a veterinary visit (89%) compared to cats (77.5%). For both species, retained pets were more likely to have had a veterinary visit compared to non-retained pets. There was no overall increase in the likelihood that a pet would have had a veterinary visit whether or not their owners had been offered a free exam. Although these data suggest a beneficial effect associated with visiting the veterinarian (i.e., animals who went to the veterinarian were more likely to be retained), we should be cautious. It is difficult to discern from these data whether there was some beneficial impact associated with veterinary visits or if, in fact, some owners chose not to visit a veterinarian until theywere sure they would keep the pet.
  • Owners aged 25-34 had the highest percentage of retention of their adopted pets of any age group, followed closely by those aged 45-54.
  • Surprisingly, there was no difference in retention amongst owners who had done much research on a pet before adopting and got what they wanted, and those who made a spur-of-the-moment decision.
  • Owners who sought advice and support about the pet from family, friends, or a veterinarian following adoption were three times more likely to retain their pets than those who sought no advice. Conversely, those who sought advice from shelters were about half as likely to retain their pets. One possible explanation for the phenomena is that owners will seek counsel from different sources depending upon the degree of difficulty they are having, and owners having more problems with their pets may be more likely to seek help from the adoptive shelter or as a last resort prior to returning the animal to the originating shelter.
  • There was no difference in retention between first-time pet owners and those with prior pet experience.
  • Interestingly, owners reporting that their pets took between two weeks and two months to adjust to their home were more likely to retain their pets than those who reported that their pets took less than two weeks to adjust or those who reported that their pets never did adjust to the home. Clearly factors other than a pet’s adjustment were involved in whether or not they were retained.
  • Pets who slept on a family member’s bed were more likely to be retained than pets who slept elsewhere in the house (pet bed, floor, crate, furniture).
  • When owners ranked various concerns (e.g., cost, time commitment, health issues, behavioral issues) as high, pets were less likely to be retained than when such concerns were ranked lower or not present.
  • Retention of a pet was higher for college graduates and lower for those living in a small town.

The findings from the participants in this study may indicate that, nationally, hundreds of thousands of adopted animals are no longer in the home six months post-adoption. Furthermore, the rates in this study may represent a “best-case scenario,” especially if nonparticipants and non-respondents are less likely to retain their pets than those who volunteered information. Despite the laudable efforts of shelters across the nation, given adoption numbers in the United States, even the rates in this study would suggest that a large number of adopted pets are not retained more than six months.

In the first phase, “Reasons for Not Owning a Dog or Cat,” American Humane Association interviewed 1,500 previous pet owners and non-pet owners to determine the reasons behind their pet ownership decisions and found there are several significant barriers to pet ownership, including housing restrictions, health and financial concerns, and ongoing grieving from loss of a prior pet.

American Humane Association researchers will use the data gleaned from the first two phases of this study to design intervention strategies for new and prospective adopters, which will be implemented in the study’s final phase, to be carried out later this year. Funding to complete the project is being sought. Prospective supporters should contact American Humane Association at 866-242-1877 or

“This study explores three of the greatest issues facing dogs and cats today: the lack of willing adopters, the reasons so many pets are leaving their homes, and the pressing need to create strategies to help Americans retain their new family members,” said Dr. Patricia Olson, chief veterinary advisor for American Humane Association and head of its Animal Welfare Research Institute.

“We are dedicated to finding new ways to help more Americans adopt pets and have these family members stay in their new homes forever,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, President and CEO of American Humane Association. “Phase I and II of this critical study have provided us with key data about the problems, as well as hints to where solutions may lie. We now need support from those interested in the welfare of animals to help fund Phase III so we can devise the kind of on-the-ground campaigns that may save significant numbers of lives that otherwise would be lost, and enable us to build a more humane world.”

The complete study can be found at Click to enlarge type.

About PetSmart Charities

PetSmart Charities, Inc. is a nonprofit animal welfare organization that saves the lives of homeless pets. More than 400,000 dogs and cats find homes each year through our adoption program in all PetSmart stores and our signature adoption events. PetSmart Charities grants more money to directly help pets in need than any other animal welfare group in North America, with a focus on funding spay/neuter programs that help communities solve pet overpopulation. PetSmart Charities is a 501(c)(3) organization, legally independent from PetSmart, Inc.

About American Humane Association

American Humane Association is the country’s first national humane organization and the only one dedicated to protecting both children and animals. Since 1877, American Humane Association has been at the forefront of virtually every major advance in protecting our most vulnerable from cruelty, abuse and neglect. Today we’re also leading the way in understanding the human-animal bond and its role in therapy, medicine and society. American Humane Association reaches millions of people every day through groundbreaking research, education, training and services that span a wide network of organizations, agencies and businesses. You can help make a difference, too. Visit American Humane Association at today.


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