Pet homelessness is a serious issue in this country. Every year, we see upwards of 4 million dogs and cats euthanized in our nation’s animal shelters. Many of these animals are considered to be healthy and adoptable, yet many never find homes. And for many of those animals that are adopted, too many are relinquished back to shelters within the first six months.
In late 2011, American Humane Association’s Animal Welfare Research Institute launched the innovative Keeping Pets (Dogs and Cats) in Homes: A Three-Phase Retention Study. Research indicates that of the 117.5 million households in this country, 46.3 million own a dog while 38.9 million own a cat. Understanding the reasons for pet ownership and relinquishment is needed to develop strategy for reducing the number of homeless pets and lowering euthanasia rates. As with all of our work at American Humane Association, scientific facts will guide us toward potential solutions.
With generous support from PetSmart Charities, Inc., the first phase-Reasons for Not Owning a Dog or Cat-was completed, and American Humane Association is pleased to share these findings. During Phase I, our researchers interviewed 1,500 adult Americans who either owned a dog or cat at one time but no longer do so, or those who have never had an animal in their home (but may have had pets as children). Our goal was to learn why many Americans are not pet owners and if they are open to possible ownership in the future. We found that there are a myriad of barriers to pet ownership including the associated costs, perceived lack of time to care for an animal, and the grief over the loss of a previous pet. As we continue to study and understand the human-animal bond, we need to address grieving, as it was cited as a hindrance for one in five (20%) of previous dog owners and one in six (17%) of previous cat owners, even for those who lost a pet many years ago.
Alternatively, a number of respondents were open to the possibility of dog or cat ownership in the future:
- 45 percent of previous dog owners would consider obtaining another, while 34 percent of previous cat owners were receptive to another cat
- 25 percent of those who have never owned an animal said they were “probably” or “definitely” open to bringing a dog into their family compared to 10 percent for cats
- For future owners, shelters and rescue organizations present the most frequently-cited location for obtaining a new dog or cat-64 percent of previous dog owners and 56 percent of previous cat owners; for those who have never owned an animal, 51 percent said they would rescue or adopt a dog and 42 percent indicated likewise for a cat.
The second phase of the study is now underway. American Humane Association is working with a public animal shelter and private animal shelter in each of three major cities around the country to survey those who have adopted dogs or cats in the last six months. The goal is to determine if new owners still have the animals, and if not, what happened to them. If the human-animal bond could be nurtured and developed during this critical period, more animals could be retained in homes and receive the support needed from pet industries and the veterinary profession. Once the second phase of our study is finished, a report will likewise be distributed.
American Humane Association wishes to work with many partners and stakeholders as we address the source of future pets, the processes of acquisition, and the programs required to support new owners as they bond with pets. Such a bond is likely to improve the lives of humans in profound ways. Read the Phase I study here.