Late in 2011, the American Humane Association launched a one-of-kind study to understand why three to four million adoptable pets are euthanized every year in shelters across the country. “Keeping Pets In Homes” is a three part study to curb pet homelessness. The goal is to learn why some people adopt a cat or dog, some remain pet-less and others surrender them to shelters. The first phase of the research was just released and the results are very interesting.
While there are 117.5 million households in the U.S., only 46.3 million have a dog in their family and 38.9 million own a cat. That leaves 27.5 percent of the households in America without a pet. The first phase of Keeping Pets In Homes examined the reasons why so many people do not share their lives with furry friends.
Funded by a generous grant from PetSmart Charities, phase one, “Reasons For Not Owning A Dog Or Cat,” interviewed 1,500 adults who previously owned a pet and non-pet owners to determine the reasons behind their decision. Understanding the respondents’ hesitation to bring a cat or dog into their families is the first step toward developing effective strategies to get more homeless pets adopted.
Phase one also examined if people in the study were open to the possibility of becoming a pet guardian in the future. Here are the top reasons cited for not owning a cat or dog:
- The cost associated with having a pet is too high.
- Not enough time to care for an animal.
- The grief over the loss of a previous pet was too much to handle.
Surprisingly, people named the death of a previous pet as the top reason why they did not currently have an animal in their household. Twenty percent of dog owners and 17 percent of cat owners said the stress of watching a beloved pet grow old and die was so traumatic they had chosen not to go through experience again.
When respondents were asked if they were open to the possibility of pet ownership in the future they said:
- 45 percent of previous dog owners would consider getting another, while 34 percent of previous cat owners were receptive to another cat.
- 25 percent of those who had never owned an animal said they were “probably” or “definitely” open to bringing a dog into their family compared to 10 percent for cats.
- Previous owners said they would adopt from a shelter or rescue organization for obtaining a new dog or cat.
- Those who have never owned an animal, 51 percent said they would rescue or adopt a dog and 42 percent indicated they would use a shelter to adopt a cat.
Some of the data from the study was discouraging. More than a third of non-pet owners said they dislike cats and only 22 percent of previous dog owners and 18 percent of former cat owners said they obtained their past pets from a shelter or rescue group. And despite the documented health and emotional benefits of pet ownership, an overwhelming 90 percent of seniors said they were not open to owning a dog or cat in the future.
“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 American Humane Association’s 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.”
“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.”
Phase two of the study is underway. The focus is to examine people who have adopted a cat or dog in the last six months from public and private shelters in three major cities and determine how they and their new pets are adapting.
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