10 Reasons Dogs And Cats Linger In Shelters
Companion animal advocates know that shelters are essential. Having a safe place where homeless companions can live and receive care before they are adopted is crucial for many reasons. But shelters are never meant to be a place where animals linger indefinitely. Below, we explore some of the reasons – both common and unusual – why dogs and cats may not be adopted as quickly as we (and they) would hope. Click on the links in each description to explore a study on that very issue.
The ‘Pit Bull’ Effect
Even though the American Kennel Club doesn’t recognize pit bulls as a distinct breed, dogs that have “pit bull type” characteristics generally face higher rates of euthanasia, based on a perception of them as dangerous and unadoptable. In places with pit bull bans or Breed Specific Legislation, these dogs may be confiscated from their human companions and euthanized without recourse.
Dishonesty At Relinquishment Time
Some research has shown that people may intentionally understate their dogs’ problematic behaviors when they relinquish them to a shelter, to make them more appealing and try to improve their chances for adoption. Fortunately, there are quick and reliable behavioral tests that may help shelter workers match dogs to the most appropriate homes.
Too Much Stress
For cats, adjusting to the shelter environment is crucial: cats that seem more playful or happy are generally considered easier to adopt. However, shelters are unnatural environments, and cats may be housed either alone or in groups. In either case, providing cats with proper enrichment and space can help them adjust and could increase their chances of adoption.
Inadequate Match Making
One of the most important factors in a successful adoption is matching the personality of the companion animal with the personality of the adopter. This is especially important when you consider that, even when cats do make it out of shelters, they are sometimes returned by their new human companions. Initiatives such as the ASPCA’s “Meet Your Match Feline-Ality” program work to address this issue.
A Lack Of Human Contact
Gregariousness and friendliness can be beneficial in attracting people to adopt dogs. One study found that dogs who received positive human contact from shelter workers (and toys) increased the time they spent at the front quarter of their pen when humans were close. Spending time at the front of the pen can increase chances of adoption more than dogs who may be cowering at the back, or defensively barking.
Cats Have A PR Problem?
A study from PetSmart Charities found that a majority of respondents described cats as “moody, stubborn, aloof, and grouchy.” What’s more, 19% of those surveyed said that the cats in shelters are less adoptable than dogs. Given that statistics show that more shelter cats than dogs are euthanized each year due to overpopulation, it may be a case of perception dictating reality.
Shelters Have A PR Problem?
A study of what people want when they adopt dogs found that “42% said they would not consider adopting from a shelter.” Among the reasons why, 26% said they “didn’t think a shelter would have the type of companion they wanted,” while 27% said they wanted a purebred animal, with the presumption being that a shelter would not have one. These numbers suggest that shelters may need to do more to connect with people and let them know about the range of dogs in their current care.
Black Dog Syndrome
The crux of Black Dog Syndrome is that large black dogs are “extremely under-adopted” because of “a number of physical and environmental factors in conjunction with the Western symbolism of the color black.” Shelters have also noted that it can be hard to take pictures of black dogs and cats, which makes advertising them online more difficult. However, the book is still not closed on Black Dog Syndrome, as some data has shown no discrepancy in adoption rates of certain breeds.
A Reluctance To Give Companion Animals As Gifts
This is a potentially controversial one that flies in the face of prevailing wisdom of companion animal advocates. For a long time, we’ve worked under the assumption that animals adopted from shelters and given as gifts are not as “wanted” as companions adopted actively, and that they get returned to shelters more frequently. Interestingly, some data appears to contradict this: dogs and cats given as gifts are no more likely to be returned to shelters than those adopted normally.
The Stray Cat Strut
It’s hard being a stray cat on the streets, and that hard life seems to translate to the shelter as well. The ASPCA estimates that only 5% of cats who enter the shelter system as strays are returned to their homes, and “a staggering number of stray cats housed in shelters never find a permanent home.” One study in the U.S. found that, on average, surrendered cats were adopted 6 days sooner than stray cats, and people were less likely to adopt stray cats.