Companion Animal Adoption Follow-Ups In Australia
Around the world, animal shelters face pressure to accommodate and find homes for millions of companion animals each year. Compounding this struggle are people who adopt animals but then return them for a variety of reasons, including behavioral issues and conflicts with resident animals or children. This paper, published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, sought to shed light on possible reasons for relinquishment of companion animals by assessing the satisfaction of people who recently adopted cats and dogs. It also investigated whether the presence of undesirable behaviors was associated with the number of days animals had spent in a shelter.
The authors conducted a cross-sectional study of people who had adopted a cat or dog from the Animal Welfare League in Wingfield, South Australia, within the previous one to ten weeks. Participants were asked to rate their levels of satisfaction regarding their new companion animal’s behavior and health and to note the presence of behavioral issues and how well animals coexisted with resident children and companion animals. The authors also recorded background information on admissions reasons (owner surrender, stray, born in shelter, return to shelter) and behavioral and health assessments.
Results include the following:
- The majority of adopted dogs were strays, and no significant difference was found based on admission reasons regarding behavioral satisfaction, health satisfaction, and overall adopter satisfaction.
- The majority of adopted cats were strays and no significant difference was found based on admissions reasons regarding health or overall satisfaction. However, there was a significant association between admission reasons and behavioral satisfaction, as participants with cats who had previously been returned reported significantly lower satisfaction.
- Undesirable behaviors were present in 53.3% of dogs and 14.3% of cats, yet 64.5% of dog and 85.1% cat adopters were very satisfied with their behavior and only 3.7% of dog and .6% of cat adopters were dissatisfied with their behavior.
- There was no significant correlation between the number of days spent in the shelter and the presence of undesirable behaviors in the adopted cats. However, among dogs, those displaying undesirable behaviors had spent an average of 7.8 days less in a shelter than those not displaying undesirable behaviors.
- There was no difference in overall satisfaction between households with and without children or between households with or without other companion animals.
The authors state that their major findings were that “undesirable behavior was present in over half of the adopted dogs, with dogs with a behavioral problem spending fewer days in the shelter versus those without a behavioral problem. Yet, adopters still expressed high levels of behavioral and overall adoption satisfaction.” They speculate that adopters had realistic expectations and were therefore not unsatisfied when dogs displayed undesirable behavior and were willing to work with them. They also note that their finding that dogs who spent longer amounts of time at the shelter had fewer behavioral problems is consistent with other studies and may be the result of dogs becoming calmer from being at the shelter longer as well as staff spending more time working with them. Additionally, the authors note that findings on conflicts with resident children and pets was not consistent with some other studies.
For advocates and shelter workers, many findings from this study point to a positive outlook for recently adopted animals, as most animal guardians appeared to have realistic expectations and did not express dissatisfaction even when behavior issues or conflicts were present. However, as the authors point out, some of their findings conflict with those from other studies, just as research findings regarding overall reasons for surrendering companion animals have shown wide variations. It would appear that further research on surrendering and returning companion animals is needed, and there may be great variations based on country, region, or even individual shelters, perhaps related to educating people before they adopt animals to set realistic expectations.