Companion Animal Surrendering: What Are The Most Common Human-Related Reasons?
The relinquishment of companion animals to shelters—while abhorrent to many animal advocates—is a complex social issue. It doesn’t have a single cause or a single solution. In the U.S., about four million companion animals enter shelters annually. And not all animals entering shelters find new homes. Some languish for days, weeks, months, or years. And some shelters euthanize animals due to a lack of space. Researchers worldwide have published a broad range of studies on relinquishing companion animals. But most (87.8%) have focused on dogs. Also, the great variation within the studies—both in terms of the methodology and results—makes it difficult for stakeholders and policymakers to make informed decisions.
In this study, the researchers carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis. They aimed to estimate the proportion of dogs being relinquished for different reasons. And they wanted to look at how the estimates vary across different studies. After excluding non-English articles, the researchers arrived at 77 reviews and commentaries. They sifted through these and extracted relevant data. They ended up mostly with U.S.-based studies that gathered data at the shelter level. The studies also used the reasons for surrendering companion animals that the guardians cited.
The authors found “considerable variation among studies.” They found “there was insufﬁcient information to explore and quantify reasons for conﬂicting results among the existing research.” In other words, even when studies conflicted, the researchers were unable to say with full certainty. When it came to reasons for surrendering an animal or euthanasia, the meta-analysis showed “significant” differences in reasons. This means there may be “study characteristics potentially inﬂuencing the variation.” But, they found the guardian’s state of health to be one factor that had low variation. Yet this had an overall estimate of only 4.6%, suggesting it’s not a high priority area for intervention. Among people relinquishing animals because they were moving, young adults featured highly. This makes sense considering that young adults are often the “most mobile” population in the U.S.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers found that methodological and reporting differences among the studies proved challenging to combining their data. And this prevents improvement in our understanding of companion animal relinquishment. The authors recommend shelters and researchers to work toward common approaches when collecting such data that we very much need. For companion animal advocates, working together and harmonizing efforts is crucial to understanding the broader trends in animal relinquishment.