What Do People Want When They Adopt Dogs?
People in the U.S. (and many other countries) love their companion dogs. A recent survey estimates that about 57 million households in the country have dogs. But only about 22% of those households obtained their companion dog from an animal welfare organization. Nationally, about 3.9 million dogs are admitted into shelters each year. And 31% of those dogs are euthanized annually. Animal welfare groups have millions of dogs available for adoption. But there is a disconnect between what people say and how they behave when it comes to acquiring a companion animal.
While only 22% of people got their dogs from a shelter or rescue charity, 56% of people said they would “most likely” do so. A separate survey with a slightly different angle may give some insight as to why. Of people who didn’t have companion animals but were considering one, 42% said they would not consider adopting from a shelter. Among the reasons? 26% said they “didn’t think a shelter would have the type of companion they wanted” and 27% said they wanted a purebred animal.
For animal advocates, this data should be cause for concern, but also for motivation. We need to increase the number of shelter dog adoptions. To shed some light, this study involved about 1,000 people who recently acquired a companion dog or who were planning to do so in the coming year. The research looked at topics such as where people planned to obtain their dog, the importance of variety and choice, and willingness to travel. Faunalytics (formerly the Humane Research Council) managed data collection and provided an initial report of the results.
The survey shows that type of dog is important, but location is less so. About half (48%) of respondents reported that “the availability of a variety” of dogs was important to them. And 40% said that they would drive 60 or more miles to get a dog that matches their preferences. Also, 46% of respondents said they would “wait or delay their decision” to get their “dog of choice.”
The survey also asked respondents to rate different dog-related attributes positively or negatively. Interestingly, even the attributes that received the highest positive ratings only had about 35% of respondents rating them positively. In other words, “no single ‘feature’ drove choice, whether positive or negative.” Instead, it seems that people tend to look at a “complete profile” of a dog and make tradeoffs based on a combination of factors.
About 80% of people get their dogs from somewhere other than a shelter. But a majority says they would consider getting their dog from a shelter. For dog advocates, these statistics suggest the potential to, at least theoretically, find homes for all the shelter dogs in the country. Importantly, the survey shows that most people value “variety.” The research also shows that people are willing to travel to obtain a dog that matches their preferences, as complex as those preferences may be.
The researchers here suggest that “a comprehensive animal relocation program that transports a variety of dogs, not just puppies or small dogs,” has the potential to help boost adoptions for animal organizations. The article does not discuss the potential costs of such programs, which could be substantial. However, the logic of the recommendation seems sound. If sheltering organizations can strive to offer a greater variety of dogs through local or regional transport programs, the results may prove worthwhile.