Attitudes About Pet Adoption Are Changing

Tuesday, October 1, 2013
PetSmart Charities conducted a research study to help us learn about people’s attitudes toward adoption and pet spaying/neutering

Owner petting catAt PetSmart Charities, we’re working hard to find a lifelong, loving home for every pet. Encouraging people to adopt dogs and cats is an important part of our work. So is supporting efforts to spay/neuter dogs and cats.

We’ll get closer to ending pet homelessness if we know what people think. How do people feel about pet adoption? What keeps people from adopting? How do pet parents feel about spaying/neutering their dog or cat? How much do they know about spay/neuter surgery?

Research helps our adoption programs have more impact

With the answers to these questions, we can discover new ways to help homeless pets. That’s why PetSmart Charities conducted a research study to help us learn about people’s attitudes toward adoption and pet spaying/neutering. In fact, we did the research twice.

Ipsos Marketing conducted the first study for us in 2009, then repeated it in November 2011 so we could see how perceptions and attitudes had changed.

The results of the study have given us interesting new insights we’d like to share with you.

More pets are euthanized than people think

An estimated 4 million pets are euthanized in the U.S. each year — more than the entire population of the city of Los Angeles. A whopping 88% of respondents underestimated that number. The average estimate was 1.2 million pets — a far cry from 4 million.

Dog in trainingWhy people adopt…

The overwhelming reason respondents adopted (or want to adopt) was because they wanted to rescue an animal. Other popular reasons: They wanted a pet who was already spayed/neutered and vaccinated, and adoption is less expensive.

The study also showed an increasing interest in fostering a pet before making one a permanent part of the family.

…and why they don’t

The 2011 study found that people have the same reasons for not adopting as they did in 2009.

Mainly, people thought they couldn’t get the kind of dog or cat they wanted from an adoption organization. 35% of respondents wanted a purebred dog or cat and thought (mistakenly) that they couldn’t find one at a shelter.

The latest study also saw a huge jump in the number of people who would not consider adopting because they say that they don’t know what they’ll get at a shelter. Similarly, people feel that shelters and adoption organizations are depressing or sad, or that animals there may have behavioral problems.

These findings are particularly disconcerting. Shelters house plenty of purebred and mixed-breed dogs and cats who make ideal family pets. Many shelters conduct behavioral assessments before placing pets up for adoption, so adopters can get a very good idea about who their new furry friend is. Many animal welfare organizations provide welcoming, bright, comfortable places where you can meet a wide range of dogs and cats. Organizations in every shape and form offer the chance to find unconditional love from an adoptable pet — and there’s nothing sad or depressing about that.

Where do people get their pets?

The 2011 study told us that where people acquire their pets differs greatly from dogs to cats. The most popular method of obtaining a dog was from family members and friends, who were responsible for 27% of dogs. However, most cats (33%) were taken in as strays­ — only 8% of dogs were strays.

19% of dogs and 18% of cats came from adoption organizations/shelters. People who got their pet from an adoption organization/shelter were increasingly motivated by two methods: seeing an animal’s photo online, and recommendations from people they know. As more shelters showcase pet photos on their websites and satisfied adopters spread the word about their shelter experiences, we hope to see an increase in shelter adoptions.

Another important finding: The 2011 study proved that perceptions of breeders and pet stores are declining.

A wealth of great information

The 2011 study showed that perceptions of adoptable pets are moving in a good direction. It also gave us ideas about where we can boost people’s impressions of shelters and adoptable pets. Watch our blog over the coming months for upcoming topics about shelters and pet adoption.

The second half of our study focused on the public’s perceptions of spaying/neutering pets. I’ll talk more about our findings from that portion of the study on the blog tomorrow.

What did you think about the findings of the 2011 study? Have your own perceptions about adoption changed recently?


Linda Burt

I guess mine is a question, not a comment. I volunteer at a small no-kill rescue for dogs and cats. We are over ran with both, and are in need of a larger place. We rent now , the building is in bad shape and needs many repairs, of which the owner does nor want to do. Do you have any advice on how we can raise money to either build or rent a bigger, better place? We have several very caring people that work at this facility, but it is becoming difficult to have to turn animals away. I would appreciate any advice you may have. Or maybe forward this to the proper place..

Thank You, Linda Burt


Hi Linda, thank you so much for caring for these pets. PetSmart Charities offers grants for adoptions, spay/neuter and emergency relief to qualfied 501(c)(3) nonprofit animal welfare organizations, registered charities and certain government entities. You can learn how to apply, or check out our educational materials for all animal welfare professionals. 


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