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Research Finds Shelter Dogs Still Need Help

Sunday, October 27, 2013

white pupA sure way to learn what people think about shelter pets and adoption is to ask — and recently, Best Friends Animal Society did just that. Now, the organization has released Best Friends’ Inaugural Pet Adoption Survey conducted by Ketchum Global Research and Analytics in November 2012. Some findings were predictable and heartwarming ­— for example, 95% of Americans believe that having a pet makes people happier.

On the other hand, the survey uncovered disturbing results about what people — especially young adults — think of shelter pets. It shows us that although we’ve come a long way, we still have work to do.

Some good news about people and shelter pets

There is no question that Americans love pets. In fact, 89% of respondents consider themselves pet lovers. Overall, people believe pets in shelters are lovable and ­sweet.

Another point of agreement is spay/neuter surgery. 80% of Americans believe that all cats and dogs should be spayed or neutered. About half of them agree that one of the benefits of adopting a pet from a shelter is that their new pet is already spayed or neutered.

Americans are still more than twice as likely to say they would adopt, rather than purchase a pet for their family.

Misperceptions about the fate of pets in shelters

Best Friends’ study revealed that most Americans know that when pets arrive at shelters, many of them won’t make it out. However, 28% believe that pets stay in shelters until they are adopted. Among young adults, that number is 38%.

In reality, of the estimated 8 million pets who enter U.S. shelters every year, only about 4 million of them are adopted. Many of those who remain are euthanized - at a rate of roughly 11,000 a day. Adding more urgency to these statistics, just 47% of the respondents to Best Friends’ survey — fewer than half — said they are very likely to adopt a pet from a shelter.

PetSmart Charities® uncovered similar results in our research with Ipsos Marketing in 2011. In that study, 88% of respondents underestimated the number of pets euthanized each year in shelters. The average estimate was 1.2 million pets, nowhere near the industry estimate of 4 million.

We think that if people knew the real numbers and the truth about shelter pets, the 47% from Best Friends’ survey would be higher — more people would be “very likely” to adopt from shelters. Our challenge is getting the word out.

Myths about shelter pets

Americans still believe some unfortunate myths about pets in shelters. For example, 6 in 10 of the survey’s respondents said that shelter pets are unhealthy or malnourished.

The truth is, most shelters strive to provide pets with quality medical care, including injury treatment, vaccinations and spay/neuter surgery, to prepare them for adoption. When you adopt from a shelter, you’re getting a pet who has been cared for by qualified, loving staff and volunteers.

Another 6 in 10 people believe that shelter pets have been mistreated or are poorly behaved. This is also a misconception – some shelter pets may have already had training, and many come from loving homes that, for one reason or another, simply couldn’t keep them.

Pets end up in shelters for loads of reasons that aren’t their fault. Some families can’t afford their pets, they move to pet-free apartments or they have children who are allergic. All these situations lead to an unfortunate outcome for their lovable pet, who didn’t do anything to lead to his time in the shelter. 

And even if some pets may have lived sad stories before arriving at the shelter, they all deserve a second chance.

girl with pup

Find your perfect dog in a shelter — purebreds too!

The study also found that 28% of people don’t adopt because they believe they won’t be able to find a particular breed. Our Ipsos Marketing survey showed that 35% of respondents believed this long-standing misperception, which leads people to breeders instead of shelters.

That means about a third of people who get a pet choose to buy rather than adopt — simply because they think they can’t find the kind of dog they want.

Purebred and mixed-breed dogs are in shelters right now, waiting for their new families. Modern shelters are welcoming, comfortable facilities where potential adopters can find a variety of pets. And the residents change all the time, so if you don’t find the right pet for you one day, you’re likely to find the ideal dog for you if you keep checking.

Breed-specific rescue organizations are another option. Look into rescue groups that focus on particular breeds. You might learn about the dogs from people who have cared for them before.

Are you ready to adopt? Find an adoption event near you. Not in the market for a pet right now? Watch Cheryl talk about adopting “Sammy Pajamy” from a PetSmart Everyday Adoption Center.

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