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Why Don’t People Have Pets? New Information Can Help Us Reduce Pet Homelessness

Wednesday, October 17, 2012
We spend a lot of time promoting pet adoption as one of the best ways to reduce the number of homeless pets. But, did you know that more than half of American households currently do not own a dog or cat?

Man kissing dogFour million healthy, adoptable pets are euthanized in shelters in North America each year. That’s more than the entire population of Oregon!

We spend a lot of time promoting pet adoption as one of the best ways to reduce the number of homeless pets. But, did you know that more than half of American households currently do not own a dog or cat?

Is there anything we can do to change their minds? What keeps people from adopting pets? What’s more, how can we use this information to help keep animals with their families and out of shelters? We’re hopeful that with the answers to these questions, we can get closer to our goal of ending pet homelessness. So, PetSmart Charities supported a multi-phase study to learn more about pet ownership habits, led by the American Humane Association’s (AHA) Animal Welfare Research Institute. Only one phase of the research has been completed so far, but we already have some interesting insights into the reasons why people do not have a furry friend at home. 

Potential pet parents’ concerns

The AHA study found that several key concerns prevent pet ownership: related costs, the time to care for a pet, and cleanup. Another major theme: ongoing grief over a previous pet. It’s a testament to the bond between humans and their companion animals that 1 in 5 previous dog owners and 1 in 6 former cat owners can’t help but think of their previous pet before they acquire another. Luckily, if you’ve taken the time to grieve your lost pet, you’re often in a better position to open your heart to another shelter dog or cat when the time is right.  

To be, or not to be, a pet owner

On the other hand, the survey showed a significant number of non-pet owners are generally uninterested in acquiring a pet–especially a cat.Senior citizens are the least open to pet ownership, even if they have had a pet in the past—59% would not have a dog and 66% would not consider a cat. Seniors who had never owned a pet were even less receptive, saying they would not consider a dog (90%) or a cat (94%). Other respondents would consider becoming pet parents again. Almost half of people who have had dogs before would be open to adopting a new dog. Also, more than a third of people who have already had cats would welcome another cat into their home. 

A big win for shelters and a big challenge for adopted pets

The most encouraging news to come out of the survey was about the likelihood of adopting from shelters. 64% of people who previously owned dogs and 56% of people who previously owned cats said they would adopt their future pet from a shelter or rescue organization. That’s a huge increase compared to where that group acquired their previous pets: only 22% of dogs and 18% of cats came from shelters. Even those who haven’t had pets before said that if they were to adopt a dog (51%) or cat (42%), they would visit a shelter or rescue group. 

The AHA study also showed that single young people with middle to high incomes are the group most likely to adopt cats. In addition, non-pet owners who had a pet as a child are the most likely to consider a dog. But, particularly for this younger audience, housing restrictions can make pet ownership challenging. The AHA study found that 1 in 6 owners gave their pet away. The most common reason? Their place of residence did not allow dogs or cats.  

The first phase of the AHA study has certainly given us a lot to think about. Keep an eye on the blog over the next few weeks as we further explore some of these potential barriers to adopted pet ownership, including:

  • Coping with grief over the loss of a pet
  • House-hunting with your pet
  • The benefits of adopted pets for seniors

 Do you match any of the groups in the survey? Did you adopt your pet from a shelter? Tell us your story! Read more about the American Humane Association’s study, Keeping Pets (Dogs and Cats) in Homes: A Three-Phase Retention Study: Phase 1: Reasons for Not Owning a Dog or Cat (PDF)

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