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Why Did You Choose Your Pet? ASPCA Research Uncovers Real Reasons

Study finds appearance and behavior among top reasons for adoption
April 18, 2012

NEW YORK—The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) today announced that a study of nearly 1,500 adopters from five animal shelters across the country has uncovered the reasons behind why adopters chose the particular pet they took home.

Appearance of the animal, social behavior with adopter, and behaviors such as playfulness were the top reasons for adoption across species and age groups.

  • More than 27 percent of dog adopters cited appearance as the single most important reason, while more than 26 percent of cat adopters cited behavior with people as the most important factor.
  • Within each species, the results give an even greater glimpse into the factors that are most important for adopters. Appearance was the most frequently cited reason for kitten adopters (23 percent), while adult cat adopters cited behavior with people as the most important reason (30 percent). In contrast, appearance was the most frequently cited reason for adopters of both puppies (29 percent) and adult dogs (26 percent).

“The results of this study give us a glimpse inside of the adopter’s mind when it comes to choosing a pet. The information can be used by shelters to create better adoption matches, prioritize shelter resources and staff training, and potentially increase adoptions,” said Dr. Emily Weiss, vice president of shelter research and development for the ASPCA. “Additionally, some simple training techniques for shelter staff can be gleaned from this to make sure they are showcasing the wonderful personalities and behaviors of their adoptable dogs and cats.”

In addition, a greater number of adopters stated that information about the animal from a staff member or volunteer was important than adopters who found information on cage cards, and health and behavior information was particularly important.

  • Roughly 80 percent of adopters reported that an important source of information about their pet was given to them from a staff member or volunteer.
  • Receiving information about the pet's health (nearly 90 percent) was more important than receiving information about the pet's behavior (roughly 80 percent), or about the pet's life before entering the shelter (roughly 60 percent).

Adopters also found greater importance in interacting with the animal rather than viewing it in its kennel.

  • Thirty-three percent of adopters reported that the first thing their kitten did when they first met him/her was vocalize, while 22 percent of adult cat adopters reported their cat first approached or greeted them.
  • More than 20 percent of people reported that the first thing their adopted canine (both puppies and adult dogs) did when they first met him/her was approach or greet them followed by licking (more than 14 percent).
  • For both cats and dogs, seeing the pet's behavior when interacting with them was more important than seeing the pet behind the cage door, or seeing the pet's behavior toward other animals.

The study was conducted from January through May 2011 at five animal welfare organizations in the U.S., two of which are open-admission shelters that perform animal control services for their municipalities: Hillsborough County Animal Services in Tampa, Fla. and Charleston Animal Society in Charleston, S.C. The three others are limited intake, privately-funded animal shelters: Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek, Calif.; Wisconsin Humane Society in Milwaukee, Wis.; and the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York, N.Y.