Millions of Healthy Dogs (and Cats) are Euthanized Each Year. How Do We Save Them?

by Virginia from just-basset-hounds.com

Sept 2012. According to the American Humane Association, 3 to 4 million healthy, adoptable pets are euthanized at shelters in the United States every year. With such an alarming number of pets being destroyed one is left to question: What should be done to save these animals?

In 2012, the American Humane Association's Animal Welfare Research Institute embarked on a multi-phase study to better understand why people are not adopting these animals and to find the most effective strategies to ensure that once a pet has been adopted, it stays with that family and is not relinquished back to a shelter.

"By learning more about the barriers to pet ownership and lifelong retention, we can take measured steps to change minds, change policies, and change activities to help get more of these beautiful animals out of shelters and off the streets into the arms of loving families."

In August, the results of the first phase of the "Keeping Pets (Dogs and Cats) in Homes Retention Study" were released. Phase I focuses on understanding the reasons why so many Americans do not own a dog or a cat.

The results are interesting with some surprising and some expected.

Note: While the study includes findings for cats and dogs, the focus of this article is on the results for dogs.

Where did people who had previously owned a dog get him / her?

Of those who responded to the survey, most (38%) obtained their dog from family, a friend, or a neighbor. The second most common way that previous owners obtained a dog was from a shelter or rescue organization coming in at 22% and 16% obtained a dog from a breeder. Other options which were all less than 10% were stray, pet store adoption or purchase, and advertisement.

How long do dog owners keep their pet and what eventually happened to it?

More than half of dog owners had their pet for more than 10 years. About one-quarter had their dog for 5 to 10 years. The majority of dogs (81%) died or were euthanized. About 10% were given away or sold to friends or family members.

What are the reasons that owners give up their dog?

The most common reason at 29% to return, give away, or sell a dog owned as a pet was because the owner's landlord or place of residence did not allow dogs. Other reasons which were all at around 10% include death / divorce, not enough time, behavior issues, and allergies. Vet and general expenses were given as a reason by about 5% of owners for each.

For previous owners, the top reasons for not owning another dog are:

- Vet Expenses (30%)
- General expenses (29%)
- No Time (27%)
- Too much travel (26%)
- Still grieving over previous pet loss (20%)

For those who have never owned a dog, the top reasons for not obtaining one are:

- Lifestyle (30%)
- Cleaning up after a dog (30%)
- General Expense (29%)
- Vet Expenses (24%)

Only 12% responded that they do not like dogs and only a small number (<5%) had a bad experience with a dog.

Would people consider having a dog as a household pet and where would they most likely obtain the dog from?

Nearly half (45%) of previous dog owners would consider having another dog as a household pet. More than half (56%) of previous dog owners would most likely obtain their new pet from a shelter or rescue organization. The good news is that this is an increase over the 22% who had previously obtained their dog from a shelter or rescue.

Only one-quarter of those who had never owned a dog would consider having one as a pet. A shelter or rescue organization is the most likely place that they would turn to for a dog (51%).

Other Findings:

Potential dog owners:

- are more likely to have three or more adults in the household.
- are more likely to have children in the household.
- do not vary significantly by income but the $150,000+ bracket tends to be the most likely to obtain a dog.

The age group more likely to consider a dog is the 18-34 range with the likelihood decreasing as age increases

- Seniors (those 65 and older) as a whole did not seem receptive to future pet ownership despite research showing the health and emotional benefits of pet ownership including exercise and companionship.

Where do we go from here?

The purpose of Phase I was to discern the reasons why so many Americans do not have a dog or cat in their homes.

Phase II will research how many dogs and cats acquired from a sampling of shelters and animal control agencies still remain in their new homes six months following adoption, and what happened to those pets who are no longer in those homes.

Phase III will test practical interventional strategies for improving retention rates following the acquisition of a new pet.

The goal of these studies over time is to decrease pet homelessness and relinquishment to the nation’s shelters. "By learning more about reasons people relinquish their pets and by testing interventional strategies to prevent this from happening, more dogs and cats can live out their lives in forever homes."

Click here for the complete study from the American Humane Association

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