A melting gaze, a thumping wag, a feline trill: What is it about a particular animal that wins an adopter’s heart? According to new findings from the ASPCA’s department of Shelter Research & Development, it depends on the species and age. In a published study, adopters reported that “physical appearance” is the primary motivator for choosing a dog, while “behavior with people” counted most in adult cats. The study also explored what behaviors animals exhibited with the adopters, what information was most important in making adoption choices, and how important animal behavior was in specific contexts. This kind of information can help shelters know how best to pair animals with people and how to encourage behavior that leads to adoption.
The study included about 1,500 adopters who filled out questionnaires at one of five shelters across the country. Dogs comprised 54 percent of the adoptions, while cats accounted for 46 percent.
Among those adopting kittens, 33 percent said the first thing their kitten did upon meeting them was vocalize, while 22 percent of those adopting adult cats said the animal greeted or approached them. Among those adopting dogs, more than 20 percent said the animals approached or greeted them. More than 14 percent said that greeting was followed up by a lick.
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 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.
Why This Matters to You
Understanding why people choose the pets they do can help increase adoption rates by making sure people go home with the right match.“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,” says 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.”
When appearance is an important driver, your shelter staff can dig deeper to help adopters decide. For example, adopters may be enchanted by the long hair of a collie mix, but what are their expectations in the home, and will the dog meet those expectations?
Some behaviors that are considered “bad” – like jumping up – may in fact be the behavior that gets an adopter’s attention. Shelters can incorporate techniques to encourage adopter-friendly behavior from the animals in their care. For example, staff and volunteers can provide treats from cups hung on kennel doors to encourage animals to step to the front of the kennel when people stop by. Such training could also encourage pro-social behavior in fearful animals.
And since adopters place great weight on information that comes from shelter staff, empower your staff and volunteers with all the information available about animals in their care.