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He Loves To Have His Belly Rubbed…

Playful, fun, loves to play, loves children, fetches, sweet, cuddles, hugs, funny, lap dog, great dog… These are descriptors we often hear our satisfied pet parents use when talking about their pets. But… Is this how those relinquishing their pets talk? Recent research at the ASPCA has found that yes – it is.

We focused our data collection around large dogs, as these are the canines most at risk in the areas studied. We have a completed data set from Washington, D.C., and are working on a set from New York City. So far we have collected data from surveys with about 150 pet parents relinquishing their large dogs either at the Washington Humane Society (they hold the animal control role in D.C.) or Animal Care & Control of New York City. In D.C., we are just getting ready to launch an intervention to decrease owner-relinquish intake based on what the data told us.

Our survey was developed by a team of experts – Dr. Stephen L. Zawistowski, Dr. Jan Scarlett, Dr. Margaret Slater and myself – and is designed as an in-person interview at the time of intake. Our goal was to see if we could identify a subset of relinquishment reasons that we might be able to develop solutions for. Could we tailor safety net programming toward the needs identified? We were able to build on the work conducted in the ‘90s by the National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy.

As the data started coming in, we were all struck by the answers to the question that asked, “What do you like best about the dog?” – that he cuddles was one of the top answers. My heart sank when I read that Max’s relinquisher liked best that Max loved belly rubs. Jack’s relinquisher loved that Jack was so welcoming. Jezelle’s relinquisher liked best that she was loving.

Jezelle could have stayed in her home if her owner could have found temporary housing that allowed pets. Jack… he could have stayed home if they could have found more dog-friendly apartments.

I know what you are saying… that if that were you, you would find a way to keep your dog. Maybe… maybe not. And maybe you have means and ways that they do not…

It is not uncommon for me to visit a shelter and hear an earful over how those who relinquish their pets just do not care – how they (yep, you got it) are different from us, and they are cruel and don’t care. Back in 1999 Natalie DiGiacomo, Arnold Arluke and Gary Patronek published a study focused on exploring the experience leading to the relinquishment of a pet. What they found was that all the relinquishers they surveyed struggled with the decision to give up their pet. Our research at the ASPCA seems to be showing the same: These folks were not making the decision lightly – and it took them time to come to the decision. Many of them had looked for other options before coming to the shelter.

In D.C., the Washington Humane Society has embraced those coming to relinquish – providing support for those who simply need medical care to keep the pet. And now with the upcoming intervention, we plan to support the community before they make the emotional break and come to the shelter. Hopefully, the next Max will be able to stay home and get his belly rubs.

Related links:
ASPCA Research
“Forget ‘Them"
Safety Net Programs: Non-Judgmental Relinquishment Conversations