A new survey sheds some light on the who, where and why of re-homing a pet.
There have been several studies (including our own study on the relinquishment of big dogs) focused on the who and why of relinquishing a pet to a shelter. Much less is known about the act of re-homing a pet in general. Who is re-homing? Where are they re-homing? Why are they re-homing? Gaining more insight into the whole picture of dogs and cats changing homes or becoming homeless can help us develop prevention and intervention programs to better support pets and their people.
In order to gain more insight in this area, we conducted a large random-digit dial survey where we reached 12,245 respondents. Of those respondents, 9,970 were current or past dog or cat owners. We asked those current and past pet owners, “Sometimes circumstances change and people are unable to keep their pets for various reasons. Other than foster animals or puppies or kittens from your own pets that you sold or gave away, have you ever had to give up a cat or dog to a new home, a shelter, animal rescue organization, or a veterinarian?” We included only those who had re-homed in the past 5 years (to avoid a recall bias). In our sample, 6% of current or past dog or cat owners had re-homed a pet (or pets) in the past 5 years.
That makes for an estimate of over 1 million dogs and cats re-homed each year in the U.S. Wowza!
There are a lot of interesting, juicy tidbits from the study. You can read it for yourself by accessing the peer-reviewed open access journal article here.
I would love to chew on a few of the findings we see as most compelling and actionable here. We asked folks where they re-homed, and found out that the majority of people re-homed to a friend, family or neighbor (37%) followed most closely by relinquishing to a shelter (36%). The next highest reported re-homing option was a veterinarian at 14%.
This gets a bit juicier when we pair it with the reasons for re-homing. Those who re-homed to a friend, family or neighbor were more likely to be re-homing due to family issues and housing issues—in other words, a reason that did not have to do with the pet’s behavior or health. Those relinquishing to a shelter, however, were more likely to be re-homing due to issues related to the pet himself (medical and behavior issues, with aggression being the primary driver of significance), as opposed to an external driver.
Now, there was still a large proportion of people relinquishing to the shelter for other reasons (a peek at the chart below will help illustrate the differences based on where the pet was re-homed), and it is not unrealistic to think that it is likely easier to re-home a pet directly to a home if there are not health or behavior challenges with the pet.
One of the most compelling findings involved those who rent their home—for this group, housing issues were the number one reason for re-homing. It’s probably not news to you that lack of affordable pet-friendly housing is a risk for relinquishment, but this data helps to illustrate just how powerful of a risk to breaking up families it really is. We should be able to do something about this—no?
As we continue to focus safety net resources outside of the shelter doors to help keep pets at home where they belong, a peek at the difference in reasons for re-homing by income is useful. This hit my gut…those who have a household income under $50,000 are more likely to re-home due to cost and housing issues as opposed to pet-related issues—and were more likely to re-home all the pets in the household. We hypothesize that this may be because financially related risks are more likely to be able to be absorbed by those with higher incomes. At least 30% of those in the under-$50,000 income bracket reported that access to affordable veterinary care, pet-friendly housing, and free or low-cost food and boarding would have helped them retain their pet.
This infographic is a nifty way to illustrate to those in your community the risks for broken homes and the opportunities to impact change.
It is probably a good time to say that we are starting with the belief that pets and their people who want to do right by them belong together, even when there is a financial challenge that cannot be overcome without a helping hand. Even if you may not feel the same (yet), the cost of caring for a homeless pet in a shelter is likely higher than the amount needed to keep that pet home where he belongs. You can save more by keeping him home.
This study gives us a small window into the complexity of the re-homing issue. There are many cases where re-homing is the right thing for the pet and his person, and many for which providing a supportive hand could shift a re-home to a “stay home.”
What are your thoughts?
Click to Enlarge/Download the Full Infographic
Emily Weiss, PhD, CAAB
ASPCA Vice President, Research & Development
Dr. Emily Weiss’ work at the ASPCA involves developing programs and processes that focus on impact on animal welfare. In her previous work as a behaviorist, she developed training programs to improve husbandry and decrease stress for many zoo animals. She has also developed assessment tools for shelter animals, including the SAFER assessment and Meet Your Match Canine-ality, Puppy-ality and Feline-ality. Dr. Weiss is co-editor of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, and has published and lectured extensively in the field of applied animal behavior.
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