Dr. Emily Weiss offers some science—and some furry four-legged examples—to show that impulse adoptions may result in stronger bonds.
The house was too quiet. My big lug pointer love named Que had passed suddenly, tragically and in my arms… and our family was mourning—human and canine alike. And then I saw him online at the Humane Society of Broward County. Now he is home.
Tide (AKA Johnny) joins a long line of impulses and gifts in my household that made our lives (and I suspect theirs as well) richer, healthier and certainly happier.
I often hear recommendations from animal welfare organizations that we should not obtain a pet on an impulse. Adopters are told to think long and hard, to study and research to ensure they’re making a perfect match. Yet nothing can fully prepare us for the interaction, nor all the potential emerging behaviors and issues that may pop up along the way (or even within the first few days). And then there is this—there is no data to support that obtaining a dog or cat on impulse puts that pet at higher risk for not being retained in the home. In fact, there is some data to suggest that pets obtained on impulse may be less likely to be rehomed.
I fell in love with Tide before I met him. Theoretically I should not have. I had a visceral “no way” response to the idea of a puppy… yet I was deaf to it when I looked at that picture. Our emotions are not a mistake of evolution—they motivate us to behave in certain ways, and an emotion of love makes us work hard to keep what and whom we love comfortable and close. That impulsive addition to our home is not a random “give me anyone,” it is a “I need this particular you.”
Let’s chew on this idea—that an impulse is not random, that those who love dogs and cats encounter them every day, and the impulse to add a life to the family is about a connection to a particular dog or cat. Now, this may be a rational connection, or it may be irrational (a puppy!—OMG), but either way it is a connection. Impulse may be way, way stronger of a driver for a bond than rational thought.
I reached out to my Facebook connections in animal sheltering for their impulse experiences. Here are a few of the stories that were shared—you will see the theme of emotion throughout:
“JustDave was an impulse decision of epic proportions. I was driving by the local pet store (dubbed Pet-O-Parvo by the locals) and they had "Corgi Puppy" on their marquee. I couldn't help myself. And I wouldn't trade that impulse decision for anything. I did follow up with the regulatory agency on breeders where he originated (thankfully they had a law) and Pet-O-Parvo has since closed. He blesses our lives daily—even if he had to have some pretty serious behavioral help from the age of a young pup to appear normal. Now he even does agility! This is JustDave on Impulse Day.”
—Lou Guyton, Senior Director, ASPCA
I was 21 when I brought Gracie home from our local pound. I had just gone to visit because I liked to pet the dogs, and I saw her in a tiny cage, looking incredibly mournful. I just didn't want to leave her there, even though I wasn't really in a good position to have pets. I was bouncing around between apartments, had no money and no steady job and was dabbling in college. Not exactly an animal shelter's dream adopter. Gracie was two when I brought her home and she spent the next 14 years by my side, my very best friend. We were together through the loss of two other dogs to old age, numerous moves and life changes, and she is a big part of why I work in animal sheltering today.
Impulse! After the sudden loss of my two-year-old Boston terrier, Burton, I was feeling an empty spot in my house, but I felt like giving it time before adding another pooch to the pack was important. A few weeks later, I’m leaving work for lunch as a transport van from Indiana pulls into the back parking lot. I stick around and help. I open the back door to the van and voila, there sits (previously named) Gizmo, a scruffy little 8-month-old mix of some sorts. I reach in the crate, carry him into my office and plop him down on the dog bed. The next day I sent him off to surgery to be neutered and adopted the little bugger that night. Something about (now named) Gordon's sad puppy eyes and chill personality did it for me, plus he was the healing I needed at that time.
After my mother passed away, my husband, Jon, and I decided we’d drive the 3,000 miles back to the East Coast so we could safely carry my mother’s precious tea cup collection and other sentimental items home. While rounding the corner of a mountain pass on day two, we saw a shaggy, black dog staggering in the road, and we rescued her and named her Summer. Our first dog, Ellie, has accepted Summer as her sister and playmate, as have our cats. You can read the whole story here.
—Nancy Perry, Senior Vice President, ASPCA
So, it’s quickly clear that we are an impulsive group! Or maybe we are just like everyone else—except lucky that when we have an impulse, we are allowed to act upon it.
I encourage you to examine the impulses of your clients with this new eye on the power of emotion and how the impulse is far from random. What do you think?
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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