Get the ASPCA Professional Blog direct to your inbox.

Recent Comments

Thank you for that correction. We will update right away!
ASPCApro Blog...

By on Hit 'Em With Your Best Shot: Taking Great Photos of Shelter Animals, Part 4 - 9/26/2016 at 5:29am

The "Empty cages" photo is KC Pet Project, in October 2013, after the Mega Match-A-Thon!

Great ideas. Thanks! Keep them coming!

What We Want

Dr. Emily Weiss digs into some stats on why people choose the pets they do—and asks you to share your experience with adopters who don’t find what they want.

You may have read my blog earlier this year introducing you to my newest family member, Mr. Tide. At the time of adoption, I learned Tide was a product of a relocation—a sato from Puerto Rico. He would join my girl, Sea—a transport from the Central Valley of California.

While yes, he was an impulse adoption, I knew what I wanted and I quickly scrolled through pictures on the shelter’s website, scanning and eliminating based on sex, size and more. Then—there he was… all white and brown fluff of him. Turns out I am just like most people… when choosing a dog.

A couple of years ago we conducted some research aimed at exploring various factors that may influence the choices people make when adding dogs to their households. We also wanted to learn more about an aspect of relocation programs—the variety of choice that relocation programs can bring to a community.

We surveyed over 1,000 people who had either acquired a dog in the past year or were looking to acquire a new dog in the next year. One of the questions we asked those who had acquired a dog in the last year was, “What would you have done if the source you chose did not have a dog who matched your preferences?” Nearly 30% of respondents said they would have delayed their decision or waited to find the right dog, while 20% said they would check other sources or keep looking. Some respondents specifically stated that they would check an animal shelter or rescue (20%). Less than 6% said they would not have gotten a dog, and 2% said they would have chosen a different dog.

That feels worth repeating—two percent said they would have chosen a different dog. Hold on to that for now, we are going to swing back to it soon…

We conducted something called a conjoint analysis, which allowed us to gain a better theoretical understanding of how important different attributes were in choosing a dog. We prefaced the questions associated with the analysis with this statement: “In the following questions, you will be asked to rate how likely you would be to acquire a dog with certain characteristics. Please respond as if you are attending an event where many dogs will be available from a variety of sources including pet stores, breeders, animal shelters, rescue groups and others. If you were looking for a dog and attended this event, how likely would you be to choose the dog described?” We used a 5-point scale for each. By presenting a different mix of attributes in each choice, we could analyize the strength of particular attributes.

What we found is, well, people want what they want—and there is a lot they don’t want—and there is a lot of variety as to what they would like. Some are more likely to choose small dogs, others would choose large; some don’t want puppies, others don’t want adults. The graph below illustrates how negative responses (not likely at all to choose this pet) outweighed  positive responses (very likely to choose this pet) for the factors we measured. 


So, what does it all mean? Think back to that first stat I shared that only 2% of the people we surveyed reported they would choose a different dog if the source they went to did not have a dog who matched their preferences. Now consider this data, which shows that not everyone wants the same thing. If your facility does not have a large variety of animals available, those who don’t find their preference who may have adopted from you are likely leaving and choosing a pet from another source. Now, depending upon your shelter’s goals and mission, that may be just fine—or it may not. 

Something to chew on I suppose (probably better than the shoes Tide has chosen!). What are your thoughts?


Related Links

Blog: “Meet My New Impulse”
Research: “Why Did You Choose This Pet?: Adopters and Pet Selection Preferences in Five Animal Shelters in the United States”


You Might Also Like

Saving Lives Research & Data



Personally, I don't think consumer preference surveys are accurate predictors of what people will ultimately purchase:

"Purchase intent is notoriously overstated in survey responses, showing little correlation with actual sales performance. Perhaps it’s because we tend to be rationally driven in survey responses and emotionally driven in the heat of the shopping moment. Whatever the reason, as consumers we are lousy predictors of our own future behavior."

In the shelter world, I've seen people intent on adopting an adult pit bull choose a cute puppy when they were also available. Similarly, a volunteer at a local shelter has told me about people who came in looking for a small dog and then leaving with a pocket pit bull when no small dogs were available. I don't think surveys can reflect the emotional connection people have with an animal that can drive a good impulse adoption.


I believe that awareness should start with children. Abused children often become animal abusers because of anger and not being able to control the abuser. An animal they can control and take out their pain and anger on an animal using the abusive ways they have learned. I believe we could help more animals and maybe at the sometime help an abused child. Children feel helpless to do anything about animal abuse if they see it. They don't know how or what they can do. Never anything alone, but they can tell an adult. The message needs to be given age appropriate. I personally know a few children who have witnessed animal abuse and are afraid to do anything. They need to feel empowered and know they can help. They can be proud that they helped save an animal. I have ideas if you want to hear them.

Add a comment