Saving Lives

ASPCA Research: Who Are the Strays in Shelters?

When pets are lost, both the animals and their owners can suffer. But where do they end up? New research on lost pets conducted by the ASPCA reveals that a significant percentage of the stray dogs and cats in shelters around the country may not have someone looking for them.

With an estimated 5 million to 7 million dogs and cats entering shelters in this country every year, the time and money spent trying to reunite presumed lost pets with their owners can be significant. But owners who reclaim their pets from shelters are rare – in the U.S. the figure is about 10 percent to 30 percent for dogs and less than 5 percent for cats.

The study, which was published in the peer reviewed journal Animals, included 2,666 households. Of those, 39 percent owned a dog or cat in the past five years. Click to view “Frequency of Lost Dogs and Cats in the United States and the Methods Used to Locate Them.”

Cats Come Home, Dogs Are Sought

According to the study, of the animals that were lost, 85 percent were recovered. Cat owners were less likely to find their animals (74 percent of cats were recovered) while dog owners had better luck (93 percent.) Owner demographics are not factors in the lost pets or recovery rates, the study found.

Of the recovered dogs, almost half were found during a neighborhood search; 15 percent were found because of a tag or microchip. Also, cat owners tend to wait three days before searching for their pet, while dog owners usually act much more quickly – within a day. Of the recovered cats, 59 percent returned home on their own; 30 percent were found during neighborhood searches.

What a Shelter Can Do

“While we need more research, it is prudent at this point to consider the population of stray dogs and cats in your facility,” says Weiss. Many of the animals “may in fact not be lost, but potentially abandoned, or a community dog or cat who was supported to some extent within a neighborhood.”

A shelter can provide help pet owners by providing information on how they can best find their pets if they go missing. In addition, shelters could institute matching of reported lost pet records with reported found pet records.

Veterinaries could offer microchip and identification tag clinics for community pet owners – and make sure their own patients have microchips, collars and personalized identification. Both groups could provide a list of resources and options for advertising lost pets.

Beyond that, Weiss says some outside-the-box thinking is called for. For example, greater pet support services – temporary boarding, veterinarian care, food banks and the like – may be needed in communities to cut down on the number of strays.

Knowing exact locations where animals are found can be vital to solving the puzzle of where strays entering your shelter came from. One way to target specific locations of found animals is to use GIS targeting, a tool offered through ASPCA research.