Who are the strays in shelters?
When pets are lost, both animal and owner can suffer. But where do they end up? The ASPCA’s research on lost pets reveals that a significant percentage of stray dogs and cats in shelters around the country may not have someone looking for them.
How It Began
The study, entitled Frequency of Lost Dogs and Cats in the United States and the Methods Used to Locate Them, was conducted by the ASPCA’s Drs. Emily Weiss and Margaret Slater, along with Dr. Linda Lord, and was published in the peer-reviewed journal Animals.
Of the 2,666 households surveyed, 39 percent owned a dog or cat in the past five years.
Highlights of the study include:
- 85 percent of the lost animals 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)
- Of the recovered dogs, almost half were found during a neighborhood search; 15 percent were found because of a tag or microchip
- 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
“The number of lost pets and the number of those lost who get recovered indicates that there is a possibility that a significant percentage of the stray dogs and cats in the shelters around the country do not have someone looking for them.”
What Shelters Can Do
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.
"While we need more research, it is prudent 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."
Here are some actions for shelters and local veterinarians to consider:
- Provide help to owners with information on what they can do if a pet becomes lost
- Institute the matching of reported lost pet records with reported found pet records
- Host microchip and ID tag clinics for community pet owners
- Ensure that owned pets have microchips, collars and personalized ID
Looking at the bigger picture, Weiss says some outside-the-box thinking is called for, particularly surrounding the population of strays who have no one looking for them. “It may be that pet support services (temporary boarding, vet care, food banks, etc.) are needed in the community to decrease that percentage of strays,” says Weiss, “or even more innovative programming by community advocates to help cease the growth of the community dog or cat populations.”
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