adopted dogs shelter
follow up surveys of people who have adopted dogs and cats from an australian shelterRelinquishments of dogs and cats to shelters is a world-wide problem (Patronek et al., 1996; Diesel et al., 2008). In 2014–2015 the Australian RSPCA shelter network received 133,495 animals (RSPCA, 2015), a number that excludes facilities outside of the RSPCA network.
Owner related health and personal reasons have been cited during pet relinquishments, such as allergies, conflicts with children or other pets,
and not having enough time to care for the pet (Scarlett et al., 1999).
Relinquishments have also been associated with a lack of knowledge or unrealistic expectations of both the effort required to care for an animal and normal animal behavior (Patronek et al., 1996; Scarlett et al., 1999; New et al., 2000; Diesel et al., 2008). Animal characteristics also contribute to their relinquishment, including behavioral issues such as destructive behaviors, aggression and inappropriate toileting (Scarlett et al., 1999; Salman et al., 2000).
Even in well-managed and caring shelters, cats and dogs can be exposed to high levels of noise and other stimulation (Hennessy et al., 2001) potentially exacerbating undesirable behaviors (Hennessy et al., 1997; Hennessy et al., 2001; McCobb et al., 2005). Other research suggests dogs that spent long periods of time in shelters became calmer and spent less time barking and more time resting, implying a period of familiarisation post-admission (Wells and Hepper, 1992; Wells et al., 2002). The circumstances of the animal’s admission may also affect their chances of being re-homed. Owner surrendered cats experience increased levels of behavioral stress compared to strays and this may affect their adoption outcome (Dybdall et al., 2007). Stray dogs with previously low contact with humans are still able to form new attachments despite unknown levels of socialization (Gacsi et al., 2001).
Unfortunately, not all of these animals remain successfully adopted, with return rates reported as low as 8% in Australia and as high as 50% in the Netherlands (Marston et al., 2005). Returns can be saddening and frustrating to both the shelter staff and the individual returning the animal (Shore, 2005). Additionally, the animal can enter into a vicious cycle whereby undesirable behaviors may be precipitated by the changes from a new home and then back to a shelter.
Therein lies the question of why some pets are returned after being adopted despite the best efforts of shelter staff and welfare agencies.
Similar to initial relinquishments, reasons given when returning an adopted animal mainly include behavioral problems; with a study in Italy found 39% of adopted dogs were returned due to behavioral issues (Mondelli et al., 2004). Other reasons were those that can be difficult to screen for prior to adoption, including allergies, not being good with the resident children and/or conflicts with pre-existing pets (Mondelli et al., 2004; Shore, 2005). A mismatch between owner expectation and normal animal behavior may affect levels of adoption satisfaction, particularly when normal interactions between adopted resident pets or hyperactivity are perceived as problematic by the owner (Salman et al., 2000; Marston et al., 2005). All of these issues can contribute to the strain placed on the human-animal relationship when adopting a new pet into the family, yet little research has been conducted investigating the levels of satisfaction post-adoption.
Understanding aspects of adoption that influence prospective adopters’ satisfaction are pivotal to improving the outcome of relinquished or stray cats and dogs. The objectives of this study were to explore the characteristics of dogs and cats adopted from an Australian animal shelter (Animal Welfare League South Australia) and to investigate whether factors such as resident children, other pets, and admission reason was associated with overall adopter satisfaction. An additional objective was to explore whether the presence of undesirable behaviors (and accompanying behavioral satisfaction score) was associated with the number of days the animal had spent in the shelter or the presence of a resident pet.
A cross-sectional study was conducted involving individuals who had adopted a cat or a dog from the Animal Welfare League in Wingfield, South Australia. Participants were selected based on a list generated using the shelter’s database Sheltermate™ of individuals adopting a cat or a dog at least one week earlier (range 5–75 days post-adoption). Participants were contacted by telephone, and if there was no adult eighteen years or older available at the time of the call or the participants did not understand English, these participants were excluded. Approval for the study was obtained from the University of Adelaide Human Research Ethics Committee (project number: H-2015-150).
Nine volunteers conducted the interviews. Telephone calls were made between 0900 and 1600 on weekdays from June 25th, 2015 to August 19th, 2016. When multiple numbers for the individual were provided, the mobile number was dialed first and if the person could not be contacted on the first attempt, the home number was dialed.
The person who was listed as being the primary adopter of the animal was asked if they wanted to participate in the survey, and if they were unavailable, the person’s partner/spouse or adult children were permitted to participate in the survey. If no-one was available to answer the call, a message was left explaining the purpose of the call and a number was provided that the adopter could call back if they wished to participate in the survey.
- Information collected about the adopted dog or cat Before each individual was contacted, the background information of the animal was perused. This information included: whether or not the animal had been a stray or an owner surrender (and reasons for surrender), and the animal’s behavioral and health assessments. This
was done to provide context to the volunteer callers and enable better engagement with the adopter if any known concerns were brought up
during the survey. There were four main categories of animals: dogs, puppies, cats, and kittens. These responses were entered into the
Sheltermate™ database on the same day as the phone call.
- Dog personality profiles Prior to adoption, all dogs admitted into the AWL are assigned two personality profiles as part of the temperament testing by the dog behaviorist. These were adapted from the ASPCA Canine-quality assessment (ASPCA®Pro, 2017). The primary personality profile is to assist in matching suitable dogs to prospective owners, as well as allowing potential owners to appreciate the level of training the dog may need after adoption.
Dogs are assigned low, medium or high primary personality profiles. In addition, dogs are assigned at least one color for their secondary personality profile as part of their temperament test. Cats are not assigned personality profiles.
- Survey questionnaire The survey questions were designed by the AWL and modified by the study authors. The survey consisted of 22 questions in total. There were four questions regarding the animal’s health which assessed the adopter’s satisfaction with the health of their pet, the presence or absence of health issues, and if present, the nature of the presenting health issues. The levels of satisfaction were rated using three five-level Likert scales, with one being very dissatisfied, and five being very satisfied.
Levels of satisfaction were asked in relation to health, behavior, and overall satisfaction. There were thirteen questions regarding the animal’s behavior which assessed the adopter’s satisfaction with the behavior of their pet, the presence or absence of behavioral issues (e.g.aggression to people or other animals), and if present, the nature of the behavioral issue. These questions also assessed how well the adopted pet coexisted with resident children and/or pre-existing pets.
Adopters were offered basic counseling over the phone if issues were encountered, but if they were beyond the capabilities of the caller, the adopter could be referred to the AWL veterinary clinic or behavior team. Five questions assessed their perception of the AWL, including their satisfaction with the service, how they knew of the AWL, and their reasons for adopting.
Survey responses were recorded on a hard copy of the survey as well as adopter details including the animal’s identification number, species, and age; the adopter’s name, contact number(s), the date of adoption and the date the survey was conducted.