Why Do People Adopt One Shelter Pet Over Another?

By Linda Cole

With millions of cats and dogs in animal shelters, there’s a lot to pick from. Different sizes, colors, mixed breeds, purebreds, personalities and ages. A study done by the ASPCA looked at reasons why people adopt the shelter pet they pick. This is important research because it can give shelters insight as to why certain pets may be overlooked by possible adopters.

Shelters are already aware of black dog syndrome, a bias against black dogs and black cats. For some reason, people looking at pets miss seeing the darker colored ones. It’s possible they are overlooked because some people are superstitious about black cats, in particular. The lighting in shelters isn’t always good and if a darker pet is hiding in the corner of his cage or sitting way in the back, they may not be seen as easily as the lighter colored pets.

According to the study, it may be the ‘cuteness factor’ that attracts people to certain pets. Last year, the ASPCA set out to try to figure out why people picked the specific pet they did. They asked 1,500 people who adopted a pet to fill out a questionnaire at five shelters across the country. Was it the pet’s age or physical appearance, or perhaps their behavior that caught the person’s eye? They discovered that when someone adopted an adult cat or dog, behavior was at the top of the list for consideration. The age of the pet made no difference. When it came to kittens, age was the deciding factor, and people chose a particular puppy based on physical appearance. For the cat loving adopter, what the kitten looked like didn’t matter, and a puppy’s behavior was ranked at the bottom for those who picked a puppy.

The purpose of the survey was to shed light on how a potential adopter’s thought process worked and what they looked for when making their decision. The results have given shelter workers insight as to how and why certain pets may be overlooked. It also points out the importance of talking with people looking to adopt to help them see the potential in all of the shelter pets. The study can help workers learn how to show off a pet’s ‘inner beauty’ for those animals that may be less likely to be adopted because they aren’t as cute as others. A pet may have the perfect personality and behavior for someone, and the survey suggests shelter workers may need to point out the benefits of another pet that might be a better match for the adopter’s lifestyle.

It’s estimated that 5 to 7 million pets go into shelters every year. When someone adopts the right pet with the behavior and personality traits that fit their lifestyle, fewer pets are returned to the shelter. After all, these pets have already lost their home when they ended up in a shelter and are confused about why they were abandoned in the first place. Making sure the right pet is adopted by the right owner will make it more likely the pet will have a permanent and forever home.

An insecure or shy dog or cat may be happy to hang out at the back and never be seen by most people. We equate all of the ones pushing up at the front of the cage as the friendliest ones. But sometimes, the perfect pet is patiently waiting for someone to see her through the crowd. It’s hard for pets to be in shelters, and some dogs or cats may not be showing their true self. Just because a pet looks nervous in the shelter doesn’t necessarily mean they will be that way once in a new home. Shelter workers do try to learn what a pet’s personality is like, but with so many animals to care for, it’s not an easy thing to do.

Everyone has their reasons for why they picked a certain dog, cat, puppy or kitten. And we all have our own preference when it comes to a pet’s cuteness factor. Shelter pets have been through a lot, and the last thing they need is to be returned because someone didn’t pick the right animal the first time. If a simple study can help match pets with potential owners, that’s a win win for the shelter, the adopter and most importantly, the pet.

If you adopted your pet from a shelter, what was it about the dog or cat you picked that caught your eye?

Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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13 thoughts on “Why Do People Adopt One Shelter Pet Over Another?

  1. Funnily enough I’ve just been writing about this! I went to the shelter to get a dog and I came home with Austin the cat. I chose him because he was the most loud lol

  2. I guess it’s something about what the adopter feels towards a certain pet at first encounter. You see, I get that weird feeling around animals. Even some pet dogs whom are said to be aggressive just approach me and let me give them a pat on the head. You see, pets can probably detect your animal-loving vibes from a mile away.

  3. Before I adopted Woodrow I didnt want a dog AT ALL especially not a dog under 3 years old.. But after working as a kennel attendant I fell in live with this scruffy 45lb dog who cried ALL the time.. It didn’t mater how he looked I just loved the way he behavid.. Which is extremely laid back like me

  4. When it came to our pets, they chose us:). We went to a farm where there was around 25 kittens and Tigger was the one to climb on my lap while his litter mates were being fed. Whiskers literally chased us down.

  5. My husband has picked two cats from shelters, both were adults and he saw the cat, held the cat and fell in love. Nowadays we usually can’t afford to get them from the shelter. Why does a shelter charge so much money that people can’t afford the animals, then they kill them because they have not been adopted? Why not have a half price day for those animals, and then if they are still there next time half price day rolls around, drop the fee to like $15? Better than killing the animals.

  6. The tabby arm extended out of the cage — the fuzzybelly and the green eyes and smiling face of my Cat-To-Be, Princess, a humble grey tabby langorously lying on her back in her cage, happily looking at me — she obviously picked me. How could I refuse?

  7. We’ve always felt our cats picked us as much as we picked them. We fell in love with Sammy when we saw all these little kittens climbing all over and jumping on him. Moosey we chose because he was so social and easygoing. Angel Graphite chose me when he made it clear that while he *liked* other people, he *loved* me. :)

  8. I was volunteering at the shelter and looking at some of the dogs, when one of the staff asked me what I wanted in a pup. I said a female, 3-5 years old, great disposition,medium sized,
    and I was looking at a dog as I asked this. She said thats Sasha and she is two years old, her disposition was wonderful when she first came but she gets sadder every day and she has been here 3 months! I said, wrap her up, I'll take her! Her name is now Stella and she is a sweetheart, after being on the loose for some of the summer, she is scared of thunderstorms, and fireworks, but we manage to get through that. She is half black Lab and half border collie, very smart and very loveable to everyone she meets, from toddlers to adults. That Black Dog stuff is just baloney as far as we are concerned!

    Jo and Stella

  9. I was volunteering at the shelter and looking at some of the dogs, when one of the staff asked me what I wanted in a pup. I said a female, 3-5 years old, great disposition,medium sized,
    and I was looking at a dog as I asked this. She said thats Sasha and she is two years old, her disposition was wonderful when she first came but she gets sadder every day and she has been here 3 months! I said, wrap her up, I’ll take her! Her name is now Stella and she is a sweetheart, after being on the loose for some of the summer, she is scared of thunderstorms, and fireworks, but we manage to get through that. She is half black Lab and half border collie, very smart and very loveable to everyone she meets, from toddlers to adults. That Black Dog stuff is just baloney as far as we are concerned!

    Jo and Stella

  10. I have never gotten an animal from a shelter. If I ever went into a shelter, I would take them all home especially the ones that stay in the back of the cages. That is so sad. When I got puppies from a litter, I always picked the runt or the one that was the shyest. Great post.

  11. So interesting! I picked Finn because I saw her nip her brother’s ear. But she definitely picked me. She was the only dog in the place I wasn’t terrified of holding.

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