Most Americans have heard about the plight of homeless pets, yet according to a recent survey, they grossly underestimate the size and scope of the problem, as well as the number of dogs and cats who must be put to death in U.S. shelters every year. These findings come from a survey commissioned by PetSmart Charities and conducted online by Ipsos Marketing. Polled for the survey was a national sample of 2,000 adults aged 18 and older split equally by gender, and an additional sample of 1,000 adults aged 18 and older who had acquired a dog or cat in the previous 12 months.
"We were intrigued to learn that the overpopulation of homeless dogs and cats ranked third in terms of familiarity with social issues," said Susana Della Maddalena, executive director of non-profit PetSmart Charities, Inc. "However, 76 percent of respondents estimated the number of pets euthanized in shelters every year at 1 million or fewer. In reality, that number is about 4 million pets every year. So, while the public knows there is a problem, the public doesn't know just how serious that problem is."
Given the robust sample size of the survey, she added, the data "very accurately" reflects the national attitudes and opinions about pet homelessness, pet adoption and spay/neuter services. PetSmart Charities is now sharing the findings to raise awareness about pet homelessness and help to create lifesaving solutions.
"We hope that by providing this data to others who share our passion for saving the lives of homeless pets, we can break down the barriers to pet adoption and spay/neuter that survey respondents identified," she said. "We can all use the data to develop new practices and messages based on what we now know to be key motivators and barriers."
The survey also found that about 40 percent of pet owners acquired their dog or cat without doing advance research; 76 percent of pets are acquired from sources other than animal shelters; and that the top reasons people don't adopt pets from shelters are the desire for a specific breed or type of pet and uncertainty about shelters and the pet-adoption process. Conversely, wanting to "save a life" and an overall sense that pets from shelters are "some of the best companion animals" ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively as top motivators for adopting a pet.
As for spaying and neutering -- which animal-welfare proponents including PetSmart Charities® identify as key to ending the epidemic of pet homelessness -- most people said confusion about the right age to have a dog or cat sterilized, as well as costs of the procedure, were the biggest barriers. Still, 65 percent of respondents said their dog or cat was spayed or neutered; meanwhile, of the 35 percent who said their dogs and cats are not sterilized, 75 percent said they are considering having the procedure done on their dogs or cats in the future.
The research also showed that 13 percent of dog owners and 19 percent of cat owners have experienced the birth of at least one litter of puppies and kittens -- but typically unintentionally. Of the pet owners whose dogs or cats had litters, 53 percent of dog owners and 54 percent of cat owners said "it was an accident." Another 20 percent of dog owners and 12 percent of cat owners said they wanted their family to see a litter being born. And although 62 percent of respondents said they are aware of low-cost spay/neuter clinics, most indicated they place a higher level of trust in private veterinary hospitals.
The survey also categorized responses by age and by geographic region in the continental United States. 28 percent of pet owners in the western U.S. had adopted their pet, while 23 percent of those in the Northeast, Midwest and South were pet adopters. Pet owners in the West also had the highest number of pets who are sterilized, while pet owners in the South had the lowest number. And while 62 percent of people aged 18 to 34 had spayed or neutered their pets, they ranked third in that category behind 35- to 54-year-olds (65 percent) and people aged 55 and older (76 percent).
To review a summary report of the research findings, please visit http://petsmartcharities.org/research/.
In response to the findings of this survey, ACR is once again participating in Spay Day USA coming up in February and is launching its own campaign to fight pet overpopulation by announcing Free Feral Cat Spay Day in April. For more information on these events and to learn more about ACR’s other programs, please visit our website www.saveacat.org.