Bark and Purrtect

Animal Welfare, Rescue and Advocacy

Bark and Purrtect
Recognizing Barriers to Pet Adoption

By: Paris Permenter & John Bigley

One of the questions we ask (probably far too often) of fellow pet lovers is how they feel about pet adoption. We’re always trying to figure out just what makes people decide to go to a shelter or rescue to adopt their next pet—or not. Often it boils down to the fact that people spend money on what makes them feel good—and they’re worried that a visit to a shelter or rescue might just make them feel just the opposite.

And while the Internet has been great for getting out the word (and photos) of adoptable pets, it’s clear that the negative images outweigh the good ones in many people’s minds. A few weeks ago we wrote about creating a positive image for shelter pets through good photography. The difference between a positive photo and a depressing photo can make all the difference in social sharing efforts, sometimes having a huge influence on that dog’s future.

That perceived image of shelters, rescues, and adoptable pets was the subject of a recent study by PetSmart Charities, a survey designed to identify barriers to adoption. Comparing new data to a 2009 national survey that the organization conducted, the study is an effort to help shelters and rescues figure out how best to understand the public’s ideas (and misconceptions) about rescue. “It’s a challenging time for us to let people know that their local animal control may be the best place in their community for them to find their next pet,” explains Kelly Campbell, senior manager of knowledge and research for PetSmart Charities. “We want to let people know that animal control and adoption organizations are great places to get your next pet."

The survey identified the top reason (up from 2009) that pet lovers did not adopt was that the person wanted a purebred dog or cat, followed closely by the shelter or rescue not having the type of pet the person wanted. The third most frequent barrier to adoption was the idea that pet parents wouldn’t know what they were getting with a shelter animal.

The study also showed “A slight uptick in the perception that adoption organizations and shelters aren’t sanitary,” says Campbell. This could be partially explained due to a sagging economy necessitating budget cuts in municipal facilities.

However, in other ways, the economic climate has helped rescue efforts; the survey showed an increase in a desire for a pet that’s already spayed and neutered. “Along with the understanding that it’s less expensive, we see the value proposition of what an adoptive pet offers: that’s it’s pre-altered, vaccinated, and potentially has some training--that message is getting out,” notes Campbell.

One of the most interesting results of the survey, much like the photos of adoptable pets we discussed in our previous post, is that depressing images—while they might be effective fundraisers—also deter adoption.

Studies such as the PetSmart Charities survey provide a good starting point for countering negative perceptions of rescue. Informed by the survey results, organizations can plan more effectively to fulfill their mission of encouraging pet adoptions. is North America’s largest non-profit pet adoption web service. We help homeless pets at more than 13,600 animal shelters and rescues connect with the millions of potential adopters visit our website each month. To date, we’ve facilitated hundreds of thousands of lasting connections between great people and loving animals.

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