Cat Abandonment Owner Profile

What sort of person is more likely to abandon their cat or cats? A study comparing the behavior of people can provide an insight.

Reducing the level of relinquishment of cats to shelters must be one of the most important tasks for people concerned with general cat welfare. Relinquishment to a shelter frequently leads to the death of the cat. Apparently the norm for euthanasia at cat shelters in the USA is somewhere around 70% (sorry I can’t quote the source of that information). It is certainly high because the overall numbers, in the millions (4 million per year?) is very high. If there are 80 million domestic cats in the USA, about 5% are euthanised needlessly.

For the purposes of this post I would like to refer to a study entitled, Risk factors for relinquishment of cats to an animal shelter. The study was organised by a well known scientist frequently involved with research on the relationship between cats and their ‘owners’. His name is Patronek.

Rescued Kitten fostered from Baltimore Animal Shelter

Rescued Kitten fostered from Baltimore Animal Shelter – Photo: Mark Peters

They compared cat owning households in the same community. One household relinquished their cat(s) (“case households”) and the other group were current cat owners, a comparison group (“control households”). The total number of cats involved were:

  • relinquished: 218
  • comparison group: 459

The study concluded that the type of person or persons most likely to abandon their cat were those having specific expectations about a cat’s place in the household and it would seem that these expectations were misplaced (“inappropriate care expectations”). These cat owners had never studied cat behavior and some had never kept a cat before. Owning a cat beforehand educated the person to a certain extent and made them more practical. It also modified their expectations to the benefit of the cat. This is about education which I refer to again.

As I understand the conclusions of the study these people wished to keep an intact cat (not neutered). This appears to have resulted in frequent episodes of “inappropriate elimination” probably marking territory. The cats they kept were more aggressive than neutered cats and the aggression was sometimes directed at people.

A reason (not ‘the’ reason it seems) why the cats were not sterilised was the vet’s fee for the operation – they couldn’t afford it or didn’t want to spend the money. Once again a demonstration of poor expectations.

I think right away you can start to build up an profile of these people. Other interesting ‘ownership characteristics’ (owner behavioral traits) of the people who were more likely to abandon their cat(s) were as follows:

  • Cats acquired without payment were more likely to be abandoned – easy come easy go?
  • Cats acquired as strays were at a lower risk of relinquishment. This supports the idea that I have that when you rescue a cat you create an initial bond that is stronger.
  • Some of these people kept their cats for part of the time in a garage or basement. This strongly indicates a lack of commitment and attachment to the cat. The people who did this were more likely to relinquish.
  • Cats that were allowed to roam outside were more likely to be given up to a shelter. The reasons behind this are not explained. It probably has nothing to do with the cat. It is probably an expression of a lax attitude to cat caretaking. I advocate letting a cat out but in the USA it has to be done with care and management (i.e. enclosure) because there is increased risk from wild animals in the US.
  • Involvement of all the family in caring for the cat, understandably increased the chances of retaining the cat.
  • People who never used the services of a vet were 4x more likely to give up their cat. I guess once again a failure to take a cat to a vet is a sign of lax and sloppy cat caretaking. These people should not have adopted a cat in the first place.
  • It is interesting to note that people who abandoned their cats may have asked for and received the advice of a vet but failed to act on it or agree with it, perhaps. They found the advice ‘impractical’. Once again this seems to be due to entrenched and false expectations. This really does indicate a lack of education and a certain amount of arrogance.
  • Household income, as expected, was found to be “an important predictor of the likelihood of relinquishment”. People with incomes below $25k were 4x more likely to relinquish their cat than households whose income was above $75k. Is this about education? Probably. Ruth AKA Kattaddorra has made this point over and over again and rightly so. Education is at the heart of cat welfare.
  • Apartment dwellers were 3x more likely to abandon that home owners (“single family dwelling”). Is a contributing factor landlords who insist on declawing or is it mainly about cats becoming stressed in apartments and urinating inappropriately?

Can we draw a single, unifying conclusion from this interesting study? Yes, when a person has been raised properly, with an appreciation of nature, and educated academically to a reasonable standard there is a much higher likelihood that that person will go into the process of living with a domestic with eyes wide open and an enlightened approach resulting in retaining his cat for the life of the cat.

Link to original picture on FlickrLink to the original study document.

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Cat Abandonment Owner Profile — 4 Comments

  1. To a citizen living in a developing country this research on American cat owners is interesting and not very surprising. “”PERSONAL INCOME” matters very much in any country, Third World or First World regarding the upkeep and maintenance of a pet.In India, income is not the main criteria for owning pets and many poor people on poverty level keep cats or dogs as companions. “STEREOTYPE PROFILING” is not 100% right in any survey and there are exceptions to the generality of the survey.I personally feel that many people abandon their cats for the simple reason that the cat behaves like a cat and not like a human!In India, cats are never euthanized and hence abandoned cats can lead a contended life on the streets or in markets where they act as natural scavengers.Ultimately, rich or poor, its a personal love for cats that makes the owner satisfied of owning a pet and not a status symbol pet or a toy.

    • Yes, Rudolph people don’t want a cat to behave like a cat all the time. When a cat behaves like a cat there can be a clash of personalities and culture. The domestic cat/human relationship works if people respect the cat for what he or she is not what we want them to be. It is up to us, people, to make the relationship work as cats will always behave instinctively and true to their wild cat heritage.

  2. Yes I’ve said many times that education is at the heart of cat welfare and I’ll probably still be saying it on my death bed. Ignorance can be excused but makes me very sad, where as deliberate cruelty makes me very angry.
    But lack of education isn’t totally to blame, all normal sane humans have the capacity to love and should have the intelligence to know that animals feel pain just as we do and that they have emotions too. Maybe an unwanted cat dumped at a Shelter doesn’t actually think ‘Why have they left me here, what will happen to me?’ because cats have no choice but to accept what fate deals out to them so they do accept it, but their fear and bewilderment must be great. From their home to a cage surrounded by other dumped cats and strangers caring for them, it doesn’t bear thinking about how that must feel.
    Cats are in the power of a kind caring person who understands them or an ignorant person who hasn’t bothered to find out how to treat them properly or a cruel person who likes to show their power by abusing them. I think anyone who relinquishes a cat for any reason other than death, severe disablement or having nowhere to live, was the wrong sort of person to have a cat. Cats are NOT possessions to be disposed of if a problem crops up, they are family and families stick together and work through their problems or troubles.
    My dream is that anyone wanting a pet must first prove they have the knowledge, committment and competence to care for that pet for his entire lifetime.
    Dream on Ruth ……………..

    • As usual I agree with you Ruth. There is a complete lack of will to rectify the problems that exist in the human/domestic cat relationship. The same problems repeat themselves over and over.

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