USA: How people make choices when adapting shelter cats (and why they give them back)

Desirable kitty - a spayed white traditional Persian. Photo copyright Dani

Desirable kitty – a spayed white traditional Persian. Photo copyright Dani

This page contains information on how rescue cat adopters make their choices when selecting a cat and briefly looks at why they give them back.

The cat most likely to be adopted at a United States shelter is a white, neutered, purebred, pedigree male Persian kitten (or another white pedigree cat)….read on.

There are very few studies on this interesting topic. The information below is based on one study1. The study sheds some light on what distinguishes shelter cats that are euthanised (in reality killed not euthanised – there is a difference) and those that are saved for a home.

The study was conducted at the Sacramento County Animal Shelter, 1994-95. Included in the study were 3,301 cats that were offered to adopters. Note: the info. here presents a guide only because it is based on one study.

We all know that people prefer kittens. By how much? This chart explains:

shelter cat adoptions by cat age preferences

People also select cats on gender and whether they are sterilised. There is a preference for neutered males over spayed females and neutered males are far more likely to be adopted than intact males. Almost the same amount of preference applies to spayed females over intact females.

rescue adoptions statistics rescue-cat-adoptions-statistics-2 rescue-cat-adoptions-statistics-3

The cat’s coat has an impact on the selection process. This is unsurprising as appearance is always a factor. In descending order these were the preferred colors:

  1. White
  2. Colourpoint
  3. Grey

Brown and black cats were half as likely to be adopted as tabby cats. Purebred, pedigree cats such as Persians were twice as likely to be adopted than random bred cats (domestic shorthaired cat) except for Siamese cats (which is strange). There was no preference between short and long haired cats.

Cats that were listed as having behavioural problems, under 8 weeks old or geriatric were less likely to be adopted than cats classified as “strays”.

In a different study2 it was found that:

  • Women are more likely to adopt cats from rescue centres than men (53% compared to 35%).
  • Men and parents were more likely to give up on the adoption within 6 months.
  • People who had previously cared for a cat were more more likely to keep the adopted rescue cat than first-time adopters. Of the people who subsequently rejected their cat 62% were first timers and 38% had previously owned pets.
  • Younger people were more likely to reject their adopted cat compared to older adopters.

People who have a clear understanding of what it is like to care for a cat are far more likely to keep a cat adopted from a shelter. There should be more education offered to first-time adopters when they present themselves at shelters. People often give cats back because they were not sufficiently aware of what it is like to care for a cat.

Refs (studies referred to):

  1. Lepper and colleagues 2002
  2. Work by Kidd and colleagues 1992
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USA: How people make choices when adapting shelter cats (and why they give them back) — 11 Comments

  1. I love graphs. That blue wedge on the top one makes me a little sad. I’ve only managed to adopt older cats. But they find me. I’ve never adopted a cat from a shelter. Maybe someday I will raise a younger cat.

    • When a cat chooses the human rules are turned upside down! It is the same for me. I have never chosen a cat but if I did, I’d chose the cat everyone else rejected. It is just the way I am.

  2. Very interesting statistics which show that in the case of neutering it pays Shelters to do this to encourage the adoption of cats.
    Kays Hill recently had a cat neutering drive as they’ve had good donations since their fences blew down in the gales and lots more support since then, so hopefully more cats will be adopted out from there too as a result and make room for more needing to come in.

    • People seem to choose on looks and practicality. The white cat indicates a preference for a nice appearance and neutering makes a cat more pliable and domestic. I think the preference for males is because most adopters are females and prefer the opposite sex. Just a thought.

      I’d like to see a cat’s appearance be less important to people though. Too many fine shelter cats are rejected because they are 10 years old and brown.

  3. I think people should have to foster before being allowed to adopt just to see whether they still want a cat after poop and hairball accidents.

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