It goes without saying that not all adoptions of cats from animal and cat shelters results in a long-term relationship. At the heart of the failures is the lack of a solid emotional attachment between person and cat. And behind that it may be fair to say that there is a need to educate some people on the importance of adopting a cat for the lifetime of the cat; as a duty and as an obligation. The moment you adopt a cat there has to be a commitment to look after them for their lifetime. The moment of adoption is a big one. It cannot be entered into casually and in a self-indulgent manner. This, I would argue. is at the root of people giving up their shelter-adopted cats.
Men versus women and parents versus non-parents
But what specifically can we see in the information on this topic through studies? A study in 1992 revealed some factors which separates the successes from the failures. They followed up on 161 owners who had adopted cats from a shelter.
They found that 53% of the adopters were women and 35% were men. I am unable to find out the status of the remaining 12%! They also found that a higher percentage of men than women did not keep their cat for longer than six months. The same conclusion was drawn with respect to parents compared to non-parents. This means that when an adopter is a parent they are less likely to keep their rescue cat.
I think I will comment on this information right away. It’s no surprise that women will be the major motivators to adopting from shelters and will be more involved in the process. Perhaps to, it is not a surprise that men are more likely to give up their cat. This might be because they are more ambivalent about domestic cats and therefore less committed to the adoption. Or perhaps they find themselves to be too busy in their work but the same could be said about women in that regard.
As for parents and non-parents, once again it doesn’t surprise me because children in homes are a potential source of problems in respect of cat caretaking because children can be harmed by cats through mishandling them. The parents might believe that their cat is aggressive and difficult and so they give them back to the shelter. This is more about parenting and teaching children how to behave around cats but the perception is of an aggressive animal. Also, this is an issue of expectation-management. When people adopt a cat from a shelter that they must be fully educated and cognisant of what it is going to be like looking after a cat for many years.
First time adopters are more likely to give up their cat than individuals who have previously owned pets. The rejection rate for the former is 62% while for the latter it is 38%. This is a significant difference which is probably due to education. Looking after a cat educates you in cat behaviour and the demands and obligations placed upon you. This prepares you for the adoption. First timers will sometimes discover that they are unsuited to the task.
People who rejected their adopted cat were on average younger than those who retain them beyond six months.
Adopting from veterinarians
In a second study adopting from veterinarians was analysed. They discovered that people were more likely to retain their cat when adopting from a veterinarian compared to a shelter. The average age of those rejecting their cat was about eight years lower than those who kept them. Further, the average age of people adopting from a veterinarian was about seven years older than shelter adopters.
And, when cats were relinquished after adopting from a veterinarian they were kept for a longer period of time; on average about six months following acquisition compared to shelter adopters who gave up their cat within two months.
The relative success of adopting from veterinarians is put down to the advantage they have in receivin advice from a knowledgeable person, which improves their expectations and understanding of the process of looking after a companion animal. Also, a veterinarian would stress the need to adopt for the life of the pet. This highlights the need for education in cat ownership.
Thanks: I am thankfully to P.H. Kass writing in The Welfare of Cats edited by Irene Rochlitz. This is a very fine book if you are interested in hard information and wise discussion on all aspects of cat welfare.