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Pro-shelter-dog message getting lost on younger people

  • Chicago Tribune
  • Published Friday, August 2, 2013, at 11:03 a.m.

Behavioral problems

A study conducted by Best Friends Animal Society, this one in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, found that dogs from pet stores (the large majority of which are the products of puppy mills) are more likely to have behavioral problems than dogs purchased from small breeders.

The pet-shop dogs showed more aggressive behavior toward other dogs, strangers and family members, as well as greater fear of other dogs and behavior problems when left unattended – all reasons frequently cited by people surrendering their pets to shelters.

The study, which included more than 6,000 dogs, was published in May in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

After years of public awareness campaigns and other efforts to promote the adoption of cats and dogs from shelters – initiatives that seemed to be making great strides – a new study has delivered some opposite findings.

The survey by Best Friends Animal Society (bestfriends.org), a Utah sanctuary that’s one of the leaders in the no-kill movement, has found that the pro-shelter/pro-adoption message is being lost on young people.

Survey participants between 18 and 34 were found to be more likely to buy a pet from a breeder or pet store than to consider a shelter adoption (46 versus 31 percent total). The survey also uncovered misconceptions among young adults, nearly 40 percent of whom don’t believe shelter animals are at risk, and 46 percent of whom see shelter animals as less desirable than those from breeders.

“In the last decade, animal rescue and animal rescue organizations have become so prominent, people have been bumping into them and (you) would have thought their experience and their concept of the market would have been different,” says Francis Battista, vice chairman at Best Friends. “I would have thought this age bracket would have been pretty heavily exposed to animals for adoption.”

Kelly Campbell is the senior manager of knowledge and research for PetSmart Charities (petsmartcharities.org), which has been at the forefront in popularizing adoptions. She’s in that 18-to-34 demographic and says it’s disheartening to see young people turning to breeders.

“I’ve seen a number of my classmates who went to breeders to purchase puppies,” she says.

Campbell says younger people may not realize that just about any breed is available through shelters or breed-specific rescues.

Some people also think that animals from breed rescues have the same problems – including behavior and health problems – that shelter animals are supposed to have. Battista says Best Friends is fighting that “damaged goods” canard.

“That’s so far from the truth,” he says. “Shelter pets are basically unlucky pets who’ve ended up there through no fault of their own. … It has nothing to do with the quality of pets.”

Nearly 40 percent of young people in the Best Friends survey thought that animals were safe in shelters versus 30 percent total. And in the PetSmart survey of 2011, 88 percent of respondents underestimated the number of pets euthanized annually in U.S. shelters (it’s between 3 million and 4 million dogs and cats).

Campbell says that perceptions need to change: The adoption process isn’t onerous; shelters are not depressing. PetSmart has been correcting those misperceptions for a decade with its in-store adoption program. It now has more than 2,000 in-store adoption partners and last year found new homes for more than 440,000 animals.

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