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Is there a bias against stray cats in shelters? People's perception of shelter cats and how it influences adoption time

By K. Dybdall, R. Strasser

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The determination of adoptability is a fundamental issue facing shelters wishing to rehome cats. Many shelters in the United States cannot keep a cat indefinitely and increased time in the shelter environment may lead to reduced animal welfare due to chronic stress or euthanasia. In a series of studies, we examined whether entry type (whether a cat came to the shelter as an owner-surrendered or stray) as well as a cat's perceived social behavior influenced adoption times and people's ratings of adoptability. In study 1, we used archival data from 1,089 cats in a Midwest shelter and found that owner-surrendered cats were adopted significantly sooner than stray cats. In study 2, we further explored the difference between owner-surrendered and stray cats by measuring the social behavior of 56 shelter cats and their time before adoption. Similarly, we found in this sample that owner-surrendered cats were adopted on average nine days sooner than stray cats. Hierarchical regression analysis indicated that entry type was a significant predictor of days to adopt, and that latency to approach a human significantly improved the prediction model. Further, how quickly stray cats, but not owner-surrendered cats, approached a human experimenter correlated significantly with a shortened adoption time in the actual adoption scenario. Finally, in study 3, we used an on-line survey to present 12 dual-image pictures of cats and manipulated whether the information about the cat listed each as owner-surrendered or stray cat. We asked 120 college students to rate their likelihood of adopting each pictured cat. When participants were asked about reasons they would adopt a particular cat, 81% reported friendly behavior toward them; yet when viewing the mirror images in the survey (no behavioral information available), cats received higher adoptability ratings when presented as owner-surrendered compared with the flipped image of that cat presented as a stray. Taken together, these studies suggest that adopters' perception of stray cats, as well as cats' interactions with humans, influence the amount of time a cat remains in the shelter prior to adoption.

Publication Title Anthrozoos
Volume 27
Issue 4
Pages 603-614
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
Publisher Bloomsbury Publishing
Language English
Author Address Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior Program, University of Nebraska at Omaha, 6001 Dodge Street, Omaha, NE 68182,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Analysis
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Animals
  4. Animal welfare
  5. Anthrozoology
  6. APEC countries
  7. Carnivores
  8. Cats
  9. Determination
  10. Developed countries
  11. Estimation
  12. Euthanasia
  13. Humans
  14. Interactions
  15. Mammals
  16. Mathematics and statistics
  17. Men
  18. North America
  19. OECD countries
  20. peer-reviewed
  21. Pets and companion animals
  22. predictions
  23. Primates
  24. Regression Analysis
  25. Research
  26. shelters
  27. Social behavior
  28. students
  29. United States of America
  30. vertebrates
  1. peer-reviewed