New PetSmart Charities® Study Urges Shift In How Adoptable Pets Are Portrayed

Awareness and concern about pet homelessness is undermined by growing misconceptions about adoptable pets

Fundraising campaigns that show homeless pets in depressing conditions appear to strengthen the reluctance of some Americans to adopt a pet, according to new research from PetSmart Charities.

The study also identifies the most persistent misconceptions that people have about adoptable pets —that shelters don’t have the type of dog/cat wanted; purebred pets aren’t available; and you never know what you’re going to get with a shelter pet.

PetSmart Charities funded two national surveys, administered by Ipsos Marketing in 2009 and 2011, to better understand the public’s attitudes and understanding about pet adoption and spay/neuter. The results of the surveys have highlighted the need for the animal welfare community to portray adoptable pets in a more positive light. Doing so would help to close the awareness gap between the benefits of pet adoption and spay/neuter, and the current pet homelessness and euthanasia epidemic.

“The pets shown in fundraising campaigns should be the same pets that animal welfare organizations are asking people to adopt – those that are healthy, happy, and ready for a forever home,” said Kelly Campbell, senior manager of knowledge & research, PetSmart Charities.

Key findings from the study include:

· Most Americans (88 percent) drastically underestimate the scope of the euthanasia epidemic. In 2011, people estimated the number of pets euthanized annually was 1.2 million, and in 2009, that number was 1.5 million. Both figures are far below the actual number of approximately 4 million cats and dogs euthanized every year

· Conversely, people’s awareness and concern about the pet homelessness issue have grown, and more say they would consider adopting a pet. In 2009, 51 percent said they would consider adopting a dog or cat, compared to 58 percent in 2011.

· However, misconceptions about adoption are increasing – reflecting significant damage that has been done in just two years. The barriers to adoption that have grown significantly from 2009 to 2011 include:

o Shelters don’t have the type of dog or cat wanted: up 9 percent

o You never know what you’re going to get with a shelter pet: up 21 percent

o The dog/cat may have behavioral problems: up 13 percent

o Shelters are depressing or sad: up 20 percent

· The desire to save a pet is the strongest driver of adoption at 84 percent. Also, 21 percent of people said that seeing a pet’s picture online motivated them to adopt, reinforcing the need to depict adoptable pets in a positive light.

· The study identifies additional drivers of adoption – that people wanted pets already spayed/neutered and vaccinated, that it is less expensive, and they wanted to foster a pet before acquiring one.

· In terms of spay/neuter services, some 41 percent of those surveyed in 2011 said the main reason they have not yet spayed or neutered their pet is because they believe their pet was too young for the procedure—a 7 percent increase compared to the 2009 results. A similar percentage of people also said they thought spay/neutering was either too expensive, unnecessary or they simply hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

The misconceptions of pets in shelters are even more apparent in 2011 than they were in 2009, and until the animal welfare industry is able to change attitudes surrounding these barriers, pet homelessness will continue to exist in our communities.

To read the full survey results, visit PetSmart Charities’ online webinar here.


Established in 1994, PetSmart Charities, Inc. is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that creates and supports programs that save the lives of homeless pets, raise awareness of companion animal welfare issues and promote healthy relationships between people and pets. The largest funder of animal-welfare efforts in North America, PetSmart Charities has provided more than $165 million in grants and programs benefiting animal-welfare organizations and has helped save the lives of more than 5 million pets through its in-store adoption program. To learn more about how PetSmart Charities is working toward its vision of a lifelong, loving home for every pet, visit or call 1-800-423-PETS (7387).


The surveys were conducted by Ipsos Marketing between March 14-24, 2009 and November 3-11, 2011, with a national sample of 2,000 adults aged 18 and older split equally by gender, and an additional sample of 1,000 adults aged 18 and older who had acquired a dog or cat in the previous 12 months. The surveys were self-administered online and asked about a range of pet adoption issues.