Why Don’t People Want Pets? Part 2: Dogs

What stops people from adopting dogs from shelters?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

The AHA/PetSmart Charities study on barriers to the adoption of dogs has some interesting findings (see last week for the results on cats). The survey included previous owners (people who had owned a dog/cat before, but at least 12 months ago) and non-owners (who had never owned a dog/cat as an adult). 

The most common source of a dog was from family, a friend or neighbour (38%), with 22% going to a shelter and 16% to a breeder.  As with cats, the main reason they no longer had the dog was because it had died or had to be put to sleep, and the second-most common reason was because the pet was given away, often because of housing requirements (e.g. the landlord said no pets). More than half of previous owners had had the dog for over ten years, and a quarter for between five and ten years.

Amongst previous dog owners, the main reasons for not getting a new dog were vet costs (30%), general costs (29%), lack of time (27%) and travelling (26%). Amongst those who had never owned a dog, the main reasons were cleaning (30%), lifestyle (30%) and general expense (29%). No time (25%) and vet expenses (24%) were also cited. These are sensible reasons, and things that everyone should consider before getting a dog. Only 12% said that they didn’t like dogs.

A yellow labrador sitting on a country road with a big stick in its mouth
Photo: Jaromir Chalabala / Shutterstock

A fairly high number of previous dog owners said they would consider getting a dog as a pet (45%), compared to a quarter of those who had not previously owned a dog. Of both groups, more than half say they would go to a shelter or rescue group to get their next dog; a higher number than for cats. Younger people were more likely to consider a dog, as were those who had owned a dog within the last five years.

For people who had not owned a dog as an adult, having had a dog as a child, or another pet that wasn’t a cat or dog, made them more likely to consider a dog in the future. This is interesting because having a cat as a child had no effect on whether a non-cat owner would consider getting one, and having a dog as a child made people less likely to consider a cat. This makes me wonder if there is any difference in the relationship between a child and a dog, and a child and a cat. Certainly it seems to be perceived that way, since more than half of potential dog owners have a child in the household. Another possibility is that people become ‘a dog person’ as a child and this perception doesn’t change over time.

One of the most useful things about the study is that it may help to target campaigns for cat and dog adoption. For example, promotions of cat adoption are most likely to be successful if aimed at young adults, whereas dog adoptions could be aimed at adults under 65 since a wider range of people would consider a dog.  Those over 65 did not seem keen on acquiring a new cat or dog. Campaigns to increase the availability of pet-friendly housing would also help, since this was a major reason for giving up a dog. Rescue organizations will be reassured by the finding that more than half of those who would consider a dog say they would go to a rescue or shelter to acquire the animal. 

I am especially intrigued by the findings relating to children. Is there something special about the relationship between a dog and a child? Do you have special memories of a dog you knew as a child?

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Zazie Todd, PhD, is the author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. She is the founder of the popular blog Companion Animal Psychology, where she writes about everything from training methods to the human-canine relationship. She also writes a column for Psychology Today and has received the prestigious Captain Haggerty Award for Best Training Article in 2017. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband and two cats.

Useful links:
AHA and PetSmart (2012) Keeping pets (dogs and cats) in homes: A three-phase retention study. Available online at https://www.americanhumane.org/publication/keeping-pets-dogs-and-cats-in-homes-phase-i-reasons-for-not-owning-a-dog-or-cat/ 

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  1. Unfortunately, I have childhood memories of the dogs that my family was ill equipped to raise (we tried and failed twice, and ended up returning one to the breeder and sending the other off to rescue). We kept cats, though, who were very happy and much loved.

    The memories of these failures kept me from getting another dog at first, until I had a partner whom I felt was dog-savvy enough to compensate for my ignorance. Over the years, I've overtaken him on that score. ;) But I'm pretty certain that the memories-that-were-not-to-be of my childhood dogs fed into my obstinate desire to see these little lives through, once I was old enough to acquire a pet of my own.

    I like that the survey separated vet costs from general costs -- and found it noteworthy that the cost of veterinary care is so high up there. What if vets and pet insurance companies pitched in to help fund adoption events by sponsoring or discounting veterinary costs, especially for seniors or other "difficult" adoption cases with chronic (but manageable) diseases?? That would be amazing, and could even go a long way in establishing a healthy doctor-client relationship that would serve the lifetime of the pet...

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I agree with you, the survey did a good job in separating veterinary costs from general costs. And I guess at the moment, with so many people struggling financially, the costs are probably more important than they might be at times of economic boom.

    I know some pet rescues look for long-term fosters, rather than 'homes', for their long-say senior animals, because it gets the animal a home but removes the worry about vet costs. Of course it must be expensive for the rescue, but it's a great idea.

    Your idea about vets and pet insurance companies is a great one. It would be good publicity for them too.

  3. I dont want pets because; they can pee on my carpet or furniture, they can vomit on said surfaces, they can make noise when id rather be sleeping, then I get to pay for all this "joy". No thanks lol.

  4. I have worked in an animal shelter for 12 years, plus I have two dogs of my own. However I still have to respect the views of those who don't want pets. After all one of my co-workers was bitten by an 80 pound rottweiller while feeding him. One minute she was giving him a bowl of food five minutes later she was taken to the hospital to get stitches seven inches long on her forearm. Since the accident she no longer wants pets, nor does she any longer work at the animal shelter. I was bitten in the foot by a basset hound while giving him a bath. I luckily wasn't injured, thanks for my shoes. I however didn't leave the shelter. However I can see why some people don't want pets. There is potential of injury if the dog is big enough. Plus bite victims don't only get physical injury, but there is also emotional scarring as well. I didn't mean to upset the humane society or any animal rights activists,after all I love my two dogs bunches. however in all fairness we should understand all reasons as to why some people may not want pets. Pet ownership is not for everybody. All people need respect for their feelings and decisions on whether they will own a pet or if they will never get a pet. Pet owners deserve respect, However people who don't want pets, or own pets or those people who will never get a pet deserve every bit as much respect as everybody else.

  5. my life is messier with dogs, but I wouldn't want it any other way. I spend money on things that are not for me. A decade from now I won't remember what I would have spent the money on, (toys, clothes, vacation, fancy night out) but I will remember fondly every moment of time with my dog - even the times he misbehaved


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