Research Resources for Animal Shelters and Rescues

There’s a growing evidence base on ways to increase animal adoptions and reduce relinquishment.

A puppy and a kitten sleeping peacefully together

Over the last few years, there have been many studies of direct relevance to those involved in animal shelters and rescues. 

From considering what people look for in a new pet, how to increase adoptions, and what goes wrong to cause people to surrender animals, there’s a lot of useful information.

I’ve covered many of these stories here at Companion Animal Psychology, and I thought it would be helpful to put them all in one place. 

Whether you want a better understanding of why so many companion animals end up in shelters, or to take action to improve adoption rates, you'll find plenty of food for thought here.

Shelter cats like a box to hide in. The importance of providing a kitty-sized hiding space, such as a cardboard box, Hide Perch and Go or Feline Fort. 

Even shy shelter cats can learn tricks. 100 shelter cats were taught four tricks (sit, high five, spin and nose targeting) and the results show that even shy cats can learn tricks through clicker training.

What helps shelter dogs get adopted and stay in homes? About a recent summary of what we know about the ways animals arrive at and leave shelters, and how we can improve things.

Shelter dogs live up to expectations (mostly). Although they say their dogs aren't perfect, most people who adopt a shelter dog would do so again. 

Finding out if shelter dogs are friendly: Testing the BARK protocol. On the problems with assessments for shelter dogs.

Video helps the shelter dog (more than photos) on a small study that compared the ratings given to adoptable dogs shown in either video or still photographs.

Large study finds no evidence for 'black dog syndrome'. In this large scale study, black dogs did not take longer to be adopted, although there were some effects of coat colour. Since the results may vary by shelter, it shows the importance of checking data. 

Great photos are important to dog adoption (and it may not be the features you expect that make a difference).
Proof the internet helps cat adoptions (and again, what helps in photos may not be what you expect). Dr. Christy Hoffman talks about that study in this interview with Companion Animal Psychology.

Dogs that need training or have behaviour problems are less likely to be adopted, but those who are friendly – to people, children, cats, or other dogs – are more likely to be adopted. It’s important to include a dog’s good features in profiles. What do people look for when adopting a dog? 

It’s the whole package that counts. Picking a new dog is a complex choice

A foster program for bunny rabbits led to a significant decline in euthanasias 
A community approach to shelter animal adoptions looks at the significant improvements in adoption rates in communities taking part in the ASPCA Partnership program 
The Adoption Ambassadors program gets dogs out of the shelter while they are looking for a home. How about that doggy at the hair salon? 

Although many people say they will get their next animal from a shelter, there are also many misperceptions about rescue animals. People who are involved in rescue have more positive attitudes, suggesting that increasing volunteer programs will encourage more people to adopt rather than shop: Attitudes to rescue dogs in Australia.
Homing and re-homing Fido: How many newly-adopted pets are still kept 6 months later (the answer is 90%). The riskiest time is that soon after adoption, suggesting retention strategies should be aimed at this period. If people ask the shelter for advice (rather than friends and family or the vet), that pet is especially at risk of return.

At the shelter, most people make a decision to adopt before interacting with the dog, but two particular behaviours may change their mind. Adopting shelter dogs: Should Fido lie down or play? 

“Shelters are at or near capacity to care for the cats that arrive at their doors.” Homeless cats in Canada.
A survey of homeless pets in the UK also considers the significant economic costs of caring for them. 
It’s no surprise that puppies were adopted faster, but in this study coat colour made no difference to a dog’s adoption time. What influences a dog’s length of stay at a no-kill animal shelter? 

The biggest risk factor for cats being euthanized at a shelter is being considered feral on admission, something that might change if this assessment was delayed. Homeless cats: lessons from Australia.
Why don’t people want pets – cats and dogs.  

Why do people surrender dogs to animal shelters? Many owners said a behavioural problem was a contributing factor, but moving house is another common reason. 

People think carefully about the decision to surrender dogs to shelters, and try other avenues first. Why do people relinquish large dogs? 
Two studies look at the effect of recession on companion animals. It’s especially tough for senior animals. 

Can street dogs become good pets reports on a study in Turkey. 

Housing dogs in groups enables them to engage in normal, social behaviours, but the dogs need to be matched. Interactions between shelter dogs

In case you prefer to go straight to the journal articles, the links are included at the end of each piece. 

Photo: gurinaleksandr (

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