Do Cute Young Animals Decrease Older Animal Adoptions?

Many New Jersey animal shelters and rescues transport highly adoptable puppies into the state. Typically, these groups argue transports of highly desirable animals increase foot traffic into shelters or off-site adoption locations and therefore increase adoptions of older dogs. On the other hand, many other people believe transports take homes away from local dogs and increase kill rates of local dogs.  As discussed in a previous blog post, New Jersey shelters transport large numbers of dogs from out of state each year. Thus, the answer to this question significantly impacts the lives of many local shelter dogs.

Preliminary Data Indicates Young Animals Decrease Older Animal Adoptions

An analysis of kitten impacts on adult cat adoptions shows young animals decrease adult animals adoptions. Darlene Duggan conducted a statistical analysis of the effect the number of kittens available has on adult cat adoptions. The analysis was done at a medium-sized open admission animal shelter during the months of February and August. Kittens and adult cats were defined as 4 months and younger and 5 months and older, respectively. In February, when kittens are less plentiful, 3 fewer adult cats were adopted for every 4 additional kittens made available for adoption. During August, which is during the peak of kitten season, for every additional 3 kittens made available 1 less adult cat was adopted. Thus, additional kittens available at the shelter significantly reduced adult cat adoptions

These results may be even stronger for dogs. While actual data is needed to determine impacts of puppy availability on adult dog adoptions, I think it would be more significant. My personal experience at off-site adoption events is puppies are adopted far more quickly than adult dogs of even the same breed. The size difference between adult dogs and puppies is much larger than adult cats and kittens. As a result, people may perceive puppies as relatively “cuter” than adult dogs verses kittens and adult cats. Additionally, our culture seems to generally view puppies as cuter than kittens. For example, kids more often want a puppy for Christmas and pet stores sell more puppies than kittens despite cats outnumbering dogs as pets in the United States. In fact, a recent study found puppies tended to stay in shelters for roughly half the time as adult dogs. However, this study defined puppies up to 6 months of age and did not adjust the length of stay for puppies who were too young to be put up for adoption. Thus, the length of stay of transported young puppies typically placed for adoption is probably even less and these puppies likely displace significant amounts of local dogs.

Shelters and Rescues Need to Change Behavior

The findings above have serious implications for local animal welfare organizations. Most New Jersey shelters receive large numbers of kittens during the spring and summer. As a result, efforts should be made to make kittens and cats available for adoption in different locations. For example, putting kittens up for adoption at permanent off-site locations, such as Petsmart, or in foster homes will decrease adult cat displacement at shelters. Additionally, shelters can put adult cats up for adoption at other retail outlets with few competing kittens. Also, shelters can exchange animals to minimize competition between young and older animals at each shelter. Thus, shelters should find ways to shield adult cats from competition from more adoptable kittens.

In my opinion, New Jersey animal welfare groups should not transport dogs due to the high local dog kill rate at many shelters in the state. While I believe New Jersey’s per capita intake rate is low enough to reach no-kill status while transporting dogs into the state, many shelters perform poorly and require significant rescue help. As a result of the transport craze, shelters are losing two potential homes – a foster home and a permanent one for dogs in imminent danger.

Animal welfare organizations should try to decrease competition between puppies and adult dogs. In reality, dog transports will continue since it is easier to “rescue” highly desirable puppies. However, organizations running off-site adoption events, such as Petco, Petsmart and Best Friends, should require only locally obtained dogs participate in off-site events. While this may seem extreme, Maddie’s Fund only pays its per adoption subsidy to groups participating in its Maddie’s Pet Adoption Days for local animals. At the very least, these organizations should try and ensure puppies and adult dogs are made available at different locations or times to minimize local dogs getting displaced by transported animals. Additionally, shelters should offer reduced adoption fees and free/discounted services, such as vet care, dog training, and doggie daycare, with community partners for adult dogs to make adult dogs more competitive with puppies.

In conclusion, animal welfare groups need to confront the issues preventing animals from finding loving homes. The more these issues are honestly looked at, the more wonderful homes we will find for homeless animals.

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