19 August 2020

Bad behaviour isn’t what leads dog and cat owners to relinquish their pets

Pets

Bad behaviour isn’t what leads dog and cat owners to relinquish their little Fido or Daisy to the animal shelter. On the contrary, relinquishing a pet is often due to an owner’s poor health, housing problems or a lack of time. This, according to a new study from the University of Copenhagen. Without any doubt, UCPH’s Professor Peter Sandøe believes that the majority of animals surrendered are entirely suitable for new homes.

Dog
The study demonstrates that behavioural problems among pets are less prevalent than owners’ personal reasons. This should afford many shelter animals with good opportunities for new homes. Photo: Getty

Every year, about two thousand Danish pet owners relinquish their dogs and cats to Danish animal shelters, who then try to find new homes for the animals. Now, researchers from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Food and Resource Economics and the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences have studied why people choose to part ways with their dogs and cats. 

The survey demonstrates that in three quarters of cases, owners cited personal reasons for why they turned their pets over to shelters. Health issues were the most prevalent personal reason, while housing problems were the second most frequent.

"Unpredictable things happen in people's lives. Someone can get divorced and be forced to move from a dwelling where pets are allowed, or an owner can be impacted by an illness that caring for a pet impossible," explains professor and animal ethicist Peter Sandøe, who along with two colleagues, is behind the study.

Facts about the study

Researchers studied the reasons reported by owners for surrendering their dogs and cats to an animal shelter in Tranbjerg, Denmark between 1996 and 2017. Data from the 3204 dogs and 2755 cats relinquished was then examined. The most common reasons for relinquishing pets, by percentage:

For dogs
Owner health 29% Behavioural problems 23% Housing issues 21% Lack of time 14%

For cats
Owner's health 32% Housing issues 26% Behavioural problems 25%

Nothing wrong with shelter animals

The study demonstrates that behavioural problems among pets are less prevalent than owners’ personal reasons. This should afford many shelter animals with good opportunities for new homes.

"Behavioural problems account for a relatively small share of the animals surrendered, contrary to a common perception. Therefore, one need not assume that there is anything wrong with a dog or cat from an animal shelter," says Professor Peter Sandøe.

Dogs, in particular, have a great chance of finding new homes, as there is generally a high demand for them, and it is typically much cheaper to acquire a dog from an shelter than purchasing one from a breeder.

"For dogs however, we see that there a decrease in the number of people adopting from shelters in recent years. We believe that this is partly due to social media, which has made it easier for owners to find new homes for their dogs on their own. Popular breeds are quite easy to give away through classified ads posting and listing websites, such as Den Blå Avis here in Denmark," explains Professor Peter Sandøe.

Overflowing with cats

The situation with cats is far different. Finding a kitten for free or nearly free is easy and there is an abundance of strays. In another recently published study , Professor Sandøe and his colleagues discovered that approximately three times as many cats as dogs in Danish shelters end up being euthanized.

"Cats are harder to move along to new families from shelters because demand for cats is not as high. And, there is simply a surplus of cats in communities," says Peter Sandøe, adding:

"If you adopt a dog or cat that has been relinquished to a shelter, not only do you give the animal a second chance, you typically fulfill the wish of the previous owner as well."

The research article can be found here: https://animalethics.ku.dk/nyheder/owner-related-reasons/

About the research:

  • The research is based on a masters thesis conducted by former animal husbandry student Janne Barner Hanquist Jensen.
  • Work on the article was supported by a grant from ship owner Per Henriksen, R. og Husfrus Fond to the newly established Danish Center for the Study of Companion Animal Welfare, of which Peter Sandøe is the director.