March 15, 2016
Categories: Research, Shelter Medicine, Animal Behavior

What if playing and interacting with shelter pets didn’t help them get adopted more easily? Would that be a reason to stop? Absolutely not, and here’s why.

A number of studies in recent years have looked at the impact of toys, play, grooming and human interaction on pets in shelters. Some have shown those interventions reduce fear and disease, but they don’t all show they help pets get adopted.

For example, a study published last year in Preventive Veterinary Medicine found that positive attention from human beings, including playing and grooming, reduced the rate of respiratory infections in shelter cats, but didn’t look at how that impacted adoption rates. Another study published in Applied Animal Behavior Science found that shelter dogs encouraged and trained to  demonstrate “playful behavior” were more likely to be adopted, and many shelters anecdotally report the introduction of dog playgroups has made participating dogs more appealing to adopters. Some studies have shown a reduction in fearful behavior or fear markers when shelter pets are played with, but didn’t show an increase in adoption rates.

As interest in this area of study grows, it’s only natural we ask about the impact of interventions like play, toys, and positive human contact on adoption rates. After all, who doesn’t want to find new and better ways to make adoption rates go up? And why wouldn’t we want to focus our efforts on strategies that have been proven to work, rather than those that don’t? Not only that, but reducing stress will also reduce physical illness and the development of behavior problems, which will help a shelter’s bottom line. These outcomes are measurable, easy to study, and certainly of value to organizations dedicated to finding new homes for pets.

Nonetheless, focus on measurable outcomes shouldn’t be allowed to obscure the intrinsic value of positive welfare interventions for the animals themselves. In other words, even if playing with, petting and grooming shelter animals had no impact on their adoption chances, we should do them anyway; they make animals’ lives better, and that matters.

We owe a duty of care to the animals in our shelters, to provide them with what they need for physical and emotional well-being while they’re within our organization’s walls. Making them happier, healthier and less fearful is enough reason to get out the toys and TLC, regardless of any other impacts they might have.

Also of interest:

Dogs who act playful more likely to be adopted

TLC from humans staves off respiratory infections in shelter cats

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