March 27, 2018
Categories: Research, Shelter Medicine, Adoption
Frisky the blind senior dog

Do you want to get more senior dogs and cats adopted? A new study reports that, to accomplish that goal, animal shelters and rescue organizations need to provide health care to pets already in the shelter, as well as veterinary support to help keep older pets in the homes they already have — whether it’s permanently, or just long enough to improve their condition when they do go up for adoption.

The study, which was published in the March 2018 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Animals, found that the success of the spay/neuter movement over the last 20 years has caused the number of young pets in shelters to decline. At the same time, surrender of pets because of the high cost of veterinary care is on the rise, and among older pets, the chance of adoption goes down while the chance of being returned after adoption goes up. For these reasons, homeless senior pets are at increased risk of long shelter stays or euthanasia.

All this is happening against a background of increased overall lifesaving, decreased shelter intake, and growing popularity of adoption as a means of obtaining pets.

So how can senior pets see their experience in animal shelters improve, too? The authors of the study concluded, “If lifesaving of sheltered companion animals is to continue to be optimized, then shelters should consider advancing their practices to support an ageing population.”

In the study, researchers looked at 124 cats and 122 dogs aged seven years or older who came into Austin Animal Center (AAC) and Austin Pets Alive! (APA) to determine what factors made them more or less likely to be adopted.  They found that the health and condition of the senior dogs and cats entering the shelter was a primary obstacle to adoption, and that programs that accomplish two things are likely to positively affect that obstacle:

1. Provide proactive veterinary support, such as vaccination, parasite prevention, and treatment of illness or injury to senior pets presented for surrender, while asking their owners to keep them in the home during the treatment period. This will result in the pets being healthier and in better condition when they’re admitted and placed up for adoption. Even better, because a lack of ability to afford veterinary care is often the reason for surrender, at least some of those pets will end up remaining in their original homes altogether.

2. Provide veterinary care, including procedures such as dentistry, to senior pets who are admitted to your organization. Although this may represent a cost obstacle to the shelter or rescue group, it will result in shorter length of stay and higher rates of adoption for these often-overlooked pets.

The study authors also stressed the importance of collaboration and innovation in increasing senior pet lifesaving (paragraph breaks added to improve readabililty):

While individual shelters may consider allocating their own resources to improved medical and behavioral assessment for all animals in their care, it is important to acknowledge that transfer partnerships and community partnering are emerging as effective approaches to increasing live outcomes for all at-risk animals in shelters, particularly when an individual organization’s resources are limited.

Integral to the effectiveness of AAC and APA in achieving live outcomes for the animals in their care is the partnership and resource-sharing that occurs between the two organizations and the personal investment that is demonstrated by the community through donations, fostering, and volunteer time. Beyond increases in resources that are equipped to address the needs of senior animals, innovation in adoption programs may further optimize the potential for adoption of these senior animals.

One study showed that, although older animals are less likely to be adopted, proactive programs at animal shelters that promote human-animal interaction and behavioral training can decrease the amount of time it takes for an animal to be adopted. “Temporary adoption programs” that allow for the potential adopter to assess their suitability for meeting the animal’s need in their home prior to adoption have been shown to significantly reduce return rates.

The entire study is available, free, at the link below.

Hawes S, Kerrigan J, Morris K. Factors Informing Outcomes for Older Cats and Dogs in Animal Shelters. Animals. 2018; 8(3):36.