May 30, 2019
Categories: Research

In honor of Maddie’s Fund® 25th anniversary, we are taking a trip down memory lane and revisiting some early blog posts that we think are still relevant today. This post originally ran on December 11, 2012. 

Are your adoption listings full of information about a pet’s past? Do you focus on the sad story of how the dog or cat became homeless or experiences they had before coming into the shelter or rescue group? If so, you’re missing out on the information that gets adopters to choose a pet.

It turns out that adopters are much more interested in a pet’s current health and behavior, how they interact with people, and their appearance, than the story of their life before they entered the shelter, say authors of a recent study published in the journal Animals.

In “Why Did You Choose This Pet?: Adopters and Pet Selection Preferences in Five Animal Shelters in the United States,” researchers took a look at what motivates people to select the pets they ultimately adopt.

For adult cats and dogs, how the pet behaves with people was the most important factor — and they preferred to get that information directly, by interacting with the pet outside the kennel area rather than in a cage, and by talking with kennel staff or adoption counselors rather than reading a kennel card.

The second most important factor in selecting a particular adult dog or cat was appearance.

Second to last as a motivator was a desire to help the animal; special adoption offers were, perhaps surprisingly, at the bottom of the list.

What does this suggest to shelters and rescue groups seeking to find homes for pets?

  • First, write your adoption listings to reflect the pet’s behavior, sociability, health, and attitude toward people, rather than discussing their prior history.
  • Second, focus on getting really good, appealing photos of the pets.
  • Third, when adopters visit the pets, have the meeting take place in a home-like room or play area rather than in or near cages and kennels. And make sure a staff member, volunteer, or fosterer who knows the pet is present to share important information with the potential adopter.
  • Also, since appearance is so important to adopters of adult pets, make sure the pet is clean and groomed.
  • Last, don’t count on the desire to help animals or a special adoption promotion to make a big impact on the adoption decision.

The full study is available free online here for those who want more information.