What Makes An Adopter Pick?

Like clockwork, the Humane Society of Charlotte staff arrives early in the morning. The dog and cat kennels are cleaned and sanitized. Animals go for potty breaks and eat their breakfast. We replace torn beds and blankets and distribute new toys. The doors open and adopters begin streaming in to meet their new best friend. Families adopt their new pets and eventually, the doors close, the remaining animals eat their dinner and are tucked in for bed. We tell them, "It's okay. Tomorrow might be your day!"

As a community animal resource center, the Humane Society of Charlotte sees this process repeat itself daily. Pets find new homes and families are forever made whole. But there is always that one, or four, that just doesn't get adopted. The staff falls in love with them, we post their picture all over social media, we tell their story, and we take them to special events but still...here they are.

So What Makes An Adopter Pick?

As animal welfare advocates, we know better than anyone that sharing your life with a pet has more benefits that are quantifiable. Again and again, we see the Human-Animal bond strengthen beyond unconditional love to a relationship that is hard to describe. They change us, they heal us, and they bring us unimaginable joy. Choosing that perfect buddy is hard and when asked, most adopters tell us, "it's a gut feeling," or that "my pet chose me."

We dug a little deeper into what those adopters meant. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) surveyed potential and recent adopters learning what factors influenced the adopters' choices when selecting their pets.

According to the study by the ASPCA, an animal's appearance and behavior are the top driving factors when beginning the adoption process. Presence is most important for dogs; their cleanliness, their fur length, and the expression on their face all play significant factors in the deliberation on whether adopters are interested in learning more about their personality and history as they continue the adoption process. For cats, their immediate behavior is more relevant. Are they approachable? Do they show interested or rub against your leg? Do they mind being handled? These differences, while slight, are essential.

From this point, adopters unconsciously move to an interactive phase of the adoption process. How the animal acts in an open environment drives the adopters choice more than how the dog or cat behaves in their kennel. Adopters seem to unknowingly give animals in their kennel the benefit of the doubt until they can directly interact with them; great news for those dogs that love to jump on their kennel doors in excitement. Potential adopters make more certain choices during this direct interaction.

So, can encouraging interaction with the public increase adoptions?

In short, yes. Adopters report that when cats approached or greeted them through vocalization, meowing or purring, the adopter was even more likely to adopt that particular cat in comparison to its quieter friend. Programs like HSC's Communal Cage-less Cat Room provide a free-roaming environment for our cats to interact with potential adopter and each other. We can speak from experience that our adoption rates sky-rocketed once this room was opened. For dogs, adopters reported that they loved nothing more than for the dog to lick them, jump on them or attempt to climb in their lap - a direct contradiction to most behavior training. It made the adopter feel like the dog already loved them.

Most importantly, adopters found that during their final deliberation, the opinions of their peers was crucial. The views of the staff were beneficial, but the thoughts of shelter volunteers were critical. The honest opinions of these volunteers, those who are willing to spend their free time interacting with these animals was considered the most trustworthy information available and was most influential in making sure the pet was re-homed.

So, the next time you're considering adding to your family, find the top reasons why you might be drawn to the fluffy shepherd in the corner versus the short haired lab in the middle. See how the animal engages with you and ask volunteers around you to share their opinions on their favorite pet interactions. You never know, they might not be the animal that you envisioned as your pet, but it might be the one that changes your life.

Sources: All references and materials are derived from ASPCAPro and Animals: written by Dr. Kat Miller