Keep Expectations Real When Adopting a Pet: U of G Prof

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Summer is a popular time for Adopt-a-Pet theme months. However, some animal advocates say these theme months lead people to impulsively acquire pets, only to return or abandon them months later. University of Guelph population medicine professor Jason Coe and researcher Rachel O’Connor led a study, published recently in the journal Society & Animals, on pet relinquishment involving potential pet owners. Coe discussed the findings from the study.

Prof. Jason Coe

Q: Are Adopt-a-Pet theme months a good idea?

Jason Coe (JC): Adoption drives can connect more people considering pet ownership with pets needing a new family. The question is not whether Adopt-a-Pet initiatives are good or bad; we’ve found most people do spend time thinking about getting a pet and are not acting impulsively. But are they considering all the issues and do they have realistic expectations? If people are informed about owning a pet, all parties win.

Q: Why do people return/give up pets?

JC:  Research has found no singular reason for why people return pets. It can be different for many people. For example, it could be the pet is not meeting the person’s expectations or it could result from a change in the person’s lifestyle. There are clear opportunities to support potential pet parents with information in advance to create realistic expectations. Research suggests if a pet does not meet your expectations, you are 10 times more likely to return it. This speaks to the importance of detailed conversations between shelter workers, breeders and other animal sources and prospective pet parents.

Q: What are some of the issues that people don’t consider when thinking about getting a pet?

JC: A big one is time. People need to consider how an animal fits into their work and social schedules. Will they be able to give the pet the time it needs? If they like to go on vacations often, who will watch the pet? Another issue is finances. I was a veterinarian and I saw the expense it takes to care for a pet. It can run into hundreds or thousands of dollars a year. Many pets live at least 10 years. Add it all up and that’s a substantial expense people should consider. The point is not to scare people, only to make sure people know all the potential aspects of pet ownership. That’s where our website, beforeyougetapet.com, comes into play.

Q: How can the website help people considering getting a pet?

JC: The website offers several resources, including a myth-busting quiz and a budgeting tool, as well as general information. People need to think long-term. What are your plans for the next five to 10 years? Will you be moving? Starting a family? Is everyone in the family on board? Who will care for the pet when you are working late or on vacation? We want people to consider these questions.

Q: Do you have a pet?

JC: I grew up with several dogs and cats in my life. After getting married, my wife and I considered getting a pet. But then we had my son, followed by two daughters shortly after, so we waited because we consciously recognized the time was not right for us. Now, my kids are a bit older (eight, six and four years old), so we’re looking into it. My son is actually on the website a lot; he has taken the quiz a couple of times on his own to help himself understand pet ownership.