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No Strength in Numbers

Study examines how visitor behavior and group dynamics can affect adoption of dogs in an animal shelter

Published in the journal Anthrozoös (Vol. 14, No. 1), the study examined the behaviors of 76 visitors who walked through the kennels of the Ulster SPCA in Carryduff, County Down, between noon and 4 p.m. on a single afternoon. Among the phenomena observed were the number of dogs visitors stopped to look at, the nature of interactions visitors initiated with the dogs, and the outcomes of the visitors’ trips. The researchers found that on average, the visitors stopped to look at only 29% of the dogs available for adoption.

Both the number of dogs viewed by visitors and the length of time spent in front of each cage were significantly affected by the size of the group. People visiting the shelter alone stopped to look at an average of 19.3 dogs, while those in pairs stopped to look at an average of 10.3 and those in groups looked at only 8.3. Likewise, the number of people in the visiting party influenced the length of time a potential adopter spent interacting with an individual animal; those visiting alone spent more time in front of the dog’s cage than those traveling in groups or pairs. The three dogs adopted on the day of the study all went home with people who had toured the shelter alone.

Visitors were significantly more likely to look at the dogs in the ten cages closest to the kennel entrance than at those housed in the remaining cages. (Visitors looked at an average of five dogs within the first ten cages; they looked at progressively fewer dogs the farther they got from the entrance to the kennel. Visitors looked at an average of only 1.5 dogs within the last ten cages of the kennels.) The three dogs adopted by visitors had all been housed in the first ten cages closest to the shelter entrance.

In their discussion, the researchers surmised that other factors may have influenced the visitors’ behavior, noting that visitors in the study may not have found the animals they were looking for and that environmental factors such as noise and unpleasant odors may have limited the visitors’ desire to spend time in the shelter. But, the researchers noted, it is also worth questioning whether some of the visitors had any real interest in adopting a dog: “Individuals touring in pairs or groups seemed more intent on talking to their companions than actually viewing the animals. There seems to be a tendency for some visitors to treat rescue shelters as a social excursion rather than an exercise in acquiring a future pet.”

The researchers concluded that more studies of visitors’ behavior and interactions with shelter animals could help further understanding of why so many animals are overlooked for adoption.


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