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Moving On?

Study examines the motivations of relinquishers who list moving as a reason for surrender

Study examines the motivations of relinquishers who list moving as a reason for surrender

Of the 67 relinquishers who were further questioned about their decision to list “moving” as a reason for surrender, 24 said landlord-related issues were the main culprit.
"I’m moving." For those who sometimes doubt the truth of this statement when it comes out of the mouths of people relinquishing pets to the shelter, a new study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science can provide some possible answers.

According to the study, the great majority of relinquishers who indicate “moving” as a reason for surrendering animals are really doing so—or are involved in housing-related situations that interfere with keeping pets or maintaining appropriate homes for them. Wichita State University researchers Elsie R. Shore, Connie L. Petersen, and Deanna K. Douglas also found that most relinquishers had close relationships with their pets and tried to avoid bringing them to the shelter (“Moving As a Reason for Pet Relinquishment: A Closer Look,” Vol. 6, Number 1, 2003).

Using three months of intake forms from a Midwestern humane society, interviewers called individuals who gave moving as the reason for relinquishment. In addition to demographic information, participants were questioned about the move, their bond with the animal, other pets in the household, and the behavior of the relinquished pet.

The interviewers told subjects that a university study was the basis of the call, but were careful not to bias the results, according to the authors: “Because one objective of the study was to determine whether people who were not, in fact, moving used moving as a surrender reason, participants were not told that the study was limited to those who had said they were moving.”

From February 1, 2002, to April 30, 2002, moving was provided as the reason for relinquishment by 98 people, which made up 4.4 percent of shelter admissions. The interviewers reached 74 of them by phone, and 67 agreed to participate. Because ten of those did not mention moving when first asked for their reason for relinquishment, interviewers largely focused on the remaining 57 in their data analysis.

Reasons for Relinquishment

This table shows the responses of 57 relinquishers (who when filling out intake forms indicated moving as the reason for surrender) to the question, “Could you tell me what led you to bring the dog/cat/puppy/kitten to the shelter?” “N” indicates the number of people providing the listed response.

Reason N %
Landlord conditions (no pets, size/weight limits, pet deposit) 24 42.1
Owner chose not to take 12 21.1
Military involvement 8 14.0
Cannot take where moving (not elaborated) 6 10.5
Unclear/no information 3 5.3
Uncertainty about future living arrangements 2 3.5
Other 2 3.5

Source: “Moving As a Reason for Pet Relinquishment: A Closer Look,” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 6(1), 39-52.

Interviewers asked the relinquishers, “Could you tell me what led you to bring the dog/cat/puppy/kitten to the shelter?” Responses fell most often into two categories: “landlord conditions” and “owner chose not to take [pet to new household]” (see table at right). Problems that fell under “landlord conditions” included weight restrictions for dogs, rules against owning pets, and pet deposits that could not be paid. About a fifth of the respondents (12 individuals) decided not to take their animals with them for the move; around half of these owners made the decision because they felt their new homes “would not be appropriate for the animal,” with the rest citing other reasons that included problem behaviors.

The interviewers recorded several reasons for moving. Most of the survey participants had been renting, and 37.5 percent of the respondents said they had no choice but to move. Aside from landlord-related conflicts, respondents also reported factors that included eviction, new jobs, and military moves. According to the researchers, 30 percent of the relinquishments were related to “life transitions” such as divorce.

Seeking to determine whether the relinquishers immediately came to the shelter when they decided they could no longer keep their pets, the interviewers asked, “Before bringing the animal to the shelter, did you try anything else—to try to fix the problem, to try to keep the animal with you, or to find another place for it?” Most of the individuals (83.9 percent) reported that they had, in some cases expending significant effort in their attempts.

Secondary Reasons for Relinquishment

This table shows the responses of relinquishers when asked if there were additional reasons they had surrendered their pet.

Reason N
Problem behavior (barking, digging, destructive behavior) 4
Cat spraying 2
Puppy not responding to attempts to housebreak 2
Animal perceived as needing too much attention 2
Animal perceived as too energetic/hyper 2
Animal knocking down or impeding a young child 2
Owner is pregnant 2
Too big or outdoor animal 2
Normal animal behavior 2
Dog bit a relative 1

Source: “Moving As a Reason for Pet Relinquishment: A Closer Look,” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 6(1), 39-52.

The interviewers also inquired about the animals themselves. The study found that the surrendered animals were, on average, about two years old; almost 70 percent were even younger than two years. Most of the animals were intact, but the researchers found that this factor did not lead to a higher incidence of behavior problems contributing to surrender. The relinquishers had lived with the animals for an average of a year and a half, and most originally obtained them for free. The people studied brought dogs and puppies—especially large dogs such as German shepherds and Labrador retrievers—to the shelter more frequently than they surrendered cats and kittens.

The study did not uncover widespread use of “moving” as an excuse, but some respondents reported that the dog or cat’s behavior was an additional factor. Forty of the 57 responses analyzed came from people who stated that their only reason for relinquishment was moving, with the remaining 17 citing mostly behavior issues such as barking or trouble with housetraining (see table at right).

Taking a numerical approach to behavior issues, the interviewers asked relinquishers to rank their former pets from 1 (“no problem at all”) to 10 (“nothing but trouble”). The average rating was 3.47, and over three quarters of the animals were rated 4 or less. About half of the people who lived with other pets indicated that the current ones were less trouble than those they had relinquished.

Interviewers measured the human-animal bond by asking relinquishers about the frequency of certain actions or feelings, such as petting or playing with the dog or cat, or viewing the dog or cat as a family member. Respondents answered “always,” “usually,” “sometimes,” or “never.” Possible total scores ranged from 10 (low bonding) to 40 (high bonding). For the 78 animals involved, the average total was 30.9. Almost half of the animals ended up in the top third of scores, and just two animals were in the bottom third.

Interviewees were sometimes emotional in their responses to survey questions, the researchers write: “‘Heartbroken,’ ‘broken up,’ and similar expressions were used to describe a number of relinquishers’ feelings about giving up their pets.” One puppy relinquisher had visited his surrendered pet in the shelter, decided to readopt her if a new home could not be found, and was even planning to move to a new home if he could not get his current landlord’s approval to take her back. The researchers write that the man “was concerned that the interviewer understand that he did not ‘condone’ giving up pets, and stated that he would never do this again.”

Of the remaining 10 interviewees who did not explicitly tell callers that moving was the reason for relinquishment, eight cases were ultimately found to be related to moving; one man had been told by his landlord to get rid of his dog or vacate the apartment. Twenty-four more people could not be reached, and in ten of these instances, their telephone numbers were either disconnected or no longer in service. The authors point out that this may have indicated a move.

The authors conclude the study with recommendations. In addition to outreach efforts directed at landlords, they advise shelter staff to bear the study results in mind when speaking with adopters: “Shelter adoption counselors might advise renters, particularly younger people who are more likely to move, to consider adopting cats or smaller dogs so that later they will not be faced with the painful decision to relinquish a family pet.”

The HSUS’s contains pet-related housing information for pet owners, landlords, and individuals hoping to persuade rental managers to adopt “pets allowed” policies.


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