August 1, 2019

Audience: Executive Leadership, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Organization: University of Denver
Investigator(s): Sloane M. Hawes, Josephine Kerrigan, Tess Hupe and Kevin N. Morris
Grant Amount: n/a
Project Type: Basic Research
Project Status: Research Complete

Project Summary

This survey-based study aimed to better understand pet acquisition history, disposition toward future pet acquisition preferences and social influences in the city of Austin, Texas, with the ultimate purpose of developing policies and procedures that will increase rates of adoption. Although sample size was small (n=86), 81 (94%) respondents reported that they would consider obtaining their next pet from a shelter or rescue organization, whereas on the American Humane Association (2012) survey, only 56% of dog owners and 64% of cat owners said they would obtain their next pet from a shelter or rescue organization.


To expand the understanding of the attitudes informing pet acquisition preferences and the barriers to pet ownership in Austin, TX, specifically by developing and testing a survey instrument to assess sources of pet acquisition. By understanding more about pet acquisition history, pet preference, and social influences, this study can inform the strategies employed by shelters in the Austin area to increase rates of adoption.


A survey was developed and implemented utilizing a convenience sampling approach once a week for 2-3 hours in a variety of locations around the city that were expected to have a high volume of resident pedestrian traffic. This resulted in 86 participants from 35 (70%) of Travis County, TX zip codes ranging from 1 to 13 participants in each.


Demographics of Survey Participants:

  • There was balanced representation of average yearly income with 7 (8.1%) respondents earning less than $23,000, 16 (18.6%) respondents earning $23,001-$43,000, 15 (17.4%) respondents earning $43,001-$68,000, 19 (22.1%) respondents earning 68,000-$110,000, and 11 (12.8%) respondents earning more than $110,000.
  • 59 (68.6%) participants were female, 58 (67.4%) were ages 18-35, and 58 (67.4%) identified as ethnically white.
    - The majority representation in each of these categories may have skewed the results because research has demonstrated that women and younger individuals are more likely to favor adoption from shelters than their counterparts (Bir, et al., 2016; Reese, et al., 2017; Woodhead, et al., 2018).
    - Those who identify as white have also been shown to own more pets than any other ethnicity (Marsa-Sambola, et al., 2016; Brown, 2003; AVMA, 2018).

Pet Acquisition History

  • 73% (63) were both previous and current pet owners, while 9% (8) of participants currently own their first pet. Only 4 people (5%) reported never having a pet.
  • Most participants reported owning only one pet at a time. For example, 67% (12) of cat owners at some point stated they only have owned one cat, and 66% (42) of dog owners revealed that they only have one dog.
  • Although over 50% acquired pets from an animal shelter, only 21% (24) adopted from a local shelter in Austin; 35% (40) stated that they obtained their pets online, from a friend, or found their pet as a stray.

Future Pet Acquisition

  • 54% (46) indicated they would be interested in owning a pet in the future, while only 20% (17) said they were not interested in owning a pet in the future.
  • Among those interested in having cats in the future, 40% (4) had a cat-breed preference - only slightly less than those interested in acquiring a bred dog (47%, 25). Seventy-seven percent (40) of potential future dog owners indicated they have a preference in the size of their dog.
  • An overwhelming majority, 95% (81) indicated they would be interested in adopting a future pet from an animal shelter or rescue organization.


While this survey gathered preliminary data on past and future sources of pets, the size of the obtained sample limited analyses to descriptive statistics only. Findings revealed that pet ownership may be much more common in the city of Austin, relative to national data, with 83% currently owning a pet. Nearly 48% of these Austin-based participants acquired their pets through services besides animal shelters (10% from breeder, 8% found online, 14% from a family/friend, and 14% found as a stray). While this is lower than the percentage reported by the national surveys (AHA, 2012; APPA, 2016; AVMA; 2017), it still represents a substantial opportunity for animal shelters and rescue organizations to expand their market for adoption programs.