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We Can’t Fix Poverty, But We Can Fix This…

Dr. Emily Weiss encourages you to toss away your judgment and check out more new research that digs into why people re-home their pets.


Last week I shared our recent study on re-homing of dogs and cats. The data revealed that while some reasons for re-homing are quite complex and would likely take substantial resources to resolve (if they were even resolvable), there is a significant portion of people who are re-homing and doing so for financial reasons. For example, they are re-homing because they cannot afford the medical care to treat a skin infection in their pet. did a fantastic job highlighting this issue. This article reminds me that while we all may hope it will never happen to us, it’s important to toss away judgment and remember—crap happens, and we all may need a helping hand sometime.

This week another of our studies was published. This one focused on teasing out the differences between people of similar demographics—those who planned to relinquish pets and those who did not. At the ASPCA, our research tends to focus on discoveries that can lead to solutions. While we are a strong organization, we can’t fix poverty—and while poverty can increase the risk for re-homing a pet due to cost-related issues, most people living in poverty keep their pets. So what might be the factors related to relinquishment that we may be able to impact? This is what the study aimed to answer on a small scale, right at the location where we did the study.

We conducted this work at a shelter in Los Angeles where we surveyed two groups of demographically similar people (similar regarding income, race, residence location,
etc.)—one group of people who were coming to relinquish their dogs, and the other coming to the spay/neuter clinic located on the shelter property. We asked questions about the dog’s owner, about stress in the home and about the dog. For those relinquishing, we asked about the reasons for relinquishment.

One of the most powerful findings in this study was the majority of people were relinquishing their dogs due to cost-related issues—most commonly unable to pay for a medical issue or for a mandated spay/neuter. In this particular group of people, the shelter was often the first and only solution they sought for their pet, and more than 80% of those we surveyed were unaware that there might be support for them to retain their pet. When the relinquishment group was given the choice of proceeding to the shelter after completing the survey or pursuing information about services that could help them keep their dog, 88% of them chose to pursue services. 


When we compared the two groups—those who were relinquishing and those using the spay/neuter clinic—there were few meaningful differences between the groups. What we did find was a pattern of increased perceived stress in the relinquisher's home, as well as emotional attachment to the dog—but an inability to provide the necessary care due to financial reasons and a lack of awareness of potential available resources. In plain speak, relinquishers loved their pets and saw relinquishment as the only solution available to them.

We can’t fix poverty, but we can sure fix this. What do you think?


Related links

Research: Risk Factors for Dog Relinquishment to a Los Angeles Municipal Animal Shelter
Blog: “Studying the Act of Re-Homing”
Blog: “Who Needs Shelter and Who Just Needs a Helping Hand?”


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I've worked in rescue forever. This is good news to me. If people really want to keep their pets, let's find a way to help them do so.
I am now doing breed rescue, Rough Collies primarily. There is a foundation that pays a lot of the bills our small rescue cannot afford. Perhaps starting foundations that can help those in need can be started at local or national levels.
I totally understand unexpected vet bills. Fortunately, both my husband and I have good jobs. We are able to afford the cost of vet bills, etc. it takes to care for our pets. It's actually a significant part of our income. However, many people are not able to afford the high cost of care, especially with older pets.


Thank you ASPCA for funding this research! I am very involved in Rescue here in Los Angeles and have seen first hand the value of the three intervention programs we have in our city shelters. We can not 'rescue' our way out of this problem anymore than we can euthanize. We have to as communities focus on the causes for relinquishment and make our best efforts to make sure that a first home is the forever home. It's sometimes so amazingly simple on how easy that is is to do, it just takes resources. So I encourage everyone who wants their city to truly be a 'no kill' city, send this study to your elected officials. We need more intervention programs, FUNDING for these intervention programs. We need to change the paradigm of the animal shelter to serving pets and their owners, not separating them!


THANK YOU, ASPCA, for funding this research. I am President of The Animal Support Project, an all-volunteer, all-species companion animal crisis intervention group in upstate NY. Your findings nearly match identically our own statistics. In addition to offering outreach services through local presentations and events, each day, we are bombarded by calls from anxious, guilt-ridden owners who are financially compromised but who love their pet. And you know what? Their pets don't give a darn if their owners are poor or if their life isn't like something from a magazine...they love their family and their home, no matter how humble it might be. The owner may be going through some sort of family crisis, illness, job loss, disability, or just plain don't have the $$ they need for dealing with an important medical issue for their pet; anything from lack of flea prevention to mammary tumor surgery. Over the past 10 years we've been doing this (since 2005 informally and since 2009 as a 501.c.3) we've fielded calls and emails daily from people who think they need to relinquish their pet and don't think they have any choice in the matter. We always tell them we are not a shelter or rescue that takes other people's animals; we make it possible for people to keep their pets. Once we discuss the background of their dilemma, we offer solutions. Most of the time, it's a financial crisis they're faced with that prevents them from giving required veterinary services to their pet. Once that financial issue is taken off the table, these pet owners overwhelmingly opt for keeping their pet. We do not offer services to people who will not spay or neuter their animal, so if they cannot afford to do so and are willing, we'll pay for that too. Services are free for people who can prove they meet financial criteria we establish annually to keep up with the poverty statistics. If the person is earning over the threshold, we offer help anyway, but at our cost, not for free. We are a very small group and last year we managed to keep 598 animals from being surrendered to the shelter. That's alot of animals and alot of humans who got a second chance to remain together. We created more aware, more humane pet owners out of the situations that otherwise could have felt like losers. And the animals who loved their families were able to remain with them while still getting what they needed in order to remain healthy and safe. My wish for the new year is that every shelter and rescue group currently operating would take a good hard look at what their traditional practices are creating and would dedicate even just a small portion of their annual budget to the principles your research and our practical results are indicating. If all of these charities just adopted a building, a block or a zip code, we could dramatically impact the numbers of animals being presented to shelters every year, and this would allow the shelters to concentrate on improving conditions and remedial care for those who truly need to be there. Thank you again for establishing this reality with your valuable research.


Dear Dr. Weiss and ASPCA,

Thank you for funding this research and for this article. My name is Wes Allen and my wife and I started Tommy's Holiday Fund (THF), a nonprofit serving Metro Atlanta to address sheltering and euthanasia as a result of the high cost of veterinary care. We started THF in March of 2015 and working very hard to let the community know we are here as an alternative as well as to raise funds and grow other programs. We will be applying for ASPCA grants this year in order to help fund these programs. See more here: Also, you can contact me directly at

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