Research & Development

In This Section

Overview, Blogs & Webinars

"Research and Development at the ASPCA starts with the philosophy that every number is a wet nose."
-Dr. Emily Weiss, Vice President, ASPCA Research and Development

Keep up to date with R&D and other lifesaving programs. Sign up for the ASPCApro e-newsletter.

R&D Publications

With innovative research into fee-waived adoptions, methods to identify feral vs. frightened cats, food guarding, pets as gifts and many other crucial issues, the ASPCA’s Research and Development group breaks down myths and finds solutions to help shelters make high-impact and progressive change.

Below are research summaries with links to full publications by the R&D team.

Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians
and Staff

Edited by Emily Weiss, Heather Mohan-Gibbons and Stephen Zawistowski
March 2015, Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN: 9781118711118

This comprehensive book presents and evaluates the available research and programs that address both animal and human behaviors associated with the intake, management and rehoming of dog and cats, integrating knowledge from multiple disciplines and perspectives to provide a broad based understanding of how behavior influences the welfare of dogs and cats before, during and after they enter animal shelters. The book includes information on how to help families retain pets in their homes, locate and return lost pets, make pet adoption a positive and enriching experience for all parties involved and ensure that placements are successful. The book’s approach of including human behavior as a significant factor in understanding and supporting the human-animal bond makes it unique in the field. Order here.

Open Access Publications

Goodbye to a Good Friend: An Exploration of the Re-Homing of Cats and Dogs in the U.S.
Emily Weiss*, Shannon Gramann, C. Victor Spain, Margaret Slater
Open Journal of Animal Sciences 2015, 5, 435-456

A cross sectional random digit dial survey was conducted with an aim to learn more about who is re-homing, where they are re-homing and why they are re-homing owned dogs and cats in the US.

Modification of the Feline-Ality™ Assessment and the Ability to Predict Adopted Cats’ Behaviors in Their New Homes
Emily Weiss, Shannon Gramann, Natasha Drain, Emily Dolan, and Margaret Slater
Animals 20155(1), 71-88; doi:10.3390/ani5010071

The ASPCA’s Meet Your Match® Feline-ality™ adoption program was designed to provide adopters with accurate information about an adult cat’s future behavior in the home. The original version of Feline-ality™ required a 3-day hold period to assess behavior, which was difficult for some shelters to implement. This research showed that a modified one-day assessment was also predictive of feline behavior post adoption.

Why Did You Choose This Pet? Adopters and Pet Selection Preferences in Five Animal Shelters in the United States
Emily Weiss, Katherine Miller, Heather Mohan-Gibbons and Carla Vela
Animals 2012, 2(2), 144-159; doi:10.3390/ani2020144

Surveys of adopters from five shelters revealed the top three reasons for adopting a pet. The reasons differed for dogs vs. cats. The research also found that adopters highly value information from shelter staff.

Frequency of Lost Dogs and Cats in the United States and the Methods Used to Locate Them
Emily Weiss, Margaret Slater and Linda Lord
Animals 2012, 2(2), 301-315; doi:10.3390/ani2020301

The primary objective of this research was to determine the percentage of owned pets who were lost and the percentage of recovery. The study found that 15% of dog and cat owners had lost pets and more dogs were recovered than cats. The study also highlighted the different search methods used by pet owners as they attempted to locate their pets.

Preliminary Investigation of Food Guarding Behavior in Shelter Dogs in the United States
Emily Weiss, Heather Mohan-Gibbons and Margaret Slater
Animals 2012, 2(3), 331-346; doi:10.3390/ani2030331

This research demonstrated that nearly all adopted dogs who showed only food guarding behavior concerns stopped guarding food after three months in the home. Return rates for these dogs were lower than other adoptions and adopters reported that they were highly bonded with their pets.

Should Dogs and Cats be Given as Gifts?
Emily Weiss, Emily D. Dolan, Laurie Garrison, Julie Hong and Margaret Slater
Animals 2013, 3 (4), 995-1001; doi:10.3390/ani3040995

This study supported earlier research that found that people whose pets were given to them as gifts were just as attached to their pets as people who selected animals for themselves. Additionally, pets given as gifts were not at increased risk of relinquishment.

Practical Physical and Behavioral Measures to Assess the Socialization Spectrum of Cats in a Shelter-Like Setting during a Three-Day Period
Margaret Slater, Laurie Garrison, Katherine Miller, Emily Weiss, Kathleen Makolinski, Natasha Drain and Alex Mirontschuk
Animals 2013, 3 (4), 1162-1193; doi:10.3390/ani3041162

Structured assessments were conducted to measure various behaviors and their potential to distinguish socialization levels. The research showed that more socialized cats were the only ones to exhibit certain specific behaviors in a shelter-like setting. Many cats needed time to adjust to the shelter setting in order to show these socialized behaviors.

Reliability and Validity of a Survey of Cat Caregivers on Socialization Levels in the Cat’s Normal Environment
Margaret Slater, Laurie Garrison, Katherine Miller, Emily Weiss, Kathleen Makolinski and Natasha Drain
Animals 2013, 3 (4), 1194-1214; doi:10.3390/ani3041194

Researchers measured the quality of a survey designed to determine cats’ socialization level using information from caregivers. This survey will be used to help develop an effective process that accurately differentiates cats by their socialization levels in animal shelters.

Physical and Behavioral Measures that Predict Cats' Socialization in an Animal Shelter Environment during a Three-Day Period
Margaret Slater, Laurie Garrison, Katherine Miller, Emily Weiss, Natasha Drain and Kathleen Makolinski
Animals 2013, 3 (4), 1215-1228; doi:10.3390/ani3041215

The effectiveness of structured assessments were used to distinguish socialization levels in cats in a shelter-like setting over a period of three days.

Community Partnering as a Tool for Improving Live Release Rate in Animal Shelters in the United States
Emily Weiss, Gary Patronek, Margaret Slater, Laurie Garrison and Karen Medicus
Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 2013c, 16 (3), 221-238; doi: 10.1080/10888705.2013.803816

Collaboration among shelters and animal welfare groups in six geographically diverse communities showed there was an improvement in live release rates in all communities.

Evaluation of a Novel Dog Adoption Program in Two US Communities
Heather Mohan-Gibbons, Emily Weiss, Laurie Garrison and Meg Allison
PLoS ONE 2014, 9 (3): e91959; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0091959

This research focused on a novel adoption program where shelter dogs were transferred to foster families who were tasked with finding adopters for the animals. The results showed that the Adoption Ambassador program was effective in getting dogs adopted, tapped into a new group of adopters and had a low rate of returned dogs.

Effects of a Geographically-Targeted Intervention and Creative Outreach to Reduce Shelter Intake in Portland, OR
Gregory Miller, Margaret Slater and Emily Weiss
Open Journal of Animal Sciences 2014, doi: 10.4236/ojas.2014.44021

Geographically-targeted interventions using GIS (Global Information Systems) technology were shown to significantly improve a community’s capacity to identify the most appropriate locations to focus resources and to closely track and measure interventions.

Large Dog Relinquishment to Two Municipal Facilities in New York City and Washington, D.C.: Identifying Targets for Intervention
Emily Weiss, Margaret Slater, Laurie Garrison, Natasha Drain, Emily Dolan, Janet M. Scarlett and Stephen L. Zawistowski
Animals 2014, 4(3), 409-433; doi: 10.3390/ani4030409

Data collected in two large metropolitan areas found that the reasons people relinquished large dogs varied, therefore interventions to decrease large dog relinquishment are likely to be different in each community.

Current use of and attitudes towards identification in cats and dogs in veterinary clinics in Oklahoma City
Margaret R Slater, Emily Weiss and Linda K Lord
Animal Welfare-The UFAW Journal 2012, 21 (1), 51-57;

Research found that a high percentage of pets do not have ID tags and that a program to place ID tags directly onto  pets has a good potential for success, as most surveyed pet owners had a positive attitude about tagging their pets.

Do Policy Based Adoptions Increase the Care a Pet Receives? An Exploration of a Shift to Conversation Based Adoptions at One Shelter
Emily Weiss, Shannon Gramann, Emily D. Dolan, Jamie E. Scotto and Margaret R. Slater
Open Journal of animal Sciences 2014, doi: 10.4236/ojas.2014.45040 

This study examined the quality of care and attachment in two groups of adopters: a group that adopted pets while policy based adoptions were in place (screening for things like income, vaccination status of animals in the home and landlord approval) and a group that adopted when policies were eliminated. There were no substantial differences between the two groups, with both groups of adopters bonding with their pets and providing them with high-quality care.

Membership or Fee-Based Publications

Service Dog Selection Tests: Effectiveness for Dogs from Animal Shelters
Emily Weiss and Gary Greenberg
Applied Animal Behaviour Science 1997, 53 (4), 297-308; doi: 10.1016/S0168-1591(96)01176-8

This study randomly chose nine adult dogs from a shelter and conducted a service dog selection test on each. The dogs were trained in both basic obedience and a retrieval task. Results found no correlation between a dog’s overall performance on the selection test and his ability to complete the retrieval task. The behavior trait of fear/submission, however, was predictable from the selection phase.

Factors People Consider when Acquiring Dogs, the Complexity of the Choices They Make and Implications for Nonhuman Animal Relocation Programs
Laurie Garrison and Emily Weiss
Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 2015, 18 (1), 57-73; doi: 10.1080/10888705.2014.943836

A survey was conducted to assess decisions people make when acquiring dogs, including what sources they consider, the importance of the variety of dogs available, and their willingness to travel to adopt dogs of their choice. Results showed that people preferred variety and would drive distances to get dogs of their choice. The findings revealed that no single attribute determined choice, indicating that people have complex preferences and these vary widely across individuals.

Selecting Shelter Dogs for Service Training
Emily Weiss
Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 2002, 5(1), 43-62; doi:10.1207/S15327604JAWS0501_4

This research evaluated the efficacy of test items administered to 75 dogs from the Kansas Humane Society. Once tested, the dogs received obedience and retrieval training. The experiment assessed each dog on behavior over 5 weeks of training vs. performance on each selection test item. This research also revealed a reliable test for dog aggression without risking injury to dog or tester.

A Comparison of Attachment Levels of Adopters of Cats: Fee-Based Adoptions vs. Free Adoptions
Emily Weiss and Shannon Gramann
Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 2009, 12 (4), 360-370; doi: 10.1080/10888700903163674

This study examined adopters' attachment to their cats in relation to the payment or waiver of an adoption fee. No significant differences were found between groups on either measure.

Factors Relevant to Adoption of Cats in an Animal Shelter
Jaqueline M. Fantuzzi, Katherine A. Miller and Emily Weiss
Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 2010, 13 (2), 174-179; doi:10.1080/10888700903583467

An analysis was done to see if cat toys, cage location and characteristics of cats affected cat adoptions in an animal shelter. Results revealed cats housed with toys and cats housed at eye level were viewed more by potential adopters. Additionally, active cats were more likely to be adopted than cats who were less active.

A Survey of the Methods Used in Shelter and Rescue Programs to Identify Feral and Frightened Pet Cats
Margaret R. Slater, Katherine A. Miller, Emily Weiss, Kathleen V. Makolinski, and Lila A.M. Weisbrot
Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 2010, 12 (8), 592-600; doi: 10.1016/j.jfms.2010.02.001

Researchers conducted a nationwide survey of feline welfare stakeholders to learn about methods used to evaluate and categorize incoming cats, amount of time cats are held before assessment, disposition options available and the level of cooperation among welfare agencies to minimize euthanasia of ferals.

Retention of Provided Identification for Dogs and Cats Seen in Veterinary Clinics and Adopted from Shelters in Oklahoma City
Emily Weiss, Margaret R Slater and Linda K Lord
Preventive Veterinary Medicine 2011, 101(3), 265-269; doi: 10.1016/j.prevetmed.2011.05.008

The findings of this research suggest that having shelter staff or veterinarians place free ID tags and collars on animals increases the likelihood that owners will keep the identification on their pet.

Biochemical Survey of Free-roaming Cats in New York City Presented to a TNR Program
Kathryn L. Wycislo, Sara L. Connolly, Margaret R. Slater and Kathleen V. Makolinski
Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 2013, 1098612X13517253; doi: 10.1177/1098612X13517253

Free-roaming cats who were gathered in a trap-neuter-return program were surveyed for biochemical data, resulting in the first report of biochemical reference intervals for a group of free-roaming cats within the U.S.

A Survey of North American Shelter Practices Relating to Feline Upper Respiratory Management
Miranda E. Spindel, Margaret R. Slater and Dawn Boothe
Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 2013, 1098612X13477801; doi: 10.1177/1098612X13477801

A survey was conducted to determine common methods to control feline upper respiratory infections in animal shelters. The most commonly used antimicrobials were doxycycline and amoxicillin, and the study found that there is a wide range of prevention measures and therapeutics.

Effect of Single-cat vs. Multi-cat Home History on Perceived Behavioral Stress in Domestic Cats in a Shelter
Heidi M. Broadley, Emily C. McCobb and Margaret R. Slater
Journal Feline Medicine and Surgery 2014, 16(2), 137-143; doi: 10.1177/1098612X13502972

This study suggests that in traditional individual cage settings, cats not accustomed to living with other cats may experience more stress in the initial few days of attempting to adjust to shelter life.

Concentrated Tea Tree Oil Toxicosis in Dogs and Cats: 443 Cases (2002-2012)
Safdar Khan, Mary Kay McLean and Margaret R. Slater 
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 2014, 244(1), 95-99; doi: 10.2460/javma.244.1.95

A summary of the effects and frequency of toxic tea tree oil exposure in dogs and cats was reported in this study.

The Feline Thyroid Gland: A Model for Endocrine Disruption by PBDEs?
Donna A. Mensching, Margaret Slater, John W Scott, Duncan C Ferguson, Val R Beasley
Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health 2012, 75 (4), 201-212;
doi: 10.1080/15287394.2012.652054

The role of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) as a cause of feline hyperthyroidism was studied, with findings indicating that domestic cats are primarily exposed to PBDE through household dust.

Exposure Circumstances and Outcomes of 48 Households with Cats Exposed to Toxic Lily Species
by Margaret Slater and Sharon Gwaltney-Brant  
Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 2011, 47 (6), 386-390; doi: 10.5326/JAAHA-MS-5629   

A survey of cat owners calling the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center to report their cats being exposed to lilies in their homes resulted in new information about cat owners’ knowledge of lily toxicity in felines and about the effects this exposure had on affected cats.

Use of a Number Needed-to-Ban Calculation to Illustrate Limitations of Breed-specific Legislation in Decreasing the Risk of Dog bite Related Injury
Gary J Patronek, Margaret Slater, and Amy Marder
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 2010, 237 (7), 788-792; doi: 10.2460/javma.237.7.788

Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), which bans, restricts, or imposes conditions on ownership of specific breeds of dogs presumed to pose greater risk of biting people, is discussed in relation to how public perception of the risks associated with dog bites, particularly with respect to particular dog breeds, may result in the promotion of BSL. In addition, a novel method of demonstrating the implausibility of improving public safety via BSL through calculation of a risk-based statistic is presented.

Post-mortem Findings in 54 Cases of Anesthetic Association Death in Cats from Two S/N Programs in New York State
Jodie A Gerdin, Margaret R Slater, Kathleen V Makolinski, Andrea L Looney, Leslie D Appel, Nicole M Martin and Sean P McDonough
Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 2011, 13(12), 959-966; doi: 10.1016/j.jfms.2011.07.021

Post-mortem investigations of anesthetic-associated death (AAD) in cats showed that in one-third of the cases, pre-existing disease existed. Almost two-thirds of the cats had no significant disease and a small percentage (4%) died due to surgical complications.