Saving Lives

ASPCA Research: Less is More on the Adoption Floor

Shelters are so often bursting with cats in particular that it is possible that people who come through the shelter doors with every intention of adopting might find the sheer number of available cats overwhelming and they go home empty-handed.

The ASPCA's Less Is More research tests the hypothesis that decreasing the number of cats available on the adoption floor might increase the likelihood that a potential adopter makes a choice and goes home with a cat.

What's Happening

We tested this hypothesis at the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region (HSPPR), a large open admission facility in Colorado. We began by calculating the agency's transition rate (the number of cats adopted v. the number of people who came in the door saying they were coming to look at cats).

For two weeks in October 2010, HSPPR staff conducted brief greeter surveys asking visitors what brought them to the shelter.

  • HSPPR kept track of the responses and compared them to the daily adoption logs to find out how many visitors actually adopted cats.
  • By dividing the adoptions by the number of people who came in the door to look at cats, HSPPR established its transition rate for cats.

In early December 2010, the staff covered a portion of the cat cages on the adoption floor with attractive wraps to reduce the visible cats by 40% without reducing the number of cats being housed in the shelter. The staff then calculated the transition rate for another two week period.

Who's Involved

The ASPCA provided the HSPPR with a research and development consultant to help with the data collection and analysis. We also provided a grant to hire temporary staff to help with the surveys. We plan to repeat the research in other facilities to confirm the results.

Research Results

We expected to see a small increase in transition rate, but were amazed when we learned that the transition rate had more than doubled.

  • Although fewer people came in to the shelter in December (traditionally a slower month for many organizations), total cat adoptions increased.
  • More than twice the number of people who came in the door to look at cats actually walked out the door with new pets.

What's the Bottom Line?

It might seem counterintuitive, but limiting the number of animals shown on the adoption floor works. Fewer visible cats means more adoptions. Showing fewer cats at a time does not mean that you limit the number of adoptable cats. You can have cats "in the wings" to move to the visible adoption floor as soon as cages become available.

The potential implications of increasing adoptions without increasing traffic or intake are substantial for:

  • length of stay,
  • cat housing,
  • staff time and morale,
  • budget, and,
  • most of all, the cats themselves.

If you are considering how changes to your housing may enhance adoptions, check out the Association of Shelter Veterinarians' Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters. This valuable resource contains lots of additional information designed to help you increase adoptions by making adjustments in housing.