Adopter preferences in selecting shelter cats, what about coat color?

I’ve recently been collecting evidence that suggests that we could increase adoption rates by incorporating more group housing into shelters. In building my study, I’m now interested in what factors make cats less desirable at shelters so that potentially we could market less desirable cats by placing them in housing that will make them more desirable. Lepper et. al (2002) examined just that, in a study with over 4000 cats they examined multiple variables in order to determine certain predictors of adoption. They also examined dogs, but I’ll just be discussing the cats today. Check out the article for yourself if you are interested in the dog analysis.

It has been shown that there is a clear correlation with fearful behaviors and euthanasia (Gourkow and Fraser, 2006), therefore we should be doing everything we can to reduce fearful behaviors. I’ve suggested that when we are forced to make euthanasia decisions based on space,¬† we need to take temperament into account to evaluate the potential for adoption.

Among other variables however, this study illuminates factors outside the control of behavior modification that may

Gidget is available for adoption at Heartland Humane Society (Corvallis)

influence adopt-ability. Comparing coat color, the authors chose to set tabby cats as the standard, and were able to determine that white, color point, and grey cats were the most likely to be adopted. Brown and Black were the least likely, a fact that any former shelter employee wouldn’t be surprised to hear.

Cats’ whose color or features could be attributed to a specific breed (such as Persians) were in high demand. This study found that coat length did not have an effect on adoption rates, but other researchers have found that more than half of adopters list coat length as an important factor in their selection. Interestingly, Siamese cats¬† had no higher rate of adoption than other cats in the study.

To me, this information says that we could easily be selecting animals that are potentially less desirable, and placing them in the front or lobby areas of shelters in group settings, and keeping kittens and more desirable animals in less prominent housing. This simple management change could potentially increase adoption rates overall, and of course reduce euthanasia rates, the goal of any shelter.

Merry Lepper, Philip H. Kass, & Lynette A. Hart (2002). Prediction of Adoption Versus Euthanasia Among Dogs and Cats in a California Animal Shelter Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 5, 29-42 DOI: 10.1207/S15327604JAWS0501_3


2 thoughts on “Adopter preferences in selecting shelter cats, what about coat color?”

  1. Interesting. I was involving in choosing a cat to adopt recently and can confirm that fearful behaviours are a turn off. I like your idea of putting the “hard sells” out front to make them more likely to be picked, but if the problem with a cat is that it’s shy, might that make it worse? All the exposure might make it even more scared.

  2. Absolutely it could. Many of the articles I have been reading mention the importance of providing hiding places and perches in enriched housing environments to help fearful cats acclimate to the shelter environment. There’s a library of research on managing fear in shelter cats out there, and it’s an extremely important issue when you’re trying to increase adoption rates. My interests however, are in simpler changes such as managing adoption marketing around physical characteristics. Trying to manage fear requires much more demanding changes for shelter staff and operations, and while it should be a long term goal, I’m looking for simpler changes that may make a difference in adoption rates.

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