02085-A: Reducing Animal Shelter Surrender by Enhancing the Human-Animal Bond
Grant Status: Closed
In the spring of 2014, we began inviting new dog owners from Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA (AAWL) to participate in our post-adoption activity program to see whether such a program can accelerate and intensify the formation of the human-animal bond. In this study people adopting a dog at AAWL in Phoenix, AZ, were assigned to either an Intervention or Control Group. Adopters in the Control Group were asked to report weekly on their exercise habits with their new dog. They also received weekly tips by email, but these provided only the same general information that all adopters routinely receive from AAWL. The Intervention Group also reported about their exercise activities, but they received specialized tips on how to exercise and get along better with their newly adopted dogs. We also invited them to weekly meet-ups with a dog trainer where we answered their behavior questions and walked with them. At those meetings they also received dog activity monitors.
Our first cohort was enrolled and participated in May 2014, and then the excessive heat in Phoenix (over 90 degrees at 9 am) forced us to furlough the project through the summer. We restarted in September 2014 and continued through May 2015.
Our enrollment rate in the study was a little over 20%. We found that very few adopters came out on the group dog walks with us. We saw a participation rate of 11% from invited adopters. This is strong evidence against the intuition that new dog owners in their first weeks of adoption perceive a need for in-person expert advice on how to cope with their dogs or have any interest in a group walking opportunity – at least in the population we studied.
While not statistically significant, our results do show that at the end of the four-week intervention, adopters who were encouraged to walk with their dogs spent more days walking and more time during those outings than people in the Control Group.
Regarding attitudes about walking and dog behavior, adopters in the Intervention Group showed a change in their attitudes (with the exception of setting aside time to walk), over the course of the four weeks that was more favorable towards dog walking. Adopters in the Invention Group reported that they believed that their dog’s behavior when walking on leash improved from Week 1 to Week 4.
While the expert-led dog walks were only utilized by only a small portion of the Intervention Group, it does seem that the focused email advice they received had a modest influence in improving attitudes and habits about dog walking – and possibly even the behavior of these adopted dogs. This could offer a far cheaper and simpler intervention for shelters to administer than running live in-person activity groups.
Manuscript in preparation.
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