Winter 2013

Not Guilty

Bad behavior doesn't land dogs in shelters

By Betty Liddick

It’s long been thought that behavior problems drive the majority of owners to surrender their pets to animal shelters. That perception is based, in part, on research by the National Council on Pet Population and Policy, which found that behavior issues, including aggression toward people and other animals, were the most frequent reasons for owners relinquishing their dogs. But that study was published more than a decade ago and based on data from just 12 shelters.

However, more expansive research published this year—and based on information on more than a million dogs from 800 animal-welfare organizations in North America—has uncovered the real culprit for surrenders: the owners themselves. According to Pethealth Inc., the Canadian pet insurance company that conducted the survey, these are the top 10 reasons that dogs end up in shelters:


Illustration: Ward Schumaker

1.  Too many pets in the household (18% of surrenders)

2.  Unwanted/incompatible pet (10%)

3.  Owner moving/deployed by the military (10%)

4.  Stray/found/abandoned animal (8%)

5.  Owner unable to care for animal (8%)

6.  Financial/home insurance policy restrictions (6%)

7.  Euthanasia request (5%)

8.  Unwanted litter/pregnant female (4%)

9.  Allergic to animal (4%)

10. Family health problems/death of owner (3%)

Although 86 percent of relinquishments were for owner-driven reasons, dog-specific causes for surrender to shelters included health problems, aggression and hyperactivity.

This article is adapted with permission from Your Dog: The Newsletter for Caring Dog Owners, published by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. For subscription information, go to or call 1.800.829.5116.

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