Is there a bias against stray cats in shelters? People’s perception of shelter cats and how it influences adoption time

Kathryn Dybdall, Rosemary Strasser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The determination of adoptability is a fundamental issue facing shelters wishing to rehome cats. Many shelters in the United States cannot keep a cat indefinitely and increased time in the shelter environment may lead to reduced animal welfare due to chronic stress or euthanasia. In a series of studies, we examined whether entry type (whether a cat came to the shelter as an owner-surrendered or stray) as well as a cat’s perceived social behavior influenced adoption times and people’s ratings of adoptability. In study 1, we used archival data from 1,089 cats in a Midwest shelter and found that owner-surrendered cats were adopted significantly sooner than stray cats. In study 2, we further explored the difference between owner-surrendered and stray cats by measuring the social behavior of 56 shelter cats and their time before adoption. Similarly, we found in this sample that owner-surrendered cats were adopted on average nine days sooner than stray cats. Hierarchical regression analysis indicated that entry type was a significant predictor of days to adopt, and that latency to approach a human significantly improved the prediction model. Further, how quickly stray cats, but not owner-surrendered cats, approached a human experimenter correlated significantly with a shortened adoption time in the actual adoption scenario. Finally, in study 3, we used an on-line survey to present 12 dual-image pictures of cats and manipulated whether the information about the cat listed each as owner-surrendered or stray cat. We asked 120 college students to rate their likelihood of adopting each pictured cat. When participants were asked about reasons they would adopt a particular cat, 81% reported friendly behavior toward them; yet when viewing the mirror images in the survey (no behavioral information available), cats received higher adoptability ratings when presented as owner-surrendered compared with the flipped image of that cat presented as a stray. Taken together, these studies suggest that adopters’ perception of stray cats, as well as cats’ interactions with humans, influence the amount of time a cat remains in the shelter prior to adoption.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)603-614
Number of pages12
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2014


  • Adoption time
  • Animal welfare
  • Domestic cat
  • Shelters
  • Social behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Anthropology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • veterinary (miscalleneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Is there a bias against stray cats in shelters? People’s perception of shelter cats and how it influences adoption time'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this