Location may play a role in cat adoption

Liz Zabel

Animal shelters nationwide have been the homes for millions of homeless cats and dogs brought in for various reasons. Sometimes their previous owner could not afford them; other times they are abandoned, even neglected, or abused. These furry friends are looking for a loving family to take them home, but different factors in their environment may influence their chances at being adopted.

Beth Bystrom, second year student in veterinary medicine, is spending her summer doing research on factors that influence cat adoptions in six different shelters in the Midwest.

Her study primarily looks at the influence location has on adoption, such as the probability of being adopted if they come from eye level cages as opposed to lower level or if they are towards the front of the room as opposed to the back.

Bystrom and her mentor, Dr. Claudia Baldwin, shelter medicine professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, theorize location plays a big role in choice of adoption. Both predict cats in eye level cages are more likely to receive more attention and are therefore more readily adoptable.

“For a long time I’ve suspected it’s location,” Baldwin said, noting research on factors that influence adoptions has already been done, but no one has really looked at location as a factor.

Bystrom and Baldwin work together as researcher and mentor for the summer scholars program at Vet Med. This program, Baldwin said, is designed for veterinary students to get a taste of research during the summer. Faculty and students work together on projects that range from standard laboratory work to field work.

“It gives the students an opportunity to really learn much more about something they have interest in,” Baldwin said.

Students are recruited by professors and are then chosen to be part of the summer scholars program. Once chosen, students sit down with their mentor and talk about what issues are important to them. Then they come up with an idea.

Bystrom came to Baldwin with several ideas, but her cat adoption study idea really hit home with Baldwin.

Baldwin said Beth’s project is very close to her heart, since her area of expertise is in shelter medicine and more specifically in feline reproduction and overpopulation. Baldwin said cat overpopulation is a problem here in Iowa and nationally as well.

“Cats represent 75 percent of the homeless animals in shelters, and they are very hard to place,” Baldwin said. “There are some things we already know about adoption of cats, and there’s a lot we haven’t learned. We need to find out everything possible in order to get these cats into homes because the longer they stay there, the more opportunity they have to get sick.”

According to the American Humane Association, only 24 percent of cats that enter animal shelters are adopted, 2 percent are reunited with their owners, and 71 percent are euthanized.

Bystrom’s project is funded by Maddie’s fund, which has been funding the summer scholars program since 2003. Baldwin said Maddie’s fund has given more to animal welfare more than any other in the world, specifically shelters and shelter programs.

Baldwin said she believes there is great opportunity for shelters to benefit from Bystrom’s research. Once the research is completed, shelters they worked with will receive a copy of the work.

Bystom said if she does find there is a particular place in the shelter where cats are adopted more often, they could utilize that information and place cats that have been there longer where they are more likely to be adopted.

“Perhaps they need to change their strategy,” Baldwin said. “If in fact it is the upper cage in the center of the room, maybe that’s where the cat that has been deemed less adoptable needs to be.”

Bystrom said more shelters have been implementing “felinality,” which is a method of trying to match an adopter’s lifestyle to a particular cat. Bystrom said she thinks more shelters need to stress this more.

“The public should be focusing more on behavior and what fits with their lifestyle in order to have a successful adoption,” Bystrom said.

Bystrom hasn’t analyzed the data yet, but come Aug. 10, all data will be collected, analyzed and presented with the other summer scholar projects in the Scheman Building from 10 to 11:30 a.m. for Vet Med Research Day.