History & PetSmart Charities adoption data shows the value of doing holiday adoptions

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2007:


RANCHO SANTE FE, Calif.– Helen Woodward Animal Center
president Mike Arms has been telling everyone who would listen for
more than 40 years that the winter holiday season should be the peak
season for shelter adoptions.
Arms demonstrated the potential for boosting adoptions during
the winter holidays during 20 years as shelter manager for the North
Shore Animal League, in Port Washington, New York, and then took
his campaign global by founding the Home 4 the Holidays program at
the Helen Woodward Center in 2000.
“I have always thought that the idea we shouldn’t do
adoptions during the holiday season was a plot by the puppy mill
industry to protect their profits,” Arms asserts.

The importance of the holiday season to dog breeders has been
recognized by both breeders and humane societies for more than 70
years. Estimates of the numbers of puppies who would be presented as
gifts at Christmas 1937 ran as high as one million–at a time when
the total pet dog population of the U.S. was only about 10 million,
according to the American Humane Association. The U.S. also had
about 10 million street dogs, a population that gradually
disappeared during the next few decades.
Already campaigning against puppy mills, the AHA in 1938
expressed skepticism that more than 100,000 pups actually were given
at Christmas. The owned population of breeding bitches, the AHA
believed, was about 750,000, producing an average of two surviving
pups per litter after the remainder were culled by the dogs’ keepers,
then the prevailing method of controlling the population.
Then and through the 1960s, the AHA urged animal shelters to
compete for holiday adoption market share. During the next 25 years,
however, the advent of research into reasons for pet relinquishment
to shelters and of computerized shelter record-keeping led to a trend
in the opposite direction.
On the one hand, early shelter relinquishment surveys seemed
to find that so-called “impulse adoption” was a factor in animals
being returned to shelters within a short time of being placed.
On the other, shelters seemed to be receiving unusual
influxes of animals just after the winter holidays each year.
The solution, from the 1970s into the 1990s, was widely
believed to be to discourage “impulse adoption,” especially around
the winter holidays, to try to avoid the post-holiday surge in
More recent research has established that adoption failures
result much less from ill-considered adoption than from adopters
being inadequately prepared and counseled to deal with the behavioral
problems that are often why animals land in shelters in the first
place. Improved behavioral diagnostic and remedial procedures within
shelters and improved adoption education and follow-up have cut the
rate of failed adoptions from about one in five in the 1980s to fewer
than one in 20 today.
The post-holiday influx of shelter surrenders meanwhile
turned out to be chiefly due to shelters keeping shorter hours during
the holiday season–exactly as Arms intuitively predicted.
By far the largest data base on seasonal adoption in
existence has been compiled by PetSmart Charities. From 2000 through
2006, PetSmart Charities in-store adoption boutiques placed 748,957
dogs and 1,382,681 cats on behalf of humane societies, animal
control shelters, and nonprofit rescue groups.
The peak of puppy and kitten availability is in summer, but
the PetSmart Charities data shows that adoption demand is relatively
steady throughout the year.
Among dogs placed through PetSmart, 27% of the annual total
find homes in spring, and 24% in each of the other three seasons.
Among cats placed through PetSmart, 20% find homes from February
through April, when kitten availability is relatively low; 25% in
May through July; 28% in August through October; and 27% from
November through January.
The PetSmart data suggests that while placing kittens may
boost adoptions in summer, placements of adult cats may peak during
the winter holidays.

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