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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Factors affecting the welfare and adoption rate of cats in an animal shelter Gourkow, Nadine


Rates of adoption for adult cats in animal shelters have always been very low, thus these animals are often subjected to euthanasia and/or long periods of confinement. Furthermore, housing of shelter cats has traditionally focused on disease prevention; this has led to the use of barren, individual cages with only basic items necessary for self-maintenance. To improve the welfare of shelter cats it is necessary to increase the rate of adoption, reduce the time spent in shelter, and improve the living conditions while in the shelter. This study explored factors that influence the rate of adoption of shelter cats and the length of time they spend awaiting adoption, as well as the animals' health and psychological well-being during their stay at the shelter. In addition, factors that influence people's selection of shelter cats were examined. Two factors — the complexity of the environment and consistency of handling were varied to create four treatments. The "Standard Treatment" represented conditions typical of North American shelters. Housing consisted of individual stainless-steel cages measuring (length by width by height) 70 x 70 x 55 cm, equipped with a food and water bowl, a litter box and a towel. Daily care of the cats was carried out by a number of staff and volunteers using a variety of handling techniques. The "Enriched Single Treatment" provided similar cage type and furnishings plus a shelf and a hiding area; consistent handling and opportunity for familiarization with one caretaker was provided. The "Basic Communal Treatment" accommodated up to 8 cats in a cage measuring 2.30 x 1.60 x 2.40 m and equipped with 10 square shelves measuring 33 x 33 cm placed at varying heights and several semi-hiding areas sized to accommodate only one cat at a time. This treatment also included consistent handling and opportunity for familiarization with one caretaker plus some opportunity for socialization with other cats while providing cats with lots of personal space. The "Enriched Communal Treatment" included a group cage of similar size designed to reduce the amount of personal space available to each cat; handling and familiarization were the same as the previous treatment. The fate of 165 cats was monitored until they were either "Adopted" "Euthanised due to illness", "Sent to isolation due to illness" or "Time up" after 21 days on display without being adopted. Stress level was monitored using the "Cat-Stress-Score" (Kessler & Turner, 1997), a non-invasive behavioural stress measure. Treatment affected the fate of cats. The Standard Treatment yielded the lowest adoption rate (45 %), highest euthanasia rate (16%), and longest median wait time before being adopted (12.5 days); while adoption rate was between 68 and 76%, euthanasia rate between 2 and 6% and median length of stay approximately 5 days for the three alternative treatments Treatment also affected stress scores. Least squares analysis showed a significant effect of treatment (F3, 113 = 5.67, P < 0.001) and a significant regression of scores on days (F1, 349 = 38.5, P < 0.001), but no interaction of treatment and days (F = 0.24). Stress scores declined gradually over days with a slope of - 0.065 (± S.E of 0.016). The Duncan's Multiple Range Test showed that the Standard Treatment was significantly higher (P<0.05) than all other treatments, whereas the other treatments did not differ from each other. The non-parametric Kruskall-Wallis test confirmed the result (P<0.0084). A similar analysis showed a significant difference between cats classified according to the four outcomes (Adopted, Euthanised, Sent to Isolation, Time-up) (F 3, 104 = 3.77, P <0.05). The Duncan's Multiple Range Test showed that the cats that were "euthanised" had significandy higher scores (P<0.05) than the other three outcome categories, whereas the other outcome categories did not differ from each other (Adopted, Sent to Isolation, Time-up). The non-parametric Kruskall-Walks test confirmed the significance of the difference (P<0.05 Seventy-three percent of adopters responded to a questionnaire at time of adoption. Factors reported by adopters as most influential in the selection of individual cats were "Friendliness towards adopter" (100% of respondents), "Playfulness" (86%), "Happy disposition" (73%), "Friendliness towards other cats" (69%), "Neutered" (70%), "Coat length" (69%) and "Being able to enter the cage with the cats" (74%). Based on these findings and previous research, it seems possible to improve the welfare of shelter cats with the use of more complex environments designed to meet the needs of cats and consistent handling routines that involve familiarization with one caretaker.

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