SAWA Research Symposium

Top Takeaways from the 2015 Research Symposium

Every year, the National Council on Pet Population holds a Research Symposium to bring the latest scientific research to animal welfare professionals. The National Council was created in 1993 to address the lack of statistical data in the animal welfare world.

With the support of VCA Animal Hospitals, Veterinary Products Laboratories (VPL), CAWA and SAWA, the National Council proudly presented the third annual Symposium yesterday, November 15, 2015.

Here are some key takeaways from the research day:

The day’s sessions started with a reminder that just because a study is “scientific” doesn’t mean the information is “good” – its context and quality are also critical.

“Not all scientific studies are created equally. Just because information comes from a scientific study doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good information.”
– Jan Scarlett, DVM, MPH, PhD, National Council on Pet Population Board Chair

Improving Perceptions and Outcomes of Adoptable Pets

A few of the sessions covered the issues surrounding perceptions of shelter animals and how to address them.

Jill Perry, MBA, Manager of Consumer Market Insights at Purina PetCare, identified three top barriers to shelter pet adoptions: unknown history, behavior problems and personality/temperament. To remove these barriers, professionals in the field should provide the information adopters seek, reassure adopters of the care and value that you provide and instill confidence in potential adopters through transparency.

Lisa Gunter, MA, CMCC-KA, CPDT-KA, Graduate Student of Arizona State University’s Canine Science Collaboratory, noted that breed labels can contribute to negative perceptions of some dogs:

“Removing labels is a low-cost intervention that could improve outcomes for many – perhaps all – breeds, including pit bulls.”

Kristen Elizabeth Auerbach, Deputy Director, Austin Animal Shelter, discussed the impact of fostering dogs with behavioral issues:

“What word did fosters use more than any other to describe their foster dogs? SMART.”

More Successful Adoptions, Pet Recovery and Pet Care

Margaret Slater, DVM, PhD, Sr. Director, Veterinary Epidemiology, ASPCA, and Emily Weiss, PhD, CAAB, VP of Research & Development, ASPCA, reminded participants that context of an adoption matters:

“Dogs and cats obtained as gifts are less likely to be relinquished than [those] obtained from a shelter, friend, as a stray or from a pet store.”

When animals are lost, social tools and digital technology can reduce shelter costs and help animals find their way home more quickly according to Thomas R. Arnold, III, BSCS, CEO, Pet Hub, Inc.

Sara White, DVM, MSc, Executive Director & Veterinarian, SPAY ASAP, Inc. noted that certain demographics are more likely to use high volume spay and neuter clinics:

“When asked ‘why did you choose to bring your animal to this clinic, rather than a private practice?’ cat owners were more likely to cite cost, reputation, previous use of the clinic and not having a regular vet.”

Similarly, changing the approach to conversations with people who have to relinquish their pets can have a positive effect on the number of animals who need to be re-homed. Margaret Slater, DVM, PhD, Sr. Director, Veterinary Epidemiology, ASPCA, and Emily Weiss, PhD, CAAB, VP of Research & Development, ASPCA, encouraged shelter workers to find ways to help people who relinquish their pets by identifying the barriers to keeping them:

“By providing low-cost or free veterinary and spay/neuter services, shelters can help keep pets in homes… Learn what’s going on in your community. Why are people coming in? Why are they relinquishing their pets? Ask them – if there were services that would keep them from relinquishing their pets, what would they be?”

Managing Cats In and Out of Shelters

In his session, John Boone, BS, PHD, Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs, noted that:

“Animal individuals are – and should be – the driving force of animal welfare work.”

Tyler Flockhart, PhD, Ecology, Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, emphasized that urban cat populations are complex systems:

“Any action taken in the network reverberates throughout the entire system.”

When cats are in shelters, shelter workers can improve their welfare through a better understanding of human-cat interactions, as Kristen R. Vitale Shreve, M. EN, National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow, Animal & Rangeland Sciences, Oregon State University, reminded attendees:

“Can human interaction serve as enrichment for shelter cats? Yes! Human touch and vocalization increases cat sociability, which mirrors socialization research.”

The Research Symposium is an annual event that opens the SAWA Annual Conference. Please join us again in 2016!


This article was written live during the 2015 Annual Society of Animal Welfare Administrators Conference. This post reflects our bloggers’ understanding of the session and the materials shared by presenters.


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