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"What we have found is that people are really picky," Dr. Emily Weiss, vice president of shelter research and development for the ASPCA, told Yahoo! Shine. They often arrive at an animal shelter with a preconceived idea of what they want in their pet, and looks usually top the list of important factors.
It's not the best strategy for finding the ideal animal companion. "Beauty is fur deep," animal behavior expert Nicholas Dodman, PhD, author of The Dog Who Loved Too Much and The Cat Who Cried For Help told Yahoo! Shine. "Pretty pets get adopted more often." He emphasized that it's crucial to prioritize temperament above appearance when picking a pet. More than four million dogs and cats are euthanized each year in the United States, a number that he feels could be reduced dramatically if prospective pet owners put more emphasis on choosing a pet with a personality that would complement their lifestyle.
For years, shelter employees have insisted that black dogs and cats are adopted less frequently and are euthanized more often, leading to a phenomenon (that's been widely covered in the media) called "Black Dog Syndrome." While theories have ranged from the fact that it's harder to see their facial features in the dim light of shelter cages to a lingering bias because black creatures were associated with bad luck in folklore, Weiss says it might be simply that there are a lot of black animals in the pet population and thus more in shelters that need to be adopted. Those looking for a pet, in turn, may also end up choosing one that literally stands out from the pack. "People get overwhelmed and pick the one animal that is a different color," she said.
Dodman's advice for picking the right animal is to gather clues about its temperament before bringing your new pet home. You can do this by inquiring about why the dog or cat was left at the shelter and discussing its personality with shelter employees. "Since the dogs are all bouncing around, and cats are huddled in the back of their cages, ask to evaluate it outside of the shelter environment," Dodman said. Play with the cat outside of its cage or take the dog on a walk and observe how it interacts with people and other dogs.
Weiss agrees that potential pet owners need to look beyond the color, size, and breed to find the right animal. The ASPCA has a tool called Meet Your Match that helps people identify available dogs and cats that will be in sync with their personalities and lifestyles. "There will always be love at first sight," she said, "but we point out the disconnects, so you can either decide to make accommodations or choose another pet."
— Sarah B. Weir
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