Pets continue to be more and more popular and more central to our lives, with the many advantages of pet ownership from companionship to mental health benefits becoming better understood. But despite that fact, more than 361.5 million cats and dogs in 20 countries are homeless, living either in shelters or outdoors as strays according to new research from Mars out today. In the US alone, there are an estimated 48 million homeless cats and dogs.
To understand the scale of the problem and the reasons for pet homelessness by country, Mars partnered with a team of leading animal welfare experts and organizations across 20 countries to develop the State of Pet Homelessness Project.
Generating the data involved over nine months of fieldwork, 200 professional interviews, over 7,700 hours of gathering data, 930 sources, 44 analyst interviews, and approximately 30,000 public surveys.
The goal of the project is to understand the root causes of pet homelessness so they can be addressed. Helen Mills, global vice president of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at Mars Petcare, explained that for years, organizations have been working to make a difference, and have helped millions of homeless pets. But help is often focused on addressing the symptoms of pet homelessness by implementing measures like supporting shelters to take in more pets, providing food to homeless pets and responding to natural disasters. Despite the size of the problem, there has historically been no data to help organizations and governments look at the underlying factors that contribute to pet homelessness and tackle the root causes.
Mills said that it’s in Mars’ DNA to want to help. “It doesn’t matter if an associate is making kibble or if they’re providing life-saving surgery in one of our veterinary hospitals. Everyone is focused on making a better world for pets, but we recognize that it can’t just be about the pets we serve. It has to be about all pets.”
Many of the study’s findings are surprising.
More than a third of people surveyed worldwide who had rehomed a pet said they rehomed it because of behavioral issues. That number is about 40% in the US.
The project also found that when owned pets go missing, they are reunited less than half of the time, leading to an unintended increase in pet homelessness.
More shocking is the fact that over half of the survey respondents said they wouldn’t consider adopting a pet from a shelter. “You’d think in today’s day and age more people perhaps might consider getting a pet from a shelter, but actually it’s not as common a choice for getting a new pet as you might think,” Mills said.
The project identified three key areas of action when it comes to preventing pet homelessness.
The first of these is preventing unwanted pets. This can be done by promoting responsible breeding practices and preventingstray pet populations from breeding with programs like TNR (trap, neuter, return).
Another pillar is ensuring sustained care, which can look different in different cultures around the world. While in the US, the goal is to get homeless pets into homes, Mills said that in countries like India and Brazil, it might look like making sure companion animals living in communities have access to medical help and yearly check-ups.
On an individual level, increased education can help keep pets in homes. This includes ensuring pet owners are choosing the right pet for their lifestyle and understand the basics of pet health and nutrition. “It’s about helping pet owners be the best they can be for their pets, so they understand some of the things we just take for granted in the human world,” Mills said.
HOW TO HELP
While the research and findings reported are primarily aimed at nonprofit organizations and local governments, there are ways for individuals to help as well, Mills explained.
“If you’re thinking about getting a pet, do your research,” Mills said. This includes thinking about what it means to be a responsible owner and considering factors like your schedule and living space. Other ways to help include adopting pets from shelters, volunteering with shelters and rescues, donating and supporting your friends and loved ones who may be struggling to keep their pets at home because of aging or health.
“It’s a complex challenge,” Mills said. “Ultimately we hope that this data will help create a world where more pets have the love and care they deserve.”