Factors Affecting the Likelihood of Dogs and Cats Returning to Their Owners at a Municipal Animal Shelter in the United States





return to owner, reclaim, RTO, directed acyclic graphs, DAGs, microchip


Introduction: Animal shelters consider return-to-owner (RTO) as an ideal outcome for animals, owners, and shelters. Methods to increase RTO likelihood are frequently discussed by shelter professionals nationwide. Some of these methods are evidence-based, while others are anecdotally successful. This retrospective study aimed to provide evidence for commonly suggested methods, as well as identify additional factors influencing RTO likelihood.

Methods: Data from 5,960 dog and 3,489 cat impounds were obtained from a large municipal animal shelter in Utah, USA. Directed acyclic graphs were developed to visualize causal assumptions, which were used to identify confounders for adjustment in the logistic regression while modeling the associations between study variables and RTO outcomes for both dogs and cats.

Results: Dogs and cats with microchips, older animals, healthy animals, neutered animals, and animals brought to the shelter via another public agency were more likely to return to their owners. Animal sex and season of impound did not affect either dogs’ or cats’ RTO likelihood.

Conclusion: The characteristics influencing RTO likelihood were similar for both dogs and cats. These influences provide support for existing shelter practices, such as facilitating widespread microchipping and waiving reclamation fees, while also encouraging implementation of new practices, such as modifying stray hold periods based on source type or health status. Limitations of the study included the presence of incomplete information in the database and concerns with the generalizability of results to other shelters.


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How to Cite

Hill, C. R., Weng, H.-Y., Protopopova, A., & Ly, L. H. (2023). Factors Affecting the Likelihood of Dogs and Cats Returning to Their Owners at a Municipal Animal Shelter in the United States. Journal of Shelter Medicine and Community Animal Health, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.56771/jsmcah.v2.64



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