Falling short in some CATegories: AVMA survey shows Utah low in pet ownership

Cats sit in cages at the Weber County Animal Shelter in Ogden.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Story by Amy K. Stewart
Mon, Feb 11, 2013
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Utah is not the purrfect place for felines, according to a survey released by the American Veterinary Medical Association. In fact, Utah is last in cat ownership out of all 50 states.

Dog ownership is also low for the state, ranking 43rd nationally, according to the AVMA’s U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, which was released in January.

“I’m really amazed the numbers are so low,” said Steve Nalder, store manager for PetSmart in Riverdale.

The survey was distributed to random households nationwide via email in February 2012. Of Utah’s households, 24.6 percent own cats, and 32.6 percent of homes have dogs.

The poll didn’t include respondents stating why they didn’t own cats or dogs, but pet aficionados speculate it could be many things — including tight household budgets, large families, rental housing with strict landlords, desert-climate allergies, cold weather that isn’t favorable for walking dogs, and even an overabundance of technology.

Lt. Chad Ferrin of the Weber County Sheriff’s office, and director of animal services for Weber County, said he thinks finances have a lot to do with the state’s current low pet ownership.

“I don’t know that I have a set answer — but some people are stretched thin and that has to have an effect on the overall numbers,” Ferrin said. “We have seen more people surrendering their animals because of the economy. People just can’t afford to keep their animals, so they are bringing their pets to us and we have the opportunity to place that animal into a better home.”

Steven Lemmon, veterinarian with the Ogden Animal Hospital, agrees the low pet ownership could be economy-related, but he also theorizes it may be because of Utah’s culture of large families — not leaving extra space or funds for family pets. “I think it has to do with the large number of children,” Lemmon said. “Sometimes it’s hard to afford a pet.”

Eric Clough, veterinarian at Burch Creek Animal Hospital in Ogden, points to technology as the culprit, saying people just aren’t as interested in live interaction anymore. “I think technology plays a subtle role in lack of pet ownership,” Clough said. “We are becoming so increasingly occupied with smartphones, the Internet, social media and video games that there is less time to spend with pets.”

Children have traditionally been the impetus for families getting pets, but kids “are so inundated by gadgets these days that animals have a hard time competing for their interest,” Clough said.

Compared nationally, the top states for cat ownership are Vermont, 49.5 percent; Maine, 46.4 percent; Oregon, 40.2 percent; and South Dakota, 39.1 percent.

Tom McPheron, AVMA spokesman, said Vermont is a “superstar” pet-owning state, simply because of the culture there. “They love animals in Vermont — that is for sure,” he said.

Regarding allergies, McPheron points out that states with similar climates, such as Idaho and Wyoming, have a higher cat ownership than Utah, so he doesn’t believe allergies are the reason for Utah’s low ownership.

Further, Renee Miller, store manager of PetCo in Harrisville, said there are medications now that owners can feed their pet to reduce dander and shedding, therefore cutting down on allergies. There are also waterless shampoos that help get rid of pet dander, she said.

Top states for dog ownership are Arkansas, 47.9 percent; New Mexico, 46 percent; Kentucky, 45.9 percent; and Missouri, 45.9 percent.

States almost as low as Utah for cat ownership are California, 28.3 percent; South Carolina, 27.8 percent; Rhode Island, 27.6 percent; Alabama, 27.4 percent; Florida, 27.3 percent; Georgia, 27.3 percent; Illinois, 26.3 percent; Louisiana, 25.9 percent; and New Jersey, 25.3 percent.

Bottom dog-owning states are Illinois, 32.4 percent; New Jersey, 32.4 percent; Minnesota, 31.9 percent; Maryland, 30.8 percent; New Hampshire, 30.3 percent; Rhode Island, 29.3 percent; New York, 29 percent; Connecticut, 28.3 percent; and Massachusetts, 23.6 percent.

The District of Columbia has the lowest cat ownership rate, at 11.6 percent; D.C. also has the lowest dog ownership rate, at 13.1 percent.

Studies have shown pets lower blood pressure and decrease depression in owners, McPheron said. “Some people say they won’t own a cat because they don’t like cats,” he said. “I would say that is because they just don’t know enough about cats. They make great pets.”

Laura Jolley, 28, of Hooper, is the adoption specialist for the Weber County Animal Shelter in Ogden. She owns two cats and three dogs.

“My family has just always had cats and dogs,” she said. “The cats catch mice and we like to take the dogs camping and hiking. They are really good companion animals — they keep us more busy, more active.”

Besides encouraging pet ownership, McPheron wants owners to be responsible with care and medical attention for their pets, including vaccinations and proper food, water and exercise. “Cats will often hide their pain or illness because it makes them a target for prey,” he said.

Miller encourages pet owners to get training so they don’t become easily frustrated with training and give up on their pets so quickly. Owners can ask advice at pet stores regarding issues such as chewing and housebreaking “rather than give up right away,” she said.

“Pets provide great comfort and company,” Miller added. “Dogs or cats are great for elderly people. Cats are good for people who are busy — they simply greet you at the door when you’re coming home from work.”

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