LOS ANGELES -- Where do people get their pets? A new AP-Petside.com poll found that the most common way people acquire a pet is as a gift, followed by taking in a stray.
About four in 10 pet owners say at least one of their current pets was given to them by friends or family, while a third say they have a pet that showed up on their doorstep as a stray.
Shelters and breeders are next on the list as sources for pets. Thirty percent of those polled say they adopted through a shelter, 31 percent got a pet from a breeder and 14 percent bought an animal at a pet store.
Karen Hulsey, 63, adopted a cat from a Texas shelter. Greyson is about a year old now and "he's cuddly and clean," she says.
She calls her shelter experience very upbeat because the cat "has turned into a wonderful pet with a good attitude and I felt like I was doing something positive."
Another quarter obtained a pet in some other way, including 3 percent who say they went to an animal rescue group and 2 percent who purchased them using an online or print classified ad.
More than half of the pet owners polled say they've taken in a shelter animal at some point, and two-thirds of them say their experiences have been extremely positive.
Jackie Schulze, 77, of Williamsport, Pa., got Sassafras, a white cat with periwinkle eyes, from Lycoming Animal Protection Society Inc., a no-kill cat rescue that operates a local shelter. The cat, which was rescued from a meth lab in Scranton, is very attached to Schulze, following her around and sitting in her lap.
"Sassy chose me," Schulze said.
Among those who had the most positive shelter experiences, 44 percent cite positive interactions with shelter staff. Just 3 percent say they'd had a moderately or very negative shelter experience.
Edward Acosta, 46, of Thomasville, N.C., said if he were getting a new pet today, he would probably go to a pet store or breeder, not because he doesn't like shelters but "because I like thoroughbreds." He and his wife Vicki bred Pomeranians for years and still have three descended from their original pair. They also own five chickens – Rhode Island Reds bought at a feed store – whom they consider to be pets.
Cat owners are more likely than dog owners to have adopted a stray or shelter animal. Forty-three percent of cat owners polled say one of their pets came from a shelter, compared with 29 percent of dog owners. More than half of cat owners (52 percent) say one of their current pets was a stray, compared with 30 percent of dog owners.
Fifty-eight percent of shelter adopters say being socially responsible was extremely or very important in their decision to use a shelter. It is usually cheaper to adopt than to buy from a breeder or pet store, but 60 percent of those who adopted shelter pets say the cost made no difference.
Thirty-six percent of shelter users say they had more confidence in the staff at pet shelters than they did in the staff at pet stores or breeders. Thirty-six percent of those who obtained animals from shelters also say they believe shelter animals were more likely to have had recent veterinary care than animals from pet stores or breeders.
And more than two-thirds of those who have adopted from a shelter – 68 percent – say they would do so again.
Not all pet owners see shelter adoptions as a positive. Thirty-six percent of those polled say that if they were to adopt an animal from a shelter, they would be extremely or very concerned that the pet might have hidden medical problems; 29 percent express concern about psychological problems and 33 percent say they would worry the animal wouldn't fit in with their families.
Ojala Reino, 31, of Fairmount, Ga., who got his boxer bulldog, Bruster, from a friend, said he was one of those who would worry about the physical and mental health of a shelter dog.
"I watch of lot of those shows on TV where the animals come in and have been abused," he said.
Fifty-two percent of pet owners say they have gotten a pet from a shelter or rescue at some time, but only 23 percent have taken an animal to a shelter. Of those who turned in animals, 59 percent say the animal belonged to someone else.
If shelters started charging a $25 fee to accept unwanted or stray animals, about a third of those polled (34 percent) say they would be dissuaded from leaving animals and 52 percent say it would make no difference.
By region, adopting a stray is most common in the West, where 39 percent got a pet that way compared with 34 percent in the South, 30 percent in the Northeast and 29 percent in the Midwest. Forty-one percent of rural-dwelling pet owners say their pet was a stray, compared with 28 percent of suburbanites and 34 percent of urbanites. And suburbanites were most likely to have adopted from a shelter: 36 percent compared with 30 percent in urban areas and 22 percent in rural parts of the country.
The AP-Petside.com Poll was conducted Oct. 13-17, 2011, by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,118 pet owners. Results among pet owners have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
AP Polling Director Trevor Tompson, Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.