High Adoption Fees Versus Low Adoption Fees

High Adoption Fees Versus Low Adoption Fees

In my recent post-conference post I mentioned two opposing positions on discounted adoption fees.  The two viewpoints were expressed by Bonney Brown of the Nevada Humane Society and Mike Arms of the Helen Woodward Animal Center during a panel discussion at the No More Homeless Pets Conference in Las Vegas.  While Bonney and the Nevada Humane Society embraced discounted and low adoption fees, Mike Arms came across as emphatically opposed.  While I know that Mike is not adverse to discounted promotions, he definitely seems in favor of charging higher adoption fees in general.

Mike’s position on this matter is well-known and elegant in its efforts to raise the bar on how we view ourselves and the animals we assist. He firmly believes (as recorded in a question and answer session available on the No More Homeless Pets Forum) that “the message [minimum fees send] to the American public is that our animals are bargain basement animals” and “together, by increasing our fees, we can let the public know our animals are a value.”

He goes on to say that “Our adoptions have quadrupled in five years with no hitch at all in raising the fees.” And suggests a shelter try a higher fee for 30 days.  ”I can almost guarantee the only effect you will have is an increase in revenue and no decrease in adoptions.”

I have to say that many of Mike’s ideas over the years have been largely excellent at breaking down nonsensical sheltering tradition. For example when asked during the panel discussion what one sheltering myth he would like to see dispelled it was that “you shouldn’t adopt out black cats around Halloween.”  Some have taken it a step further to prohibit the adoption of any cat near Halloween.  

I totally agree with the destruction of this myth.  Any halfway decent adoption process can weed out the infinitesimal fraction of society that would be adopting for bad reasons.  If the newspapers were filled with actual events of Halloween torture it might make me think twice but it just isn’t reality.  What it IS is a kneejerk reaction to an actual or imagined event at some point in time.  As horrible as that event (if real) would have been, it pales in comparison with the tens of thousands of wonderful cats across the country who will die in the week that adoptions were halted. 

On the other hand, when it comes to discounting adoption fees I definitely disagree with Mike and agree with Bonney.  Discounted adoption fees can help dramatically boost attention for the shelter and the animals and help sustain higher rates of lifesaving.  

I first read about discounted adoption fees when I saw a small story, years ago, about a little shelter.  When they were so overcrowded and were facing a mass killing they decided to do “free” cat adoptions for one weekend.

What happened?  They had an empty shelter by the end of the weekend.  They were shocked and amazed.  They never expected that sort of community support.  They had never expected that much interest in their animals and they were relieved that the killing was abated for the time being. 

That snippet of a story got me thinking and a year or two later I finally had the guts to break with tradition and try something similar.  The reaction was much the same.  We had incredible support from the public and the media.  After that experience many of my friends and colleagues who work with animals are now doing the same thing.  Furthermore - and here’s where I really break with tradition - I continued the trend by reducing fees for the hardest to place and most common animals across the board and not just for a limited period of time.    

In Nevada, Bonney took it to a whole new level.  In addition to fee reductions NHS created flyers and discount certificates to enlist volunteers and supporters to spread the word.  Let me tell you, I’ve stolen more than one idea from her playbook.  What I’ve discovered - and perhaps Bonney has too - is that instead of trying to compete with the breeder or pet store, we are often competing just as much with “free” pets from friends and neighbors.  

Additionally, while we are seeking higher prices in an effort to somehow impart a higher value of animals on the public, we are missing the emotional target that drives a great number of people to a shelter in the first place: they want to SAVE an animal.  One of the coolest things I remember about our first big discount event was a comment on a message board.  The writer stated how she was so excited at the opportunity to save another cat.  She had wanted to save a life and adopt from a shelter but the average $100 adoption fee was a stumbling block for her.  She figured correctly that it would cost more than that for her first vet visit.  Here she was, a responsible vet-going, young animal-saver who couldn’t justify spending that $100 for the adoption fee.

One of the first things I did when coming to the shelter where I am now was reduce the fees for cat adoptions.  I figured out that it was less expensive to find a cat on the street, walk it in the door of our low-cost spay & neuter and vaccination clinic than to adopt one from our shelter (in the same building…).  

That just did not make sense.  

Since we have dropped the adoption fees we have increased adoptions.  From January to October of this year we have adopted 1274 cats compared to 853 during the same time frame in the previous year.  Dropping the adoption fees was only one component of our improved adoption program but an extremely important one in my opinion.

What I didn’t drop the prices on was puppies and I actually raised the prices for small dogs.  In this way I think I am in complete agreement with Mike but it has less to do with the value of the animal than the laws of supply and demand.  Our region’s supply of puppies and small dogs does not even come close to meeting demand.  Puppies and small dogs are not dying in our shelters.  For those specific types of animals we truly ARE competing with high priced pet stores and backyard breeders.  

It is very important to take a look at which animals are dying in your region’s shelters.  If puppies are dying by the bunches, high adoption fees are not going to impart any particular value on your dogs that will cause the public to choose them over the “free” ones that the neighbors’ dog had down the street.

I’ve written about reducing adoption fees before so I’m going to reprint a few on The No Kill Nation site here and here.  To read more of the Mike Arms Q&A on the No More Homeless Pets Forum visit here: http://www.bestfriends.org/archives/forums/080105adoptions.pdf

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4 Responses to “High Adoption Fees Versus Low Adoption Fees”

  1. [...] pets are a bad idea, but today over at the No Kill Nation blog respected rescuer Sue Cosby has put together three essays on why we should not only allow discounts, but where necessary give pets away for free. Discounted [...]

  2. Rosemary says:

    I think there’s also a public relations problem about fees because the adopter perceives him/herself as doing us a favour by taking the animal off our hands, and at worst can think of it as a kind of blackmail: “give us the money or the bunny gets it”.

    We always make it very clear to adopters that we are ONLY asking enough money to cover part of the cost of what we’ve spent getting an animal vaccinated, neutered and chipped and we usually reduce or waive the fee for older animals or animals we know are going to involve the adopter in extra expenses such as ongoing thyroid treatment.

    There is a possible problem with small rodents like hamsters because they are potential food for reptiles. I’ve no idea how widespread this really is, and my suspicion is that some of the reptile owners who’ve asked me for hamsters and mice to feed their snakes were simply trying to wind me up.

  3. Jessie Leighton says:

    I worked at a high kill animal shelter for 2 years. I worked WELL over 40 hours a week, a long side many other salaried employees. We obviously (just like all of you) were not there for the paycheck. Each day, would start with the usual questions. Who is cleaning where? , how much space do we have? We would check with medical and overnight staff for updates. That’s were the hard work began. Networking to see how many we could get out alive. We made calls all over the place. I took literally hundreds of calls each week from rescuers wanting to help. We found volunteers to drive animals that could not be picked up. We organized foster care for as many as possible. . The adoption staff was on site until 8pm and medical staff sometimes worked until midnight performing spay procedures. I myself often was driving animals to safety at midnight. Sounds good right???

    What about after midnight? When there is no one to call and the cages are full. I have cried on my way home from work, after ordering animals to death. Why did they have to die?

    We do discounted adoptions when there is no where else to turn. I have seen first hand the compassion that comes from a community that doesn’t make excuses for killing. I have seen volunteers work 12 hour shifts to keep animals clean, to recover them from surgery, to counsel potential adopters. These were people who loved the animals as much as we did. They weren’t giving the animals away; they were giving the animals a life.

    So, let me ask you all a question. If you are a cat being surrendered to my shelter, I can’t find foster care for you; I can’t find a rescue that has room. My adoption area is full. What would you like me to do? Kill you to make space? Or find you a home? I have never seen a case where a kitten was fed to a snake? I have never seen a person wait in line for 5 hours to possible adopt a cat to feed to his pit bull. I am sure they could find one behind any diner. If your counselors are counseling then they will place great pets into great homes.

    As for the money part. Some of the animals went home for free, but there were people who adopted there free cat and made $100 donations. We also saved a bundle on euthanasia drugs. If you reach out to and become part of your community, they will be there for you. Be it for volunteer staff, monetary donations, a broken pipe that needs fixing, or if you call them at 2am because you need a friend. If you are looking to fund your organization with adoption fees while animals are dying you should take a deep breath and be glad you’re not a cat.

  4. Lynn Orbison says:

    Wow…thanks Jessie. No catty remarks from me. Are euthanasia drugs expensive? Seems they get used rather easily and freely around here.

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