Last week we had a discussion on Facebook about whether it’s a better use of your donation to sponsor an adoptable dog or to pay the adoption fee for a dog in advance.
A single theme emerged: If someone adopts a dog simply because the adoption fee is free, then that person probably can’t afford to care for a dog for its life anyway.
That got me thinking… then researching… then wondering… Should pet adoptions be free?
I found some interesting arguments on both sides, but in the end, what I found went a long way to convince me that free adoptions – at least occasionally as a special promotion – are a great idea! So I wanted to share some of what I discovered.
Misconception #1: All those lunatic hoarders/dog fighters/animal abusers will flock to collect “free” animals.
A free adoption does not mean a shelter lowers their adoption standard. If the shelter requires an application for a full-price adoption, the shelter requires an application for a free adoption. If the shelter requires a home visit for a full-price adoption, the shelter also requires a home visit for a free adoption. And so on.
That fact goes a long way, in my opinion, to assuage the idea that free adoptions draw in the crazies who are just wanting to collect free animals for hoarding/fighting/torturing/whatever.
Misconception #2: People who can’t afford an adoption fee can’t afford to take care of their animal.
There is actually a ton of research out there to counter this argument. (Here are a couple comprehensive studies on fee-waived cats from Maddie’s Fund and ASPCA.) In essence, what shelters that have tried free adoptions have found is that it doesn’t attract people who can’t afford their pets. Instead, it draws in people who were on the fence about adoption and encourages them to go ahead and adopt.
Also, Christie Keith over at Dogged tackled this issue a year ago, and she raised an interesting point: “There is almost always at least a hint of judgment that poor people will be bad pet owners in a myriad of other ways, too.” But, the reality is, a Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science found that free adoptions did not devalue the pet in the adopter’s eyes, nor did it result in less attachment between pet and owner (versus a paid adoption).
Misconception #3: Giving away pets will take much-needed money from the shelter.
Shelters spend a ton of money on every animal they take in. I tried to find actual numbers, but they vary so widely from source to source that I didn’t feel comfortable quoting one specific thing. There’s no question that it’s an expensive endeavor to fully vet, groom, house, and feed animals in a shelter. However… If a shelter is relying on adoption fees to sustain operations, that shelter is in trouble at a more fundamental level. Instead of focusing on bringing in $125 or whatever for each animal – which comes and goes seasonally, at the whim of the economy, by what animals are “in stock,” and so on – a shelter in that position should be pouring its efforts into attracting and retaining donors, establishing a legacy giving program, cultivating “angels,” and diversifying their revenue streams. But that’s a post for another day. The bottom line, though, is that shelters can’t and shouldn’t rely on adoption fees to sustain operations.
One last point: From the studies linked to above and from this super honest post from Pets Alive, there’s another added benefit to free adoptions. Shelters that offer free adoptions for harder-to-adopt animals – say, cats over 3 years of age, senior dogs, etc. – decrease the amount of time those animals are in the shelter. In other words, they’re finding homes for them faster.
To me, it seems that the concerns that stop shelters from offering free adoptions have been alleviated with real-life examples like ASPCA, Pets Alive, and Maddie’s Fund. If it results in more animals ending up in loving homes, it seems like a home run. But I’m open-minded! I’d love to hear your experience.
What do you think? Should pet adoptions be free? Do you have examples or thoughts for either side of the argument?