Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why Shelters and Rescue Organizations Charge Adoption Fees

I'm honored to report that Jane at Pet Rescuer Central asked me to do a guest post on her site about why shelters and rescues charge adoption fees. She has kindly permitted me to repost the article here.

I often run into people that think they should be able to “adopt” or “rescue” a pet free of charge. After all, they’re saving the animal’s life, right? Why should they have to pay anything when they’re doing that organization a favor by taking the pet off their hands? Plus, giving away those pets, or reducing the fee will encourage more people to adopt, right?

These folks are missing the big picture.

Shelters and rescue organizations charge adoption fees for three basic reasons: 1) to attempt to recoup a small portion of the cost of rescuing pets, 2) to discourage impulse adoptions, and 3) to keep the bad guys away.

1. First, shelters and rescue organizations charge a fee to attempt to cover at least a portion of the costs incurred in caring for the pet prior to the adoption. Depending on the agency, the costs involved can vary greatly. Some shelters provide only food, water, and shelter before the animal is adopted, or more likely, euthanized. Other shelters and organizations, however, go to great lengths to save severely ill, injured, or neglected pets, and care for the animal until it finds a home, which can sometimes be for the life of the animal. Most shelters and rescue organizations fall somewhere in the middle. Often, these organizations are no-kill, which (depending on who you ask), means that a pet will be taken care of for the duration of its life if a suitable adoptive home cannot be found. In addition to providing the basic necessities of food, water and shelter to these pets, most organizations also spay or neuter, provide vaccinations, perform necessary veterinary care, and last, but not least, provide companionship, socialization, and comfort for the pet prior to its adoption. Non-profit organizations, such as most humane societies and rescue organizations exist and do their work supported solely by the generosity of donors. Once in a great while, these organizations receive grants, endowments, or other forms of funding, but not very often. And, contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of organizations receive absolutely no funding from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), or any other national animal welfare organization. Animal control facilities, on the other hand, often have contracts with local government to protect the public from stray, unwanted, or sick animals. However, the funding received by animal control facilities usually does not even come close to the amount needed to do a good job.

This is where the adoption fee comes in. Depending on the extent and level of care provided to the animal prior to its adoption, the fee is almost always dwarfed in scale to the actual expense incurred in caring for that pet.

Here’s a fairly common scenario: A rescue organization “rescues” what appears to be a purebred male black Labrador retriever that is about 1 ½ years old, from an animal control facility, where it has been slated for death because its owner cannot be found, and its “hold time” has expired. The animal control facility has most likely provided only the bare necessities, i.e., food, water, and shelter, to the dog during its stay at the “pound.” When the rescue pulls the dog, it often has to pay a “pull” fee, which is generally a reduced adoption fee. Let’s say the pull fee is $15.00 for rescue organizations at this particular animal control facility.

Now the lab is on his way to a new life. Let’s call him Buckley. The rescue organization whisks him immediately to the vet to determine if he’s healthy, and to determine whether he needs any medical treatment. Buckley’s was picked up as a stray, so he’s quite underweight. He’s also got a serious flea and tick problem. Buckley’s also got a bit of kennel cough from being housed with other sick dogs while at animal control. He’s also picked up intestinal parasites, or worms, along the way. And the rescue is devastated to find out that Buckley tests positive for heartworm. Sadly, heartworm is very common in shelter dogs in some areas of the country. Heartworm is extremely easy to prevent, but it is very difficult and expensive to treat.

In addition to the cost of the exam, the rescue organization also incurs $25.00 to treat his fleas, $25.00 to treat his kennel cough, $10.00 to get his rabies vaccination, $15.00 to get his other basic vaccinations, and $15.00 to de-worm him. The total bill is $140.00 for Buckley’s first visit. The vet gives a rescue discount, so this is a huge bargain!

Buckley goes to his new foster home who has to keep him isolated from her own pets due to his kennel cough, but he’s thrilled to be out of the pound. A couple weeks later, Buckley has gained a little weight after being on a good quality diet, which for three weeks, cost the rescue organization $30.00. Buckley’s also working on housetraining, which he’s picking up quickly. His previous owner apparently had never bothered to let him inside the house. Buckley also apparently has some food aggression issues and some slight dominance issues. Not major obstacles, but it will make him slightly more difficult to place in a good home. The foster will work on these issues while he stays in her care.

Since Buckley’s up to a healthy weight, its time to start his heartworm treatment. Being a generous vet, she offers to treat him for only $400.00. The treatment will take several weeks to complete, and during that time, his foster has to make sure that he does not exert himself at all! Tough job when you’re dealing with a young black lab! Finally, several weeks later, Buckley tests negative for heartworm. His total heartworm treatment cost the rescue organization $400.00. During the six weeks of his treatment, he stayed with his foster mom, and the rescue paid for his food, which amounted to $60.00. They also paid for a bed, a crate, some dog shampoo, a couple tennis balls, and a collar and leash. The total amount incurred by the rescue organization for these “extras” was $120.00.

Now that Buckley’s healthy, it’s time to get him neutered. His previous owner never bothered to do that. There are probably several dozens of litters of unwanted black lab mix litters fathered by Buckley scattered throughout the area. His neuter costs the rescue a discounted amount of $70.00. Finally, Buckley is ready to go to his new home!

But, after several weeks of attending adoption events and a few inquiries here and there, Buckley still doesn’t have a home. You see, big black dogs like Buckley are often overlooked for fluffy, small, light-colored dogs. The foster’s other dogs are adopted one by one, but Buckley is still there. The fact that Buckley has slight food aggression problems, and some slight dominance issues means that there are fewer potential adopters willing to take a chance on him. He’d probably be best in a home without small children, without other dogs, and with owners who have experience with these types of issues. They are not huge issues, but they make it more difficult for Buckley to find the right home. More weeks go by, and it becomes months. After eight months, Buckley still doesn’t have a home. Meanwhile, the rescue organization is still incurring the cost of caring for him. It costs about $10.00 a week to feed Buckley, so after eight months, the rescue organization has incurred a food bill of $320.00.

Finally, one day, a black lab fancier spots Buckley at an adoption event at a local pet store. He recently lost his black lab to old age, and is looking for a new buddy. There are no kids in the home, and no other pets. Perfect match! The adopter takes one look into Buckley’s big brown eyes and immediately knows he’s the one. He gladly donates the $200.00 adoption fee to the rescue organization, knowing full well that that amount doesn’t even begin to cover the costs of caring for Buckley. Buckley found his perfect forever home.

Total cost incurred by the rescue organization to find Buckley his perfect forever home: $1050.00 (this is an extremely low estimate), not including the volunteer hours spent on his care. Total cost to the adopter: $200.00. Who’s getting the bargain here?

2. Second, shelters and rescue organizations charge a fee as a way to avoid “impulse” adoptions. You wouldn’t buy that puppy in the pet store for $1700 on a whim, would you? Then you shouldn’t be adopting one on a whim, either.

If a person has to pay even a nominal fee prior to adopting a pet, it makes that person stop and think, if just for a moment, about whether or not they really want that pet. Impulse buys are one of the main reasons that pets are abandoned at shelters. People see the cute puppy or kitten, take it home, and then realize a short time later, that their impulse purchase was a bad idea. If you have to pay for the animal, it slows that impulse down just a little bit.

The logic is the same if I get something for free. Say I get a free TV. It’s used, it’s been around the block, its not perfect. I didn’t pay anything for it, so when it stops working, I just throw it away. On the other hand, say I paid $2000 for that TV. Do I throw it away when it stops working? NO! I call the repairman and get it fixed. Same goes for pets. It seems crass, but people tend to take the commitment more seriously when they have to pay for a pet.

In addition, if that adoption fee of $100, $200, or even $300 seems high, how on earth are you going to afford a pet? If all goes well, and your pet is fully vetted and in good health when you adopt it, it is still going to cost you upwards of a thousand dollars a year to care for it, including food, grooming, toys, beds, flea preventative, heartworm preventative, yearly vet exams and vaccinations. And that’s assuming nothing goes wrong. Pets can and do get hurt. They can and do get sick. They’re no different than kids. If you can’t afford the $200.00 adoption fee, what are you going to do when your dog or cat is hit by a car (although they shouldn’t be in the road in the first place)? What are you going to do if they eat something they aren’t supposed to? What happens when your pet gets older and age takes its toll?

3. Third, adoption fees also serve a screening function for shelters and rescue organizations. These organizations want the best home possible for the pets, and they want someone who is seriously committed to caring for the pet to the best of their ability. If someone really wants a pet, and is willing to pay the fee, it speaks to that person’s dedication toward that pet.

It also keeps the bad guys away. Shelters and rescue organizations also use a fee for the same reason that individuals that must rehome their pets should NEVER, NEVER give the animal way “free to a good home.” Offering a pet for free is an invitation for miscreants to “adopt” your pet and possibly do horrible things to it. Think that’s an exaggeration? Think again. One graphic example pops into my mind—a forensics student was adopting “free to good home” cats and kittens posted on Craigslist. By all accounts, he appeared to be a completely sincere adopter. Only later did those former pet owners find out that this “adopter” had been charged for several counts of animal cruelty after he was arrested for gruesomely shooting several cats at close range. He said he was studying the blood spatter patterns. Another grizzly tale involves an “adopter” feeding “free to good home” kittens to his pet snake.

A “free to good home” pet can also end up in the hands of a “buncher.” “Bunchers” are disgusting people who “gather” by whatever means they can, dogs and cats. From there, the bunchers sell the pets to people known as “Class B Dealers,” who are licensed by the USDA to “collect” pets to be sold as “random source” animals to research facilities. These “Class B Dealers” then turn around and sell those pets to animal research facilities. Shelters and rescue organizations obviously don’t want their pets to end up as research subjects, and neither do most well-intentioned pet owners to must re-home their pets for whatever reason. At bare minimum, an adoption fee should be $25.00 to discourage “bunchers.”

“Free to good home” pets are often used as “bait” animals for fighting dogs. With the publicity surrounding the Michael Vick case, the public has grown aware of the problem of dog-fighting. A sad by-product of this cruel activity is that pets are routinely stolen, or “adopted” and then used as “practice” or “bait” for fighting dogs.

While most non-profit shelters and rescue organizations spay or neuter their pets prior to adoption, some animal control facilities do not. Un-altered pets that appear to be purebred gotten cheaply can end up as breeding stock in a puppy mill. If you are unfamiliar with puppy mills, take a moment and do a Google search. You don’t want your pet to end up at one of these facilities, and neither do shelters. Un-altered purebred dogs should never be offered for adoption for less than $100.00. A puppy mill can make that $100.00 back off of one litter of pups from your pet.

Finally, well-meaning but sick individuals often “adopt” free to good home pets, or pets with extremely low adoption fees from high-kill animal control facilities. They mean to save the lives of the pets, but they usually don’t have the resources to properly care for all of the pets they “collect.” These people are hoarders. Occasionally, you see stories on the news about extreme examples of hundreds of pets in horrific conditions being seized from an individual’s home. Believe it or not, sometimes these people have been getting pets from animal control facilities or shelters who charge little or no adoption fee. More often, however, they “adopt” “free to good home” pets.

There are three primary reasons shelters and rescue organizations charge adoption fees: 1) to attempt to recoup a portion of the costs of caring for the pets; 2) to discourage impulse adoptions; and 3) to keep the bad guys at bay. If you are looking to adopt a pet, but think it is unreasonable to pay even a modest adoption fee, you probably should not have a pet.

5 comments:

Kapp pack said...

Thank you for sharing this! You put so well what is so hard to explain to people why rescues charge more than the shelter....

THe Kapp Pack

happy said...

A great article. Hope it helps to enlighten people out there. Many a times these people seem to think that shelters are out to make money. A sad misconception.

The Army of Four said...

Thank you for sharing such a well-written article!
The Ao4

Johann The Dog said...

Great post - good info, thanks! I may want to link to it from my Rescue Me Blog, hope it's OK?

Woofs, Johann

AnimalEnthuist said...

Great article. It is very interesting and informative!