I first encountered this unreasonable mindset about animal adoption when I read Nathan Winograd’s book “Irreconcilable Differences: The Battle for the Heart and Soul of America’s Animal Shelters.” The book contains a chapter called “Good Homes Need Not Apply” in which Nathan sets out the obstacles often used by shelters and rescue groups which keep animals from being adopted using fixed and arbitrary rules that are based more on a suspicion of the public than on a focus of getting animals into homes.
On the flip side, I know some in rescue or in shelters who are completely opposed to the concept of fee waived adoptions for similar reasons. The mindset is that if you will only adopt an animal from a shelter when it’s free, that means that you are not financially prepared to pay for that animal’s care for the duration of his or her life. One contact asked me one time, “if we give animals away from free, what does that say about the value of the animal?” My answer was simple. It means that you value the life of that animal more than you value some nominal fee. It means that when it comes to animals in need of homes, we cannot equate cost with value or worth.
A number of articles have been written over the years related to the concept of fee waived adoptions by people with a lot more experience than me and you can find them using a simple Internet search on the topic. In spite of what conventional wisdom may dictate, studies have shown that there is little correlation between the amount of money someone pays for an animal and their devotion to the animal or ability to care for the animal. People take in free animals all the time as acts of kindness and to save their lives. People get animals from animal shelters during fee waived adoptions all the time, not because of the "deal" they are getting as much as the waived fee served as an incentive to act and to be part of something bigger than themselves. We need look no further than a recent phenomenon that happened in Sacramento to see the value in fee waived adoptions. A local businesswoman offered to pay the adoption fees for all pets adopted from the Front Street Animal Shelter during the month of December as an incentive to get animals adopted. When people found out, word spread and people wanted to be part of something special. Some people camped out outside the shelter before it opened. Others arrived hours before opening time, forming a line that wrapped around the block. Not only were all of the animals adopted out, but the shelter was able to import animals from other local shelters and find them homes. This wasn't a situation of people lining up because they didn’t want to pay an adoption fee. It was a situation of people wanting to adopt after hearing about a wonderful event and wanting to do something compassionate. The results have been called "epic." I look forward to finding out how many animals were adopted in this one month alone.
The basis for all of our decisions about how we run our rescue has been No Kill. We’re actually pretty new to animal welfare. We didn’t become seriously involved until about four years ago when we met some No Kill advocates here in Fayetteville, started reading about it, reading Nathan’s writings. . .so by the time we decided to get into rescue, I guess No Kill principles were instilled in us: embracing compassion and hope, assuming a can-do attitude, postitive marketing and promotion of adoption, thinking outside the box and trusting our community and looking at our community as the solution to pet homelessness. When Frank and I decided we wanted to run our own rescue, we decided we were going to run it counter to almost everything we’d seen so many other rescues do.
-- No complaining about how hard and heartbreaking rescue can be. We wanted to emphasize the joy of rescue and what a privilege it is to be able to do this work. It has in fact been a lot of hard work and absolutely exhausting at times, but it’s been a wonderful experience. Every rescue has been a victory.
-- No ranting about how terrible people are. We try to give people who surrender their dogs to us or to the shelter the benefit of a doubt. And that applies to adopters who return dogs to us. We know that life happens and sometimes things just don’t work out. Rants serve no good purpose. They only drive away the people with the dogs you want to help and the people who can help you. If we need to vent, we do it privately.
-- No unnecessary barriers to adoption. We’ve kept our adoption process as simple as we can. We have a one-page application. We ask for landlord and vet references and we check them. Sometimes we’ll talk to the applicant, maybe ask them a few questions, and answer any questions they have. We do a home visit, but that’s usually when we deliver the dog to its new home. Just once have we decided that the home was not suitable and not left the dog there.
-- No adoption fee. We decided early on that we were not going to charge an adoption fee. We gladly accept donations, but we don’t expect or ask for them. And we almost always get something, and we are very grateful every time we do. But we don’t believe that an adoption fee insures that the adopter will love the dog more or treat it better. And as for trying to recoup vetting expenses, we knew that whatever paltry sum we might be able to get away with charging for our little mutts wouldn’t come close to covering our costs. So that seemed like a ridiculous reason to charge an adoption fee.
We just want to find good, loving homes for our dogs, and we have. In the year and a half we’ve been operating, we’ve adopted out 76 dogs. Another 20 or so have become a part of our sanctuary. Some of those we’ve lost to old age or illness, but most are still with us. We feel like that’s pretty good for our tiny little rescue. We’re really just a two-man operation -- Frank and me -- on a day-to-day basis. Of course, we could not have done it without the help of our six amazing foster families and about the same number of volunteers who help us at events and such. They are essential elements to our success. And we have some wonderful donors who regularly donate sums from $5 to $125 a month.
I am not suggesting that all rescues function the same way as House of Little Dogs. I think it is perfectly reasonable to charge some adoption fee which does help cover some of the vetting costs so the rescue can remain viable. Many animals in rescue require a great deal of veterinary care and for some groups it makes sense to charge a fee not as a test of someone's good intent, but as a business decision. I am also not suggesting that all municippal animal shelters function the same way and waive fees all the time. I support fee waived adoptions for bread and butter programs like Pets for Vets or Seniors for Seniors or even to move special groups of animals like older animals, pit bull-type dogs or special needs animals. When municipal shelters waive fees all the time as a go-to way to place animals, they can make it harder for the rescue groups in their communities which they rely on to pull animals to compete financially (as many of those rescues are likley charging some nominal adoption fee).
I know this subject can be polarizing. People can be firmly on one side of the argument or the other. I'm just asking you to think about it and about what the adoption fees being charged really mean. What they represent.
We found Aspy, our beloved Eski boy, living in a cow pasture with a herd of cattle in a property adjacent to ours. He was free. But he was priceless to us. And he had a long and wonderful life with us. With no fence.