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Why no-fee pet adoptions are OK

Beamer the tan tabby cat

Love is not measured by money

My mutt Ace was free.

My cat Scout was free.

My husband Josh paid around $35 for his cat, Beamer.

We love our animals and give them the best home we can. The price we paid for them (or didn’t) has nothing to do with how much we love them or how well we care for them.

Ace, Scout and Beamer get daily affection and play. They go to the vet when they are sick. They are neutered. I never leave them home for more than eight hours, usually no more than three. When we leave town, the whole crew travels, too. Or they stay with their “grandparents” (more than 200 miles away!) so they don’t have to go to a kennel.

Ace sleeps in or near our bedroom most nights. He plays with other dogs almost daily. He goes for walks and to training classes. He attended our wedding, gets to go camping and to the lake whenever we do.

The cats, too, are part of the family. They get Christmas presents from their “grandparents” and their “uncles.” I take naps just so I can snuggle up in a pile of purrs (a certain tan tabby is purring at my feet now). I sing to them, play chasing games, brush them, buy them organic treats, dress them up for Halloween  😀

It’s not that we give our animals a better home than other pet owners. It’s just that money has nothing to do with the equation. (Plus, don’t most of us know at least one lousy owner who paid $1,000 or more for his puppy?)

You can’t determine the quality of a home based only on what someone is willing to pay for an animal.

Yes, adopters should be screened within reason, but the adoption fee should not be related to that process.

You can’t put a price on love.

Free to a good home

I love to see rescues and shelters offering adoption specials where some or all of the animals are free or close to it.

Adoptions are vital for saving more animals, and it’s up to the adoption organizations to increase the quantity and quality of their adoptions. That means using effective marketing.

I got to attend a presentation by Bonney Brown, executive director of the Nevada Humane Society, on how to improve the shelter experience for cats.

This shelter is always looking for creative ways to promote its animals.

Bonney shared an example where the shelter took in 54 orange cats from an alleged hoarding situation. It then offered an adoption donation special on orange cats.

For one month, you could adopt an adult orange cat for just $10.

The people in the community were so touched by the shelter’s efforts to save the cats that they ended up donating more than enough money to cover the cats’ medical care.

That is the part many people are missing – shelters should not depend on adoption fees alone.

But shelters need adoption fees!

No … shelters should never depend on adoption donation fees. It’s not realistic.

Shelters and rescues already lose money on most adoptions, correct?

Their funding should come from grants, fundraisers, donations in general, and so on.

Here is where I want to point out a post from the Dogged Blog called What opponents of free pet adoptions don’t get. It inspired me to write this post, and you should check it out.

In it, blogger Christie Keith points out:

  • People who adopt their pets at free adoption events value their pets as much as those who paid a fee, according to Maddie’s Fund.
  • “Free” is just a marketing strategy, not a handout. That’s why nearly every business holds sales. Wealthy people love to shop at sales, just like everyone else.

Later, in the comments, Christie points out that relying on fees is not a good way to run a charitable organization.

It’s a bad pattern animal adoption charities have fallen into over the years, and it’s one I think we need to get out of if we’re going to fulfill our missions.

Charities should be funding themselves through development, through grants, donations, bequests, and projects envisioned from the get-go as revenue-producing, such as thrift stores or fundraisers.

I’m not saying rescues and shelters should drop their fees entirely, but they should keep them as low as possible while offering generous and frequent adoption specials. And of course, adopters should still be screened (within reason), regardless of price.

Are you OK with no-fee adoptions? How about reduced fees?

Renchan Li

Monday 20th of January 2014

I generally don't like to get or offer free things or services; charging at an affordable (or discounted) price would be a better direction for me. I don't get along well with stingy people. The discounted adoption fee shall be set at least at the 1-hour minimum wage level. Paying something for everything is an educational approach; one shall not get free lunch forever.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 20th of January 2014

Something most of us can agree on is at least offering a discounted fee. $50 or so is far more reasonable for a dog than the $250+ some shelters and rescues are charging.


Thursday 27th of September 2012

In Portugal, at least of what I know, adoption fees are rare if non existent. But shelters do ask for donations for some animals that they take to the vets they know that are cheaper for them for being shelters, and then people (interested in adoption or not, and in that dog or not) can pay a small value of the vet expenses. Maybe if a person wants to adopt an animal that still needs donation to pay the vet bills might pay the vet bills, but if the vet bills are already paid by donations from other people already, they don't really require any more fee for adoption.

I don't work at any shelter, but isn't it better if an animal gets adopted by a good family free of charge, rather than having the animal in the shelter? They'd still need to take care of the animal and future expenses if they continue keeping the animal, which means less resources and space for other animals.

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 27th of September 2012

Yes, it is better for the animal to be adopted by a good family rather than sit in the shelter longer.


Thursday 20th of September 2012

Unfortunately there are some problems with giving away dogs and cats for free. Here's a few bad things that could happen to free pets: they could be sold to laboratories that perform experiments on animals; used as bait animals for dogfighting; very young kittens could become snake food; puppy mill owners can "adopt" purebreds and make them breeder dogs.

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 21st of September 2012

We can't live in fear of these types of things, but if you have a screening process in place, the price of the pet should not be a factor. Plus, someone who wants a dog for fighting is not going to go through the trouble of filling out an application at a shelter.


Thursday 20th of September 2012

To be honest though... Isn't that true for all animals, free or not?


Saturday 15th of September 2012

Morning, check out my blog post today, I have an award for you! :)

Lindsay Stordahl

Saturday 15th of September 2012

Thank you so much!

Gina@the dog house

Friday 14th of September 2012

We rescued our dog from the side of the road. Abandoning dogs a pitiful practice to say the least. And we love our Missy, I hope that every shelter finds a way to make the adoption happen. Every dog deserves a home.

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 21st of September 2012

Thanks for your comment!