The following tips on how to increase cat adoptions are from Bonney Brown, former executive director of the Nevada Humane Society. I attended her presentation on saving shelter cats at the 2012 No Kill Conference. This post is not intended as an outline of her presentation. These are just some of the ideas I walked away with.
The Nevada Humane Society sets a good example as a true no-kill shelter. According to Brown, it does not turn pets away, and it does not kill healthy, adoptable animals.
20 tips to get more shelter cats adopted
1. Offer reduced adoption fees or FREE cat adoptions.
“Money does not buy or ensure love,” Brown said. “Many of you have just picked up an animal, that you didn’t pay for, and loved it very much.”
She’s right. My mutt Ace was free. So was my cat, Scout.
Statistically, there is no difference in the attachment between someone who pays $75 for a cat and someone who gets the cat for free, Brown said. “You don’t really need to worry as much as you might think you would about reduced-rate adoptions.”
In fact, volunteers for the Nevada Humane Society hand out free cat-adoption coupons while out and about in the community, she said. This brings additional people to the shelter who would not have visited otherwise.
Read more on why free pet adoptions are OK.
2. ‘Pick your price.’
One man wrote a $1,000 check to the NHS when he adopted a regular tabby cat, according to Brown. You never know what people will pay if you leave it up to them. Some will pay $5. Others will pay $50.
What would you pay?
3. ‘Seniors for seniors.’
Seniors can adopt senior pets from the NHS at no cost, Brown said. And “senior” is defined loosely. Anyone 55 or older can adopt a dog or a cat age 6 or older for free. In addition, all cats over age 10 are $10 to all adopters. Dogs ages 10 and older are $25.
Read more on how to get senior pets adopted.
4. Offer excellent customer service.
Shelter staff and volunteers must be friendly with people who call or visit the shelter, Brown said. They should have the ability to laugh, to connect and have a good time. No one should enter the shelter without being greeted.
A no-brainer, right? Maybe not. We all know how high and mighty certain shelter volunteers can get. They lose compassion for people faced with difficult choices about re-homing their pets. Emails sit unanswered. Egos get in the way.
Step up the customer service, and send more kitties home.
5. Encourage potential adopters to hold and touch the cats.
It’s hard to connect with a cat who is behind bars or glass, Brown said. Cage-free housing for the cats is ideal. If that’s not an option, take the cat out of her cage and bring her to a room where the potential adopter can hold or pet her. Give adopters a chance to form a bond.
6. Promotions for black cats.
If a shelter has a lot of black cats or any other type of cat, Brown suggested promotions such as discounts on “mini panthers” or two-for-one deals. This is a great time to offer “pick your price.”
7. Two-for-one deals.
If two cats play well together and adopters see them interact, someone might be interested in adopting the pair, Brown said.
8. Help adopters see the cats’ personalities.
Allow adopters to watch how the cats play and interact with people, Brown said. This is especially important for people with kids, dogs or multi-cat families.
Make sure to point out anything you know about the cat’s personality that might not be so obvious. For example, maybe the cat likes to pounce on people’s feet or maybe the cat is very “vocal” at mealtimes. Maybe she is good with dogs.
9. Take the cats to off-site adoption events.
Sometimes people are hesitant to visit shelters because they believe shelters are depressing, Brown said. Because of this, most people obtain their cats elsewhere. One way to change this is to actually bring the cats out into the community. PetSmart is great about hosting adoption events for shelters, but you could also ask other businesses if they’d like to help.
10. Create a welcoming atmosphere.
Since people tend to avoid shelters because of poor customer service, inconvenient adoption hours or feelings of guilt, it’s up to shelters to change that.
Shelter staff and volunteers need to make sure the environment is a warm, welcoming place for adopters, Brown said. One way to do this is by decorating for different holidays and inviting the community to help. The shelter should also host fun activities and events for people of all ages.
People don’t want to be lectured about why they should adopt or why they should spay or neuter their animals, Brown said. But they’ll pay attention to fun announcements and advertisements. For example, NHS runs a “Sex and the Kitty” campaign to promote free spaying and neutering.
12. High-quality photos.
It’s hard to get good photos of cats without the right camera. But Brown suggested if shelters ask the community for help, someone will probably donate or purchase a camera for the shelter. Ask, and you shall receive.
13. Hold signs at intersections.
Signs are important for attracting new people who were previously unaware of the shelter, Brown said. They are also an easy way to promote current adoption specials.
14. Don’t allow cats to be second-class citizens to dogs.
Brown makes a point to include cats on all her shelter’s marketing materials such as the web site and on all printed materials. Cats should be included on posters, signs, ads, and newsletters.
15. Host a ‘cat show.’
Brown explained how the NHS rented a casino and held a cat convention set up as a “cat show” (think Westminster) for the community featuring about 100 of its shelter cats. The shelter invited cat-related vendors, cat-related nonprofits and of course, adopters. The event got the cats in front of people who would never visit a shelter.
16. Well-written descriptions.
Online profiles and cage cards should make it easy for people to imagine what the cats are like, Brown said. Be descriptive and honest. Point out specific info people would actually want to know such as whether or not the cat is declawed and how she acts around other pets.
Example: I love to cuddle, and I am great with kids but I have major “cattitude” around other kitties. I’m declawed, overly playful and up to date on my shots.
The following examples are also supported by true no-kill shelters in general but were not necessarily mentioned in Brown’s presentation:
17. Convenient adoption hours.
Make sure your shelter is open every single day of the week, including some evening hours when most people are available to visit the animals. Don’t sit and complain how no one is visiting the shelter when it’s only open three days per week for limited hours. Shelters need to be competing in the market or people will obtain their pets somewhere else.
Studies show people get their cats from shelters just 10 percent of the time, according to Nathan Winograd in the book Redemption. “Shelter killing is more a function of market share than ‘public irresponsibility.'”
18. Reasonable adoption criteria.
Shelter killing is the leading cause of death for healthy dogs and cats in the United States, according to the No Kill Advocacy Center.
In order to save the lives of millions of cats, we need to stop being so picky and just send them home. Of course, an adoption application with references is reasonable. So is contacting a landlord. Home visits, on the other hand, can seem too invasive for potential adopters, and the quality of a person’s home will not predict the care the animal will receive.
Let’s face it. Rescue groups have ridiculous requirements.
19. Set up a barn cat adoption program.
This is a great option for feral cats or cats with litter box issues. Animal Allies in Duluth, Minn., offers a free barn cat adoption program. The cats are spayed/neutered and vaccinated before adoption. The adopter agrees to offer the cat warm, outdoor housing and the cat will naturally handle any mice or rats.
20. Recruit additional foster homes.
If your shelter has more cats than it can handle, send out a message to the community requesting new foster homes. Chances are, some of these foster homes will end up keeping the cats permanently. I’d call that a win-win.
Shelters sometimes complain that not enough people will foster, but that’s because people are unaware of the need for cat fostering. Other shelters are killing cats for a “lack of homes” without implementing a foster program at all.