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The Price is Right?

Aiming to increase revenue and highlight overlooked animals, many organizations raise adoption fees on their most popular pets

Aiming to increase revenue and highlight overlooked animals, many organizations raise adoption fees on their most popular pets

Lisa Eastman/iStockPhoto
In Boise, Idaho, the going rate for a shelter dog isn’t what it used to be.

“If we get a basset hound puppy, it may start out at 350 bucks,” says Jeff Rosenthal, a veterinarian and the executive director of the Idaho Humane Society.

That’s more than five times what adopters were paying just a year ago for any animal they chose: $65, which covered the costs of spay/neuter, vaccinations, a microchip, and a free checkup.

Today, the shelter’s base fee of $75 is so flexible that prices have shot up as high as $450 for animals coveted by the public. Staff decide what the market will bear, decreasing the fee over time if the animal is not adopted.

Prices at a competing operation—the local pet store—inspired Rosenthal to make the change. “I was just absolutely flabbergasted at the prices for … puppy mill puppies. People were routinely paying $1,400 for something that isn’t what it’s supposed to be, and sick,” says Rosenthal. “And so I thought, why can’t the humane society benefit from that sort of mentality as long as it doesn’t hurt the animals?”

In a profession where supply has long exceeded demand, people aren’t used to asking that question. Overproduction—the economic parallel to pet overpopulation— leads to lower prices and unsold goods, or in this case, unadopted animals. In the past, charging more for animals who could be obtained for free through newspaper ads seemed pointless. And elevating the price of one animal over another based simply on fads and public preferences seemed to cheapen the lives of those whose noses weren’t the right color or whose ears didn’t hang perfectly.

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