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ShelterSpeak: Adoption Fees

ShelterSpeak: How do you decide your adoption fees? Do you differentiate costs according to gender, breed, species, sterilization status, or any other variables? Why or why not? Do you try to recoup costs for testing/vaccinations, etc.? How do you explain the fees to your adopters?

ShelterSpeak: How do you decide your adoption fees? Do you differentiate costs according to gender, breed, species, sterilization status, or any other variables? Why or why not? Do you try to recoup costs for testing/vaccinations, etc.? How do you explain the fees to your adopters?

Susan Asher
Executive Director
Nevada Humane Society
Sparks, Nevada

Back in the “old days,” we used to tack a nominal adoption fee onto the spay/neuter deposit. When I started at NHS in 1980, that amount was $5!

Pre-adoption sterilization in 1994 eliminated the deposit requirement, but we did have a staggered fee based on dog/cat, intact/altered. This past year we threw up our hands and took a close look at our hard care costs. Then we looked at adoption fees around the country and found we were very, very low. Currently our fees are set at $45 for cats and $65 for dogs, which includes spay/neuter, vaccinations, and an I.D. tag. This is explained to adopters during that process. We will begin microchipping and will increase the fees accordingly.

While I have heard the exclamation “$45 for a cat?!” a couple of times in the front office, the sources seem to consistently be young adult males and teenagers. I have also heard, “Is that all it is?”—which indicates to me that our community is recognizing the value of shelter pets.

We originally considered making the fee a blanket $65 to reinforce the message that cats and dogs hold equal status, but it seemed too big a jump in price at the time. We will be partnering with our local county animal control in a new regional animal shelter in 2005, and we will have more unilateral fees in place by that time.

Interestingly enough, as part of our negotiations with the county, the legal beagles (no offense to the breed!) seemed very concerned that we might dramatically raise the adoption fees at the new shelter as part of a fundraising push. As we will be taking their non-redeemed strays for adoption on “our side,” they anticipated citizen backlash if the fees were too high. I educated them about the real costs of accepting, caring for, and re-homing animals, and we agreed upon a fee that “...would not exceed +/- 10% of the national average.”

Christie Smith
Executive Director
The Potter League for Animals
Middletown, Rhode Island

There is no way that the adoption fee can ever recoup all the financial investment that a shelter makes in getting animals into new homes. To come up with the fairest pricing, we have examined our costs but also researched what other animal welfare groups in our region are charging. Despite legitimate fears that larger price tags will drive an adopter to the “free to a good home” ads or to another organization, we have not seen that happen. We do make sure that we are very clear to the adopters about the investment we make in each animal and that they are getting a great value for our adoption fee. Adopters are smart and can quickly see that what they are paying is much less expensive than if they had to pay to sterilize, vaccinate, identify, etc., the animal themselves.

The Potter League for Animals does not differentiate between dogs and cats, male or female, purebred or mixed-breed with our adoption fees. We purposely want to send a message that all companion animals are created equal and our adoption fee is the same for all. While there is a growing trend to charge more for puppies or purebred dogs, we have not done so. We have a standard fee—it is easy to explain to adopters and provides a fair value to them. While other groups may charge “what the market will bear” and justify it as a way to raise needed funds, that has not been our practice. Through our fundraising efforts, we will go to our donors and happy adopters and explain the additional veterinary care and services we offer—it is a very legitimate and effective way to raise funds for our operations.

Jane McCall
Executive Director
Dubuque Humane Society
Dubuque, Iowa

Our adoption fees are based partially on our costs and are probably higher than most. We also feel that adopting an animal is a privilege that involves financial responsibility. We don’t have a low-cost clinic or a vet on staff either. Our fees went up beginning in January 2004 to $120 for a dog or puppy (purebred or mix). They include costs for the spay/neuter surgery; bordetella, rabies, and distemper/parvo vaccinations; deworming; flea treatment; microchip; and a free bag of food and a discount on supplies.

Fees for cats or kittens are $95 and include all of the above (except bordetella) plus FeLV testing. We don’t differentiate for breed, sterilization status, or anything else.

I personally think we should charge more for small-breed dogs. However, my board does not want to, so we don’t. We explain our fees by showing what a “free” animal would cost if you included all the procedures we do—and it makes our animals look like a bargain. Besides, you are saving a life!

Barbara Carr
Executive Director
SPCA Serving Erie County
Tonawanda, New York

Our adoption fees are set on what we believe the “market” will bear. Kittens and pups are more expensive than cats and dogs. Puppies are the most expensive, but their adoption fee includes puppy class and Intertract. All animals are sterilized, vaccinated, and treated for whatever ails them prior to adoption. There are no extra fees because one might cost the organization more than another. Sometimes we put extra fees on purebred dogs because we have found people adopting from us at $75 and then selling in the paper for $250. It depends on the breed/age/rarity of the dog. For instance, I don’t believe we have ever put a higher price on a beagle, dalmatian, or rottweiler, as we have these dogs at almost any given time and they have no “retail” value. Last summer we had a case of about 150 purebred dogs from a puppy mill, and we raised the adoption price on those to discourage the gazillion people who began to storm the SPCA after the story became headline news locally.

I would like to think that the adoption fee could be the same for all animals and that we didn’t discriminate and imply that one was more valuable than another. Unfortunately, I believe that the public will dictate our fees for the foreseeable future.

We have never been asked for an explanation of fees by adopters. We do say the fees partially cover the costs of medical care, sterilization, vaccinations, housing, etc., and that all adoption fees are subsidized by donors to the organization.

Susan Wilson
Executive Director
Humane Society of Southern Arizona
Tucson, Arizona

At the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, adoption fees were raised in January 2003 to $80 for a cat, $95 for a kitten, $80 for a dog, $95 for a puppy, and $135 for purebreds. This is the first time we have differentiated between dogs and puppies or cats and kittens, or placed a premium on highly sought-after purebreds. We have met no resistance from potential adopters and are in the process of evaluating its success one year later. Even at that price, the purebreds just fly out the door (except pits, of course). Since 1997, the fees have been raised two other times and in both cases, our adoptions increased dramatically.

Tucson, though somewhat geographically isolated, still produces more companion animals than potential homes. Our adoption prices are not the highest in the community but are above the average. Included in the adoption are sterilization, microchip, first round of vaccinations, parasite treatment, first free vet exam (with private participating vets), and two months of free pet health insurance. Additionally, with cats, a feline leukemia test is included; with dogs, a free introductory canine behavior class is offered.

Throughout the year, we run special promotions, discounting fees accordingly. Additionally, we actively seek donors to underwrite adoptions for special populations (seniors, etc.) and selected promotions.

To communicate the adoption pricing to the public, we have produced a flyer and signage that compare the value of our animals to both “free” animals and pet shop animals if all the enhancements we offer were purchased at retail costs. For the calendar year of 2003, we increased adoptions of adoptable animals by 11 percent.

Bobbie Thompson
Animal Rescue Foundation
Milledgeville, Georgia

Our adoption fee covers what is required by state law, which is a rabies vaccination for all cats and dogs, and spay or neuter of cats and dogs adopted from shelters. We started off 20 years ago with a $7 adoption fee that covered just the rabies vaccination, and then we required spay and neuter of all animals (before the state law was passed). The adoption fee is now $60. This year, we will review the fee for a possible increase.

We don’t differentiate between species. The adoption fee is the same. (I remember going to an HSUS Southeast Regional Office workshop many years ago and being told not to discriminate between species, because to have different fees for a cat and a dog diminishes the species with the lesser fee.)

We keep trying to recoup our costs, but it seems that whenever we increase our fees, so do the veterinarians! We pay reduced veterinary fees for our shelter animals, but even then, we lose money with every adoption. We don’t have an in-house veterinarian to help keep our costs low. Having the adoption fee the same for all pets, we also recoup a little bit when a surrendered animal has already been altered.

Our fees are low—only $60 for sterilization and rabies vaccines. We usually don’t need to explain the low fee beyond that. When we do, we explain that for $60, the client receives about $250 of veterinary services—and we list everything from testing, vaccinations, parasite control, and heartworm preventative to all the care the pet has received while with us.


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