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Sleep on it

Slumber parties lead to successful adoptions

From Animal Sheltering magazine September/October 2015

Not all potential adopters arrive at our shelter feeling 100-percent certain that an animal who caught their eye online will be a good fit for their family. Some are concerned that a new dog or cat won’t get along with their other pets; others worry that someone in their household might be allergic.

In a chaotic shelter environment, people can also find it hard to discern an animal’s true personality. Many people come to the shelter expecting that a dog will run right to them, tail wagging, and are disappointed if the dog is afraid or shows little interest. And cats are often shy when meeting someone new.

In 2013, our staff at the Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA in Phoenix came up with a novel way to help potential adopters find the right match and make that leap into lifetime commitment. In our Slumber Parties program, dogs and cats can spend up to three nights with interested clients. We’ve since sent more than 1,000 dogs and cats on slumber parties, and 73 percent of them ended up being adopted by their host.

One of these was Saffire, a terribly shy black-and-white Lab mix. At the shelter, she would hide in her kennel and shake when new people came to visit her. She spent days sleeping under staff members’ desks as they tried to help her overcome her fear, but eventually she came out of her shell with those who spent time with her. Time and again, however, her anxiety and shyness would deter potential adopters. Finally, a man spent some time with her in the play yard. She was timid with him, but the adoption counselor told him about her playful puppy nature, her goofy personality and her belief that she was a (40-pound) lap dog. We invited him to take her home on a slumber party so he could see the “real Saffire.” He agreed, and the two of them fell madly in love.

For us, it makes sense to let interested adopters try out a new pet. People appreciate the opportunity to spend quality time with an animal in their own home to help ensure they’ve made the right choice.

Before taking an animal on a slumber party, potential adopters fill out simple paperwork and commit to caring for the pet for the next few days. We provide a few days of food and other necessities. There’s no pressure to adopt, but we call slumber party hosts throughout the next three days to see how things are going and answer any questions that arise. Even when an adoption doesn’t result, we find out more about the animal’s behavior and personality from the family, which helps us find the pet a better match in the future.

A little black cat named Sabriye is another success story. She went through several months of treatment after the removal of her diseased eyes and suffered a bout of ringworm before she was ready for adoption. Her loss of eyesight didn’t slow her down; she was an explorer and constantly pushed the limits by jumping and climbing. But after a month on the adoption floor, Sabriye was still with us.

We decided Sabriye might have better luck at our adoption center at a busy shopping mall than at the shelter. Once there, she soon caught the attention of a woman who decided to take her home for a slumber party. Two days later, the woman returned to fill out the adoption papers. Now Sabriye knows the entire layout of her new house, has a favorite chair and toy, and is living life to its fullest.

About the Author

Judith Gardner is president and CEO of the Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA ( in Phoenix.