The Pros and Cons of Pay-What-You-Want Adoption Fees

Shelters can’t give away pets for free all the time, but a “name your price” event can benefit the animals, their new families and, of course, the shelters.

Shelters charge adoption fees to not only take care of animals but also to help prevent returns. By: Ray Larabie

Faced with a skyrocketing number of adoptable dogs, the Franklin County Dog Shelter in Columbus, Ohio, recently hosted a “Name Your Price” adoption event. Adopters were invited to take home one of the shelter’s many furry residents for any donation amount.

The 1-day event resulted in an astonishing 95 dog adoptions and brought the shelter lots of media coverage and positive feedback in the community.

Waiving the shelter’s standard adoption fee temporarily was a great success and resulted in new homes for so many needy pets. So why don’t more shelters drop their adoption fees?

The Business of Saving Lives

Shelter work revolves around saving lives. That is the primary purpose of the intake and adoption of homeless pets. It seems counterintuitive, then, to allow cages to fill up and even overflow when there are good homes available for those animals.

Sometimes the challenge is just drawing adopters into the shelter in the first place.

Franklin County Dog Shelter’s “Name Your Price” adoption event did 3 great things:

  1. Gained attention from the media
  2. Piqued the interest of the community
  3. Brought in hundreds of visitors

It was a chance for adopters to take home a dog for little or no money while raising awareness about the shelter. Almost 100 dogs were adopted in a single day, giving 100 new homeless pets the chance for adoption as well.

The shelter potentially saved 95 lives by choosing to waive the fees for 1 day.

Choosing the Right Adopters

Many shelters may balk at the thought of giving away their pets for free. If an adopter can’t afford even an adoption fee, how can he afford to care for the animal?

Just because an adopter doesn’t want to pay the full adoption fee doesn’t mean he isn’t qualified to take home a pet, though.

Even at a “Name Your Price” event, adopters should still be vetted before being allowed to take home a pet. Once they have been approved for adoption and matched with compatible companions, adopters can then choose how much or little to pay for the fee.

Even if an adopter is offering only $5 for a dog whose fee is normally $150, at least that dog is walking out of the shelter in the hands of her new family instead of waiting indefinitely in a cage.

Choose-your-own-adoption-fee events work. By: Joplin Tornado Lost and Found

How Adoption Fees Are Beneficial

Waiving or greatly discounting adoption fees can draw a lot of attention and boost adoption numbers considerably, but there’s a reason most shelters require adoption fees.

According to Petfinder, “Adoption fees help cover the medical care of the animal while he or she waits for a new home, as well as food and transportation costs.”

If you’ve ever had pets, you’re probably aware of how much it costs to care for them. From food to toys, the everyday expenses add up quickly. Add onto those usual costs the additional price tags of vaccines, spaying or neutering, and microchipping, and you really start to get an idea of how much shelters pay to take care of the animals.

Adoption fees and donations are what keep a shelter’s doors open, its animals fed and employees paid. To continue providing a haven for homeless pets, shelters must charge adoption fees.

Pets given away for free are sometimes seen as less valuable. Because there is no initial investment in the animal, there is little to no loss if an adopter decides, 1 day later, that he doesn’t want the dog after all. Adoption fees can act like a deterrent to compulsive adopters.

Watch this shelter in Indiana make the news with its free adoption event:

Balancing the Need for Funds and Adoptions

Having an event in which adopters are allowed — and even encouraged — to adopt homeless pets for free is a great idea for clearing some cages, getting some media coverage and boosting adoptions, like the Tri-County Humane Society in Minnesota, which saw its adoption numbers double during a free adoption event.

It’s a perfect way to raise the community’s awareness about shelters and the importance of adoption. But waiving adoption fees permanently just isn’t a sustainable solution for most shelters.

To find a comfortable balance, shelters might consider offering free adoption events just a couple of times a year and intersperse those promotions with lots of fundraising events. That way, shelters can focus on raising necessary funds while also ensuring lots of adoptions.

Allison Gray

View posts by Allison Gray
Allison Gray gained a wealth of knowledge about animal welfare issues and responsible pet care during her nearly 5 years of work for an animal shelter. She is a writer, photographer, artist, runner and tattooed remedial knitter. Allison also has been researching, testing out and perfecting nutritious pet treat recipes in her kitchen for Petful since spring 2017.

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