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No-fee dog and cat adoptions: value added, not taken away

In November of 2010, I learned a lot about ourselves and the community in Lynchburg, Virginia, when we did something for the first time that made us very nervous. The Lynchburg Humane Society waived all adoption fees for cats for three days.

Fee-waived cat adoptions

You see, we found ourselves literally out of space and we would cringe every time the door opened for fear that it might be another cat or kitten needing our help. We had gone 15 months without euthanizing to make space for incoming pets and we didn’t want to back-slide, but we only had so much room. Even though we were torn with fear, with killing as the only other option, we took a leap of faith and gave fee-waived adoptions a try.

Public steps up to help community’s pets

We expected people would come out to adopt, but what we didn’t expect was how the community would step up in various ways to help us avoid killing the community’s pets for the purpose of making space. Some people came out to adopt, but more important, other people made donations to help us cover the adoption fees.

We had some wonderful adopters who weren’t looking for a new pet; they just wanted to help us and provide a loving home for our pets. One woman was in her 70s and on a fixed income. The money she saved on the adoption fee she could then put toward medical visits, toys and other items for the cat. The community heard us say we needed help and because they understood, the public adopted.

Criticism of no-fee adoptions

Sure, we had critics and I got calls from good people concerned about what we were doing. I can still hear them now: The wrong types of people would adopt. If they can’t afford the adoption fee, they shouldn’t be adopting a pet. We are de-valuing cats by giving them away.

But you know what we found? Our experiences did not line up with the fears about why fee-waived adoptions shouldn’t happen. We had a lot of great adopters who were willing to give these pets wonderful homes.

Now, just because we did an adoption promotion didn’t mean we changed our adoption counseling conversations or processes. We still screened adopters to make sure it was a good environment for the pet and a good match for the person.

Saving animals’ lives

People like deals and specials, and there is nothing wrong with that. You know what? I think we gave these pets value because we didn't kill them to make space. We decided that these cats were important enough to give them every opportunity to live. We committed to them to such a degree that we went out of our comfort zone and faced our fears to do the right thing and save them. In fact, after doing fee-waived adoptions with cats, we faced our fears again and did fee-waived adoptions for dogs and puppies.

Fast-forward to today. Lynchburg Humane still does no-fee adoptions, but not because they might need to euthanize for space purposes. Lynchburg has been a no-kill community for eight years, and they help out other shelters by taking in some of their at-risk pets. Because of that, Lynchburg Humane still gets full and needs relief during busy times.

“Free cat Fridays” is a promotion that has become a favorite during the summer months. With cats and kittens dying in neighboring shelters that don’t have the same resources as Lynchburg Humane, they need to move pets through quickly in order to help the community and those shelters that need assistance.

Trying fee-waived pet adoption promotions

Before you take the life of a pet because you are out of space, stop and evaluate your fears, and consider taking a leap of faith. Perhaps you don't want to try fee-waived adoptions because you need the income. Or you don’t believe community members who come to adopt for free will be good enough. Or you feel it will send the wrong message. I get it — I had similar concerns. But I suggest putting all those fears aside and trying this type of promotion, even for just a short time. You will learn great things about yourself and your community, and you will be saving lives that deserve to be saved.

Great homes are great homes, regardless of whether an adoption fee is paid. Take the leap and learn this for yourself.

Photo by Lori Fusaro

Makena Yarbrough holding a small dog Makena Yarbrough
Mid-Atlantic regional director
Best Friends Animal Society