To adopt or not? A new Best Friends survey sheds light on pet adoptions

When I started working with Best Friends in 1994, the standard adoption screening application and contract that rescue groups used, Best Friends included, treated every potential forever family like known animal abusers at worst or high-risk homes at best. Applications were filled with disqualifying “gotcha” questions. Adoption contracts were (and in some cases still are) onerous documents that threatened reclaiming of an adopted pet for any breach, and this warning extended into the indefinite future. The hoops, hurdles and implied disapproval often drove would-be adopters to pet stores or breeders to purchase a pet, rather than be humiliated in an effort to do the right thing and save a rescued pet.

All of this excessive caution and risk aversion had the effect of creating a bottleneck in shelters, resulting in overcrowding and, sadly, high death rates in shelters.

While Best Friends and most adoption organizations have long since replaced multi-page adoption applications and verbal interrogations with friendly consumer-centric conversations designed to help potential adopters find a new best friend, barriers to adoption still exist.

As we drive toward achieving no-kill by 2025 at full speed, we know that at its core, the effort to move shelter pets from the risks and stress of life in a shelter to the safety and security of loving homes is transactional — involving marketing and sales (or in our case, adoptions). We need to know our business and how best to serve our customers — the animals in need of homes and the pet-loving public looking to acquire a new pet.

For those of us who have chosen adoption, saving a life is a no-brainer. We know that shelter pets make great family members, and who doesn’t want to save a life if you have the chance? Unfortunately, we still have to overcome some pretty big hurdles to convince a large part of the pet-loving public that shelter pets aren’t broken. The results from a new Best Friends survey* confirm that.

Some of the key takeaways include:

  • There’s a big gap between those who say they would consider adoption and those who actually do go on to adopt. Most respondents (85%) said they would consider adopting their next cat or dog, but only 40% actually adopted their most recent cat or dog. That tells us we need to work on that conversion rate!

  • The public’s low awareness of the number of animals killed in shelters remains an issue. However, respondents did say that knowing that two million animals are still being killed in shelters every year would influence their decision to adopt. This means we have a tremendous opportunity if we can just spread awareness that loving pets are still being killed at the staggering rate of nearly 5,500 every single day.

  • Breed is not that important to the respondents. They indicated that they care much more about the animal’s health, size, disposition and compatibility with other animals and children. It’s an interesting result that seems to support the movement to remove breed labels from pets in shelters.

  • Overall the survey shows a positive perception of rescue groups and shelters; however, negative experiences with the adoption process persist. Some of the issues respondents mentioned:

    • Too much paperwork

    • Requirements that are too strict

    • Adoption fees that are too high

    • No response, or a lack of follow-up

    • Facilities that are not conveniently located


These types of surveys are invaluable for the work of our movement. We have more than 1,900 shelters and rescue groups as members of the Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Network, and we will continue to work with them to promote adoption and refine the processes across the movement to make potential adopters feel like valued customers. In this age of social media, when pet adoption agencies are being graded on Yelp, we need to do everything we can to save lives proactively.

Right now, we’re in the middle of our newest adoption promotion — the Summer to Save Them All. Best Friends, and our network partners will be offering varying adoption promotions through the end of August to save as many lives as we can, and to help them land in loving homes. Check out this webpage to see the current promotion.

With more data, we are working from a place of knowledge. And knowledge is not only power, it’s a big part of how we will Save Them All.

*The online survey was conducted by an independent agency among people who have purchased or adopted a pet dog or cat in the past year. Respondents were U.S. residents between the ages of 18 and 70, with household incomes above $25,000. The individuals had at least some input into the decision regarding adopting vs. purchasing, and only those who seriously considered both options were included.

No-Kill 2025