High-volume adoption model controversy

Note from editor: High-volume adoption strategies should in no way change screening processes that help rescuers ensure that an animal is being adopted into a good home — not just any home.

One of the most effective strategies in moving a community to no-kill is high-volume adoption of shelter animals, either directly from the local animal control agency or through rescue groups and humane organizations that partner with the shelter.

The strategy is simple — move as many animals as possible into adoptive homes as quickly as possible — but the implications fly in the face of the habits and practices of many rescue groups.

Here’s why:

Maximizing adoptions for the primary shelter means better customer service, more and better shelter marketing and public relations activities, flexibility with shelter hours of operation to better match the public’s time availability, shelter staff commitment to adoptions, and pricing promotions that encourage increased shelter traffic.

See anything controversial here? I don’t, although a recent “9 Lives for $9” cat adoption promotion at Los Angeles–area shelters, including Best Friends Animal Society Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center, that was sponsored by Found Animal Foundation drew fire from some rescuers and armchair activists because they felt that the lifesaving benefit of getting cats out of the shelters where they die in disproportionate numbers is not worth the supposed risk of low-cost adoption fees.

Supposed risks include the notion that adopters love their new pets in direct proportion to how much they pay for them and that low prices will attract all manner of sickos intent on perpetrating cruelty on an animal. It’s better, the opposing logic goes, for a cat to die in the shelter rather than take a risk on what the character of a bargain-seeking adopter may be. I don’t know about you, but the adoption fee I pay for a pet has zero to do with my affection for that animal. In fact, a recent study found the same thing.

This particular thread of objection has been discredited over and again wherever low-cost adoptions have been tried. Two-for-one adoptions, $5 Felines, Seniors for Seniors, and other adoption promotions have helped drive adoptions across the country. No-kill communities, such as Reno and Charlottesville, as well as Best Friends – Utah, have featured this type of promotion for years with measureable, lifesaving success.

When you think about it, why would a thug who wants to train a dog to be aggressive by waving a cat in the dog’s face show his or her ID to a shelter or rescue group, endure a screening interview, and pay anything at all for an animal who will be microchipped and traceable to their possession when they can drive down any street in certain parts of town and grab an animal off the street? These are the types of creeps people who fear low-cost adoptions believe will turn out for these promotions. There is no evidence to support such paranoia.

A more common and more understandable reservation regarding high-volume adoptions on the part of rescues relates to the fact that this strategy necessitates prioritizing the most easily adopted shelter pets over expensive, long-term project animals who have been the specialty of many rescue groups. Not unreasonably, rescues take on shelter pets they believe stand little chance of survival in the shelter due to injury, illness, age or behavior and leave the more easily placed shelter pets for the shelter to place with the public. This logic holds in a community where the only animals being killed are pets with problems. Unfortunately, that is not the case in most municipal shelters that are still killing a significant percentage of the animals entering the system and where the majority of animals dying are, in fact, happy, healthy, highly adoptable pets.

Taking on the difficult of the difficult — and sparing nothing in terms of the investment of time and money that is required to rehabilitate and place that dog or cat — is the kind of heart-centered commitment that distinguishes many rescues. It doesn’t, however, drive a community’s push to achieve no-kill status. A drive to no-kill means making difficult choices like whether to invest $5,000 in veterinary care and boarding to save 10 dogs who are ready to be adopted, or invest that same $5,000 in one emotionally compelling animal who needs a lot of help and rehab time but is not likely to otherwise get it. So, do you leave the 10 behind knowing that on a percentage basis, 40 to 50 percent of them will die, or do you leave the sick one behind knowing that his or her chances are slim to none?

These are heart-wrenching choices.

To be sure, there is and always will be a need for specialty care and rehabilitation, such as the type that we provide here at the Sanctuary, but if rescues are to play a serious role in reducing the number of shelter animals being killed, then some have to make the decision to embrace high-volume adoption models, and if shelters are serious about getting to no-kill, they have to improve customer service, adjust their hours to match the public’s schedule, and energize their staff with a lifesaving mission. They need to embrace high-volume adoption strategies that make it easier to adopt a shelter pet, including catchy promotions and reduced adoption fees.


Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society