Best Friends Blog

“I’ve made up my mind. Don’t confuse me with the facts.”

Be open to lifesaving ideasWe’ve talked about some “controversial” topics in past blogs. My July post on open adoptions caused a bit of a stir among many of you. Any time we write about some of the more progressive programs across the animal welfare movement, we tend to see two general kinds of responses. One group generally applauds the new data and the new way of thinking that can help save more lives. The other group digs in and simply denies the possibility that the new information could be correct. Why is that?

The Humane Research Council (HRC) just posted this blog about a phenomenon known as the “backfire effect.” The information feels very timely for this moment in animal welfare, when a new data-driven paradigm is changing long-held beliefs and sending lifesaving rates to all-time highs.

Programmatic changes and promotions such as fee-waived adoptions and open adoptions are two examples that have helped move animals out of shelters and into homes quicker than ever before. The research is very clear on both of those items. The amount paid for an animal as an adoption fee has nothing to do with how loved the animal will be. Regarding open adoptions, there’s little evidence to show that such pet placement policies result in higher returns than those involving an exhaustive, hassle-filled adoption process in which would-be adopters are made to feel guilty of poor pet parenting until they prove themselves worthy. Such restrictive or “closed” adoption policies, of course, move fewer animals into homes, meaning that more animals will be killed in the shelter.

So, when this new data-based evidence is presented, why does a group hold on to those deeply held beliefs, even though they may not be based on facts or may be just plain wrong? According to the HRC, there are a few reasons. The first, they say, is probably the most obvious — that we don’t like to be wrong. Who does — especially concerning practices with which we are comfortable?

Another reason, HRC says, is that once we internalize a belief, it’s hard to let that belief go. Rescuers invest a lot of trust in these decisions, which are difficult to step away from. And, maybe the most applicable reason for our field, we often let our emotions decide instead of our brains — especially for issues we care deeply about.

With about 9,000 animals killed in U.S. shelters each and every day, we need to be open to new ideas that may run opposite to what we believe to be true. More important, the animals depend on us to be open to them, because they are the ones dying in shelters when simple acceptance of new ways of thinking, innovative programs and progressive policies could save their lives.

Together, we can Save Them All if we don’t allow ourselves to believe that we have nothing left to learn about saving lives.

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Francis Battista
Best Friends Animal Society

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  • Angry Woman

    I have friends who have been turned down trying to adopt a dog because, even though they have had dogs for decades, they don’t have a fenced yard and/or nobody is home during the work day. How ridiculous is that? One has to have an income to afford a pet. Dogs love walks and it’s better for them than just being turned out in a yard. Such criteria discourage people from adopting when they are prime examples of good potential adopters. This mentality needs to change.

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  • Dee Petersen

    While I certainly agree with the points made, I think it is a little elitist for Best Friends to insinuate that rescues should stop charging adoption fees. Many groups — like mine — are local, all-volunteer organizations that do not have the publicity or donation pool as Best Friends does and yet we make huge impacts in our community. With an average of each animal (of 504 saved in 2014) costing us upwards of $500 each and the our adoption fees ranging from $0-$250 (with an average of $96), we are already in the red. If someone does not appreciate what that $96 “buys” them (neuter, vaccines, microchip, dental cleaning, bloodwork etc) then perhaps they do not see the value in the animal or in what we do for the animals in our community. Of course they would like to pay less or get an animal for free. But we don’t get free vet care and we have to provide it. And I don’t care what the research says as it does not pay our vet bills. Ideally, SURE. But unless you are providing me with a funding source then it is not practical or realistic. If articles like this make people even less willing to spend a nominal (and VERY fair) amount on adoption fees and they therefore don’t adopt from us, then that is less animals who get to live which completely negates the who message you are sending. Unless you are willing to subsidize my rescue costs then please don’t make things anymore difficult then they already are. Asking someone to pay an adoption fee of less than $100 for a fully-vetted dog is NOT unreasonable. I spend over 40 hours a week as an unpaid volunteer on top of a full time unrelated job saving lives to keep our overhead costs zero – please stop telling us that we aren’t doing enough.

    • Stacy Phillips

      Dee, I’m just another reader and volunteer, so I can’t reply on Best Friends’ behalf, but I do want to say that I don’t read this blog post as saying that no groups should charge a fee. I think they just mean that when it is possible to charge less -and stay solvent- don’t let the old “common sense” notion that people value something less what they get it for less. That’s all. I admire your dedication and certainly understand what you’re saying. I hope the “new thinking” doesn’t mean adopters will start balking at being asked to help keep rescue groups like yours going.

  • Sammlyn

    I’ll admit open adoptions are a little scary to me. However, it’s not because I think it’ll result in more returns. It’s that I worry about the type of care the animal will be receiving. Our “closed” adoption process helps us figure this out beforehand so we don’t send a 12 year old cat to a home where it’ll be declawed. But maybe I’m just misunderstanding what an open adoption actually is?

    • LS

      The adoption process isn’t removed when the adoption fees are. There is still a process, interview, application, etc. when a shelter or rescue adopts out an animal, regardless of the fee. Even if someone pays a nominal fee, it does not mean they will be cared for, or to refer back to your example, declaw a cat.

      We had someone adopt a cat from our shelter recently and said they were going to declaw the cat, and according to a volunteer, the staff member with whom they were talking to did not advise against it. Another volunteer spoke up and said “Well I have nice things so it’s not a big deal to me to declaw a cat.” That is a woman who drives a Mercedes and has plenty of money. I totally get your concerns, but the bottom line here is that even if someone pays for a fee, that doesn’t mean the animal will be taken care of, and if someone pays NO fee that doesn’t mean they are irresponsible owners or cannot afford to care for their pets.

      • Sammlyn

        I actually don’t have an issue with reduced fee/no-fee adoptions. I was just under the impression that the term “open adoptions” wasn’t referring to the fees but rather the actual process (i.e. applications/references/vet checks/home visits/etc.).

        • LS

          I see what you mean now. Perhaps I misunderstood what “open adoption” meant. I was under the impression it was in regards to adoption fees that may be out of the question for some; allowing more people to adopt that might not have the $200 lying around to adopt a pet.

          Not all rescues do home checks and call potential adopters vets. Shelters certainly don’t. With that in mind, I do believe “Open” adoptions are in regards to the fees.

          • Sammlyn

            If it is referring to fees, that’s fine with me. I agree with you, I personally don’t think paying an adoption fee guarantees anything.

            Maybe that’s part of the problem with “open adoptions” people aren’t sure what it really means!

            Also, just FYI — some shelters do call vets. I work for one that does! We don’t do home visits or anything like that, but we check to make sure that current animals are up to date and/or past animals were taken care of and there are no “red flags.” We also verify home ownership or get the approval of the landlord/property owner.

          • LS

            You make a great point that may “option adoption” is kind of vague and people aren’t exactly sure what it means!

            SOME shelters, such as funded SPCA’s, Humane Society’s, etc., may do those checks. But I know city/county shelters don’t but do ask for that info on applications. The shelter I work with, a city (police) run shelter, does do a check with landlords so animals aren’t returned!

            Maybe there’s something to be learned here. 🙂

        • MelissaLMiller

          Hi Sammlyn,

          We’re happy to help clarify here! Our friends at KC Dog Blog say it best:

          ‘Open adoptions means that you look for ways to get to ‘Yes” instead of reasons to say no. It means educating (when necessary) instead of interogating. It means understanding that most people want to do the right thing, and want your help in doing it. It means removing blanket adoption restrictions that artificially minimize the pool of potential adopters and treating each adopter and adoption on an individual basis. It means that “no, adoption is not for you” should be a rarity.’

          That certainly doesn’t mean that every person who wants to adopt a pet gets a pet, but it does mean we believe that stringent requirements often turn away the most well-meaning adopters who would provide great homes for an animal that might otherwise die in a shelter.

          If you have any additional questions, please let us know. Thanks for all that you do to help homeless pets!

          Melissa Miller
          Social Media Community Manager

          • LS

            Thank you for the clarification! This is great! Thanks for this post, even *I’ve* learned something! 🙂

          • snufflesd Bear

            Like the fact my husband and I were turned down by 3 different rescues when we lived in Chicago, because we did not have a fenced in yard. I do not believe in tossing a dog outside to run, fenced or not. I am always *there*. On the other end of a leash.

  • Juandaful

    And sometimes, adopters will reach your expectations for them to be a ‘good or great home’ if you believe in them, give them the resources to do so, teach them better ways to do things, and tend towards the positive–rather than be judgemental, or believe they can’t change what’s been done in the past. It’s okay to have standards, but when it comes down to the basics, rescue is about PEOPLE owning animals. The way we make a better world for animals is to get them in homes, and KEEP them in the homes they have by helping people continue to be or learn to become good custodians of their pets.

  • jmuhj

    I pray you are right, as you are about most things. We do need to take every possible precaution to keep ALL cats and kittens safe, which is a valid argument used by many “experts” for charging a substantial adoption fee; also, to offset a portion, at least, of the cost of sheltering (feeding, innoculations, exams, etc.) until adoption, many shelters have that policy. Welcome constructive/educational feedback!

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  • Bobcat1234

    We need more groups to be what I’ve seen called “learning organizations” or places where the leadership keeps critiquing what their work leads to, and what might be done differently. That “backfire effect” article is something I’d seen covered elsewhere. It’s discouraging, but more reason to learn how to break through those kinds of preconceived beliefs on ANY issue. Thanks so much for sharing it more and for making the connection with animal welfare work!

  • Eryn

    I think people confuse fee waived or low cost adoption with free pets. Or no screening process…pets come with vet bills, food bills, general care bills. The “free” pet problem needs to be addressed where the problem lies, social media such as craigslist that allows postings to give away animals. Rescue is not a for profit business and should not be treated as such, if people rescue dogs thinking they can make money on them what makes them any different than puppy mill stores, they just source their pets from shelters.

  • feralpower

    Totally agree! I wish all rescuers would read this and open their minds.

    • Dee Petersen

      I’ll open my mind if you pay my vet bills. Last year it was over $150,000 for the 500+ animals who passed through my rescue. If you donate that amount, I will be more than happy to stop charging adoption fees to make up a fraction of it.

  • Carrie Ridgway

    Well said-Bravo! Let’s save lives with our minds, not our hearts!

  • Taylor

    Yes, in a perfect world free dogs and cats for everyone would be optimal. The article did not mention the huge problem of the underground dog fighting world. These “free” dogs are used for bait dogs. It is a sad and very true fact. These dogs are not only unloved…they die a horrid and painful death. Also, if a family cannot afford $50 for a dog, how can they afford the huge bill that comes with owning a dog? Medical care, food, toys and possibly training courses. Pet ownership is not cheap.

    • Michelle Davis

      “bait dogs”, “sad and very true fact” – prove it with more than an anecdote. Its another strongly held belief that just isn’t true”

      • Taylor

        What part isn’t true? That bait dogs don’t exist? Or that the scum don’t seek out free dogs? Actually I have two… both were used as bait dogs. One had a baseball bat shoved down her throat to sever her vocal chords so she couldn’t cry! The other had both ears torn off and was found with his mouth duct taped shut. He had a micro chip and was able to be tracked to a couple that regrettably gave him away “free to a good home”. You couldn’t possibly track all the dogs given away free. But I can bet you that people looking for bait dogs and cats to perform cruel experiments on are most definitely not paying adoption fees. Keep living in your bubble!

        • MelissaLMiller

          Hi Taylor,

          Thanks for your note and for your feedback. How very lucky that your dogs were to end up with you after they were treated so cruelly.

          We would like to clarify, however, that waived or reduced-fee adoptions do not mean that screening processes are also waived. For example, Best Friends employs skilled adoption counselors who know how to ask the right questions to ensure a good match is made, as well as spot any red flags. Our interview process is the same during promotions, both at the Sanctuary and at our pet adoption centers. Screening is certainly always an important part of rescue/shelter adoptions.

          Additionally, the long held belief by many in animal rescue that the amount of money paid for an adoption fee directly correlates to the amount the pet will be loved is entirely untrue. Peer reviewed scientific studies have been done that blow this misconception out of the water! You can read one of them here:

          We thank you for all that you do to help homeless pets.

          Melissa Miller
          Social Media Community Manager

          • Taylor

            Do you do home checks? Some of these people are ruthless and know all the “right” answers. I know people wonder why would they go to such lengths to get these free dogs but there was recently a couple interviewed about this exact practice. They will employ a married couple to seek out these dogs on craigslist. Surely a nicely dressed “married couple” couldn’t be up to no good There is so much money in dog fighting that people are really unaware of. I volunteer at a shelter here in Ohio that specializes in bully breeds. I have see the cruelest, most heartless things done to these animals imaginable. I am sorry but I will never agree that free animals are a good idea. If someone cannot afford $50 for a pet, then they really are in no position to take on the responsibility of pet ownership. I love what you guys do there but I had no idea that you bashed rescues that charge for adoptions. Thank you.

          • MelissaLMiller

            Hi Taylor,

            Thanks for your follow up. Best Friends looks at each adoption – both animal and adopter – individually. There is no automatic “trigger” that would lead to something such as a home visit, though we’re certainly able to conduct one if we deem necessary. Additionally, all of our animals are microchipped, with the primary contact information on the microchip listed as Best Friends. We follow up with adopters and offer counsel, and all adopters must sign a contract stating that if, for any reason, they can no longer care for the animal, he/she must be returned to Best Friends.

            In regards to your comment about us bashing rescues that charge for adoptions, I hope you don’t believe that’s what we’re doing here. We’re simply challenging the animal welfare community to think outside the box and perhaps rethink some previously beliefs that can lead to saving lives.

            I hope this helps to clarify our adoption processes and viewpoint on open and waived-fee adoptions. Again, we appreciate all that you do to help homeless pets.


            Melissa Miller

            Social Media Community Manager

    • Michelle

      Where can you adopt a dog for $50. I just rescued a senior and still paid $200. I think waiving adoption fees is a great thing, ESPECIALLY for senior animals. I know I’m going to pay hefty vet bills on a senior, so it would be nice to spend that money on supplements, toys, etc. I also would be able to convince my husband to rescue more seniors if adoption fees weren’t so costly.

      • Taylor

        I am talking about shelters such as the APL or the county pound. It was also a suggestion to Best Friends. I am sure their normal adoption fee is not much more than $50. The small rescues do not get these huge corporate donations and do not have their own “on site” vet. Their costs are huge. They don’t just put to sleep the complicated medical cases like the pound would. Plus, I know the rescue I foster for puts EVERY dog through training so it has a better chance of staying in its forever home. That us well worth $200 right there. They are fixed and vaccinated as well. Checked for heartworm and most have other medical issues as well as we take in mostly abused and neglected dogs.

      • Taylor

        Oh and the next time you want to pull a senior, consider the Mr. Mo project on “Gremlins” facebook page. They are begging for people to adopt their seniors and the cover the medical bills for the REST of the dogs life. And they will help with transport.

    • LS

      You’re missing the point here. NO ONE said families who prefer to pay a lower adoption fee can’t AFFORD it. Many people would prefer NOT to pay $200-400 for a dog at a rescue. That doesn’t mean they can’t “afford” it, which is something many people misunderstand.

      • Taylor

        No…no point missed. At least at the rescue I foster for the dog comes fixed, shots and all medical attention is up to date. Sometimes that is THOUSANDS of dollars since I deal with a rescue that specializes in Bully breeds. That means that most of what they take in are severely neglected and abused. ALL of our dogs come professionally trained which can cost $350 by itself if purchased elsewhere. If you really wanted a dog and are committed, you are not going to wait until they are FREE to get one! I just think giving away free animals is a bad idea. I can guarantee that ALL dogs that are abused and used as bait dogs were either stolen or given away free by someone. I adopted one of those poor dogs. Yes, everyone “prefers” to pay a lower price for everything in life. I believe it is going to attract people that can’t afford the carrying cost of a pet. Yes it is free now but the first medical problem that costs a couple hundred dollars, out it goes! I have seen it TOO many times to count!

        • LS

          I disagree. The same can be said for people who pay a ton for a dog. Something happens, out the dog goes. Dumping and poor treatment of a dog is NOT exclusive to folks who pay less for an animal.

          You cannot guarantee ALL dogs used as bait dogs were stolen or “free.” Some may be strays, others are dogs they bred themselves. You are throwing out assumptions without any factual backing.

          A dog fighter is not going to risk going to an animal shelter to score a “free” or low-cost dog. Adopters are still screened and fill out an application. Did you read the stats in this article? I DO think you’re missing the point.

          If I were you, I’d be more concerned about “free to good home” animals on Craigslist and the like. Not at shelters or rescues.

          And, maybe someone DOES wait until there’s an adoption special at a rescue or shelter. So what? That doesn’t make them irresponsible owners, that doesn’t make them bad people, that doesn’t make them poor. Stop with the generalizing.

          • Taylor

            Just speaking from experience. I do target Craigslist as a terrible way to rehome a pet. Actually I have picked up several “free to a good home” and fostered them until I was able to place them in a suitable home. A dog fighter will risk going to pick up a “free” dog any way they can. WHat are they risking…just to be turned down?

  • Eryn

    Great topic, here in South Florida we discuss this very subject quite a bit. Recently, there was a pure bred puppy in a high kill shelter here and “rescues” were fighting over her, when a friend inquired about adopting the dog she asked about the adoption fee the rescue said it depended on certain things and that once the dog was evaluated they would come up with a fee, so my friend asked if they had set fees and they responded no, because some dogs deserve a higher fee. Another friend on mine in NJ has been trying to adopt a second dog because she recently lost a pet, she contacted me and said that several rescues have turned her down for various reasons, including she works outside of the home too many hours during the day and that she didn’t meet their home visit standards. This particular adopter recently lost her adopted special needs boston terrier and currently has a special needs chi and she is a former Vet Tech that is able to have people look in on her animals during the day when she works. When I first started in rescue, I too, thought that all the paperwork and visits were necessary and then I saw that too many potential adopters were frustrated at all of the steps.

  • Jean

    Last week I contacted a rescue group about one of their dogs. They asked me to fill out a five page application before they would even allow me to meet her. They also wanted to do a home visit and inspect vet records for any previous animals. When I inquired about the adoption fee I was told it would be between 150-350 dollars depending on my situation.

    I adopted two dogs from shelters when they were about a year old, and had them till they passed away at 13 and 14 years old. There were daily pills and a monthly shot to give for one that had Addison’s disease. I took on my third dog when my mom could no longer care for him. Provided him cancer surgery and treatment for all sorts of dog ailments till he passed away at 12. I know the rescue doesn’t know that about me, but I shouldn’t have had to jump through so many hoops to prove that I’m worthy.

    It would make more sense for me to spend less money and have a known adoption fee from the shelter where the animals are in more dire circumstances than to go through a rescue group where the dog is 2 1/2 times as much to adopt and in a foster home.

    • JenniferDavisEwing

      We adopted our middle cat from a shelter, and they charged us a $40 adoption fee. We adopted our youngest cat from a private agency, and they charged us $120. My husband and I aren’t living in rags, but the $120 was much higher than we’d been expecting (perhaps naively, it never occurred to us that $40 wasn’t an “industry standard”). When I asked if the fee could be waived or lowered, the agency lady heaved a big sigh and acted like she was making a huge concession to allow us to split the $120 into two $60 payments. “(H)assle-filled adoption process in which would-be adopters are made to
      feel guilty of poor pet parenting until they prove themselves worthy,” indeed.

      • Dee Petersen

        Shelters are usually government run and at least partially funded by your tax dollars and most have a staff veterinarian. They can charge $40 because it is subsidized. The private agency? That was probablyh a non-profit, all-volunteer rescue. That lady probably works full time in an unrelated field and spends her nights and weekends as a VOLUNTEER trying to save more animals. She gets NONE of your tax dollars. She has to beg veterinarians to give her some sort of break on the cost of services to get those cats fully vetted and she probably STILL doesn’t break even. And then someone like you has the GALL to ask for her to waive that fee which is a drop in a bucket for a spayed, vaccinated, microchipped cat. Gee, it is so super fun to spend 40+ hours a week of her free time trying to do a good thing and save lives just to have people like you be SO unappreciative that you have the nerve to ask her to EAT the cost of the vet too. Next time, skip the rescue group and just adopt from the shelter, okay? You are so clueless it is PAINFUL.

        • LS

          THANK YOU, Dee! The nerve of someone to ask to waive an adoption fee. Don’t want to pay it…don’t! But don’t insult an organization that works their butts off to save animals!

        • Judy Rae Jackson

          Thank you Dee. Another thing to keep in mind is that NOT all shelters completely vet the animals they adopt out. I work full time & volunteer in feline rescue. The organization I volunteer for charges an $80.00 adoption fee. Every person who adopts a cat or kitten from us is getting a cat that has been FULLY vetted. ALL blood tests to ensure there is no Fiv, FIP, leukemia or other disease. Kittens have all of their kitten shots & adults have their rabies shots. The cats have been treated for fleas, spayed/neutered & micro chipped. Even with the discounts we get from the clinics we use, the adoption fee does not cover the vetting. We are a non-profit, 100% volunteer group. Most of us work full time & spend our spare time working on TNR, fostering & working adoption events.

    • Judy Rae Jackson

      This is a big problem. Far TOO MANY rescues seem to be in competition with each other as to who gets what dogs & how much they can charge as an adoption fee. Rescue groups MUST learn to work TOGETHER & do what is in the best interest of the dog or cat. The rescue that I work with charges a flat fee of $80.00. That fee doesn’t cover the full vetting that each cat gets prior to attending adoption events but we have a good placement rate & the adopter is guaranteed a healthy cat.