Best Friends Blog

You can’t put a price on your best friend

You can’t put a price on your best friendI had the good fortune to attend the recent Best Friends Super Adoption in Manhattan. It was a terrific event with more than 275 dogs and cats going to new homes directly from the adoption event, with surely more to follow after applications are reviewed and meet-and-greets with other household pets are finalized.

On Sunday, the final day of the adoption, Best Friends sponsored a fee-waived promotion where the final cost of the first 50 adoptions of the day (from any shelter or rescue group) where the adopter mentioned a special code (Save Them All™) was free. It was very successful and sparked a higher turnout than normal for a Sunday. The promotion got me thinking once again about the resistance to reduced-fee and fee-waived adoptions, a subject that I touched on in my last blog post.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that most rescue organizations charge adoption fees in the $250-$400 range for what they believe to be a very good reason. They attempt to offset the high costs of veterinary care, boarding, good food and, often, special meds that every animal coming into their care requires to some degree. Despite the fact that the adoption fee very rarely actually covers these costs, what I don’t understand is the frequent assertion by many in the rescue community that people don’t value a pet adopted for free as much as when they have to pay out big bucks. This is especially confusing when most everyone in the rescue world has at least one much-loved pet acquired for zero cost as a stray.

More to the point is the fact that equating the emotional value that someone attaches to a pet with how much that pet costs is antithetical to the rescue movement and the entire no-kill philosophy — because it objectifies the animal as a product or a commodity.

That kind of thinking reasonably applies to things — like pens and toasters, but certainly not to family members like pets. It’s not unreasonable for someone to value a Montblanc pen more than a disposable Bic. But who values one child over another based on the cost of delivery at the hospital? “Johnny’s delivery was cheap so we let him play in traffic, but Joanie cost a bundle at a private hospital so we keep a pretty close eye on her.” It’s just not the way people think with regard to relationships, whether with a human or an animal.

Dollars-and-cents cost accounting of a pet’s life is what makes the pet trade such a despicable industry. There, it makes no business sense for a pet store to invest more money in pet inventory (for breeding, feeding and health) than can be earned by selling the dog at retail plus a profit. Why would anyone in animal welfare want to attach that type of thinking to a rescued pet who we hope will become a beloved member of someone’s family?

That’s exactly what we do when we shut the door on reduced-fee or fee-waived adoptions, based on the notion that people value expensive things more than inexpensive things.

Pets aren’t things. They are friends, family members and loving companions whose value to their person has nothing to do with how much they cost.

If you don’t believe me, check out this study that proves my point. Low-cost and fee-waived adoption promotions work. They save lives and entail no more risk than events that charge a full fee.

Together, we can Save Them All.

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Francis Battista
Best Friends Animal Society

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  • Cherie Hatlem

    I have to wholeheartedly agree with Amy – I have lived in several states, and most of them publish in their newspapers, flyers, offices, etc. that they will not advertise any animal ‘for free’ for these very reasons. It sadly seems to bring out the worst people who think free can somehow make them money by selling to dog fighting rings, experimental labs, etc. I prefer that their be foster attempts (which is how we have 4 rescued cockers in our home)! Thanks for the discussion, and listening! Keep it up please!

  • Stop the killing NOW!

    The reason why BF offered the free adoptions on Sunday is because Friday and Saturday were so slow. The location was wrong and too small. What needs to be mentioned is that these Super Adoption Events used to be held in Westchester, where about 450 animals were adopted over the weekend. BF decided to move these events to Brooklyn (Dec 2014) and then Manhattan (April 2015) and this has resulted in a substantial drop in adoptions – from about 450 in Westchester, to about 250 in Brooklyn/Manhattan. The location in Manhattan was a nightmare. There was room for only about 68 kennels versus 200 in Westchester. People, animals and crates were jammed everywhere. All the rescues were complaining. Why would BF choose to move the event to a location if it means 200 less animals get adopted? That means 200 animals are killed in a shelter somewhere because BF appears to think it’s more important to be able to have a sound-bite of “NYC Super Adoption” rather than “Westchester Super Adoption”.

  • SusieQ666

    Absolutely right! There can be no price put on a pet, just like you wouldn’t (or couldn’t!) put a price on any family member! Last autumn, after working with our very large yellow Lab (larger than the others I’ve had) had to be “re-homed” because with my health issues, and monetary constraints, we couldn’t get all the proper training he needed. I loved our dog, “Deacon Blues”, a beautiful, lively dog who unfortunately, pulled me down more than once, when I tripped on a “dip” on our uneven backyard lawn. I still have tears in my eyes, despite getting periodic updates from his new family, who live further down in SoCal, and by the beach. He’s still “in training” although he’s going to be two in early September, and is, as is typical of every Lab I’ve had, a “thief” when it comes to the kitchen. (For years, I’d made a habit of pushing everything on my kitchen counters way to the back, and even then I’d swear that my dogs were so smart that they moved the kitchen chair over to the counter and climbed up to reach whatever they could “sniff out”. My lovely “baby” will always be my beautiful pup, and although I know he’s in a good situation, and has a family with kids now (it was just my husband and I when he was with us) plus another small (chihuahua mix) dog as a playmate, although it took the little one some time to accept Deke as the “big guy who was going nowhere”. In my heart of hearts, I wish more than anything that I could have him back, but I know that’s just not right, and I wonder if I even have the right to even think such a thing. We do hope to adopt another dog later this year, only this time a dog that is not a puppy, and not quite hyper.

    I just want to warn people reading this that this time of year, and all summer for that matter, you need to be hyper-vigilant with the plants in your yard, to make sure none are toxic, because many dogs (especially Labs and other hunters) like to stick their noses into anything, in addition to “swallowing first, tasting second”, if at all. I was constantly digging up toadstools and other wild mushrooms that would grow in shady areas by our trees, and even in our lawn. The California drought hasn’t seemed to have changed that this year!

    So PLEASE, check to make sure your garden is “dog-friendly” and safe!

    In the meantime, I think what Best Friends does is amazing, and I do plan to adopt another dog (sooner rather than later, I hope), but if I need to pay a fee, I understand, as many rescue groups adopt out their dogs already microchipped and neutered. Something has to defray those costs, and I’m more than happy to pay my “fair share” if it contributes to the future of “NKLA”! This is my baby Deacon Blues last fall. (The heart was a PaintShop pro job, and no paint was put on Deke’s face!

    Deacon, your “first mommy” thinks of you often, and I do miss you! I hope every day you are happy, and bring joy to the family that loves you! Be a good boy, okay?

  • Amy Justice

    I appreciate the intent of your post, Francis, but it does sidestep part of the issue. I have worked with a few adoption-focused rescue groups, and most of us bemoan the “free days” at the shelter, not because we don’t want those animals going to good, loving homes, but because there are two inherent risks involved, that your cited article does not address (at least, according to its abstract; I could not access the whole article without paying $48… if only it could have been free, as I would definitely have valued the article as much as someone who paid full price for it…:)

    The first danger is of course the “false” adoption, where dogs or cats are adopted at little or no cost by people with malicious and injurious intentions for their use. If there is money to be made in dog fighting, then the people who stand to benefit the most are certainly well-versed in tactics necessary to get through any adoption paperwork or interview. Even a home visit is not a fool-proof deterrent, as they can get presentable “middle-class” appearing people to stand in for them. Most shelters don’t have the staff or resources to send representatives into adoptive homes a month later for a post-adoption check-up, so that doesn’t seem to be a feasible avenue of accountability. What these “proxy adopters” won’t do is lose money, so an adoption fee can represent a life saved from a cruel fate.

    Second, and here I agree with the point you make in your post, low-income families absolutely love their pets as much as those of moderate or higher means. But to be frank, I have seen animals returned because of financial issues in the home. These were heartbreaking scenarios, where both the animal and owner were bereft. I have also seen situations where an adoptive parent returned the animal because they were moving into a rental property that required a higher pet deposit than they could afford and they could not keep it any longer.

    Does this mean that poor people should not be able to adopt? Of course not! It does mean that, if they cannot afford a $75 adoption fee for a cat (which, as you point out, doesn’t come close to covering the cost of getting that kitten or cat ready for adoption through vetting and foster care), then perhaps they need to prepare further for the expense that pet ownership is absolutely going to entail. I would waive an adoption fee if I knew that the prospective adopters had a “flex spending account” set aside for their incoming family member – for food, supplies, and vet appointments.

    This also points out two important issues – the high cost of veterinary care for any pet owner, and the need for low cost spay/neuter/vaccination/sick visit services for rescues that “specialize” in “kitten season.” A group that I work with takes in kittens through TNR on a regular basis and every kitten we prepare for adoption costs around $100 ($104 for female, $94 for male) just for the basic vetting for adoption – at the lowest cost clinic available to us. And that doesn’t figure the medical cost incurred if this litter that was rescued from an abandoned mobile home or filthy junkyard lot has any health issues (parasites, uri, ringworm, etc.), which of course it invariably will. So when I know that I have paid over $200 for an individual kitten to help it survive its rough start in life, get it healthy, tested, sterilized and vaccinated, and then a prospective adopter asks why I am asking for $60 in adoption fees when the city only charges $10 or $20, I wonder how on earth they are going to afford to properly care for this cat if it gets sick, or how are they going to afford the pet deposit at their apt? (Or are they going to try to “sneak” the cat in, putting them in danger of eviction for violating their lease, and then what happens to the cat? We both know the answer to that.) If $40 or $50 makes the difference in them being able to adopt, then maybe this isn’t the right time for them to bring a dependent into their home.

    Of course, that doesn’t even touch on the fact that if we as a rescue don’t recoup any of the costs of vetting that cat, we are less able to help the next one that comes along.

    I don’t doubt that people love their “free” animals as much as any they would pay an adoption fee for, but this is not the only, or even the main issue in questioning fee-waived adoptions. It’s a complicated situation, as we all want more cats and dogs entering loving homes that are capable of caring for them properly, but not everyone who loves their animals is financially able to care for them – sometimes food itself is an issue, and it’s heartbreaking.
    I wonder if you could dig a little deeper and bring the resources of a wonderful, robust organization like Best Friends to open a conversation around the issues of “sliding scale” veterinary fees, the possibilities of municipal shelters partnering with rescue groups to vet kittens for free, and developing partnerships with large-scale pet food manufacturers and suppliers to increase the availability of free pet food for individuals living at or near the poverty level.

    Love your posts, and love the work you all do.

    • jondunn

      Hi Amy,

      First of all, thank you for your well thought out response to the blog post!

      Second, let me try to address these one-by-one.

      1. “False Adoption”

      Yes, there are absolutely people out there who are up to no good. No question. And as you say, even the most seasoned adoption specialist may be duped by someone skilled enough to pull the wool over their eyes. But why would a baddie even bother with a fee waived adoption during a massive adoption event? We all know even just the classifieds, both on and offline, are a wonderful way to source animals for free (or even just a few bucks) with absolutely no screening at all. What would a bad guy want to even go through the whole shebang when he doesn’t have to?

      But is the scenario you present possible? Absolutely. Has it happened in the past? Surely. But in our view it’s not right to ignore the wonderful marketing technique of low no cost adoptions in order to *possibly* prevent a bad guy from being a bad guy. This conversation reminds me of the “black animal at Halloween” discussion. We’ve written a blog about that topic as well, and I think there are some interesting parallels that you might find interesting:

      2. Financial issues

      People of all walks of life are going to own pets. And, we agree with you that everyone should be able to adopt an animal and feel the same bond and love those more fortunate feel with their animals.

      Of course people who are less fortunate can often find themselves in a pickle. One misstep, one missed paycheck, one creditor call away, they can not only find themselves unable to care for their pet, but maybe also find themselves losing their car or even worse their home.

      So what do we do, as animal welfare professionals when those people need help? Do we demand they surrender their pet because they clearly can’t afford that pet? Of course not! Their bond with their pet is the same we all feel with ours. To have to give up one of your pets… can you even imagine? I know I can’t!

      There are lots of wonderful shelter intervention programs out there today that are designed to help people where they are… what they need. I suggest you check out the work of Downtown Dog Rescue in Los Angeles as a model for this. They’re a wonderful organization that works with the low-income and underserved in L.A. They work with people to help them with whatever they need, whether it be food or medical help for their animals – sometimes they even help them with human services, too. HSUS also has a similar program called Pets for Life:

      I think it’s naturally easy to be dismissive of the idea that the poor should own pets. If they can’t care for themselves, why should they?! But they WILL own pets. We can’t ignore that fact. And we need to create relationships with those communities. Don’t we want them coming to us for help when they need it? Or if all else fails, a return to a rescue organization versus taking that animal to a (likely) high-kill shelter?

      3. Recouping costs through adoption fees

      This is a trickier one, as I know what I am about to say may sound easy from a guy who works for Best Friends! But rescue organizations need to look at adopters in a much broader way than it being just a one off relationship.

      Let’s use a scenario of two different rescues and how they operate.

      Rescue A is a good org but they’re on a small budget and often saving far beyond what they can really afford to do. They have one (low) paid employee who serves in about 10 different jobs. They’re often financially strapped, and have been on the brink of closing more than once. They’ve had to send out urgent pleas for donations, and borrow money just to stay afloat. They have adoption fees set at $300 and need every penny of that to help pay for the costs they have for each animal they save.

      Rescue B is also a good org, also small, but they are managing their growth. While they only also have one paid employee, they’ve built an engaged board of directors made up of people from different backgrounds. One of the board members works full time for a nonprofit in development and helped create a donor management system for Rescue B and helps also with different online and offline campaigns. When someone adopts from Rescue B, their name goes into a database and they are contacted over time with different appeals. Sometimes it’s about future adoption events, but it’s also about fundraising appeals. Over time, they’ve been able to convert roughly 30% of their adopters into donors. Even though those 30% paid less than Rescue A’s $300 fee (Rescue B charges $50 on average), over time they’re bringing in substantially more than that $300.

      A relationship with an adopter should go far beyond just that one time adoption.

      Also worth pointing out that it seems like the vast majority of the conversation here is that these specials are only for the “poor” which they most certainly are not! People from all walks of life take advantage of “specials.” While I am not rich nor poor, I do love a good deal! 🙂

      Jon Dunn
      Senior Manager of Policy
      Best Friends Animal Society

  • CoderDonna

    The “free” strays I’ve had in my life invariably cost the most in care, depending on how long they’ve been out on their own. Do I love them more or less, depending on what they’ve cost me? The idea is ludicrous! I love them all!

  • Amy Meighan

    Spot on! My furry kids are my family…someday people will figure it can hope!

  • Tina Clark

    Very well said, Francis, thank you.