On occasion I post about listings I come across online for dogs in need of rescue/rehoming. Today, I’m going to air a grievance I have regarding the exclusion of low income adopters from the pool of potential homes for pets in need. Not all shelters and rescues do this, but it happens often enough that I notice it and grumble about it.
You know how sometimes we lament the apparent lack of willing adopters for all the pets in need in shelters and rescues? Well I would guess that we’d see a lot more adopters step up if we expanded our target market to include a generally overlooked group: poor people. I bet there are plenty of poor people willing to adopt a pet who simply can not afford some of the adoption fees charged at shelters and especially rescues.
It is reasonable to charge something for a pet, particularly one who comes neutered, vaccinated and tested for heartworm. Paying for a pet instills immediate value in the pet, before the human-canine (or feline) bond gets firmly established. The old adage that adopters should be able to afford an adoption fee to demonstrate they can financially provide for the pet makes some sense.
On the other hand, I do think many shelters and rescues have lost sight of what a reasonable fee is, unless their aim is to specifically exclude low income adopters. An adoption fee helps to cover some of the veterinary and other expenses provided for the pet prior to adoption. But it should be one of many aids in offsetting expenses. Other fund raising efforts should be considered the primary means of covering costs – not adoption fees.
Poor people can and do provide good homes for pets. While they can’t afford “heroic” type veterinary care or pricey accessories for a pet, they are regular people who love pets just as much as the next person. They can be educated on pet care just like anyone else and they are already accustomed to searching out bargains and “work-around” solutions to problems. I say all this from personal experience. I am a poor person and I love my pets. (Did this just turn into a 12 step meeting?)
Let’s look at a couple of fictional examples:
Dog A is a purebred dog and a good match for a low income owner browsing the shelter kennels. This person had this breed as a child so feels familiar with the temperament and exercise needs. After spending a little time with Dog A, the potential adopter feels a connection with the dog and makes up her mind to adopt. She goes to the front desk, prepared to pay the posted dog adoption fee but the receptionist informs her the shelter charges more for purebreds. She can’t afford the increased fee so leaves empty handed. Dog A may have another potential adopter come along who can afford the fee. Or he may not. The woman looking for a dog may try another shelter. Or she may be left with a bad taste in her mouth about shelters after feeling somewhat humiliated and disappointed by this one. It’s certainly plausible to my mind that the woman gets a dog from the newspaper or a friend instead of a shelter and Dog A ends up in a trash bag in the local landfill.
Dog B is a senior large mixed breed dog in poor condition and nursing a litter. She is now in the care of a rescue group in the Deep South who is hoping to find homes for her and her pups, once the litter is weaned. Dog B isn’t much to look at but her demeanor is gentle and she enjoys sharing affection with people so the rescue highlights her personality in their listing. A low income gentleman comes across the listing for Dog B and, although he isn’t actually looking for a dog, he feels sorry for this sweet old gal and wonders if anyone will adopt her. He figures that although he can’t afford to provide extensive veterinary care, he can at least afford the basics as well as plenty of good food and ear scritches. He applies to the rescue to adopt Dog B and the rescue informs him that the adoption fee for this dog has been reduced, due to her advanced age and condition. As such the fee for this dog will only be $175, as opposed to the usual fee of $350. The potential adopter can not afford $175, especially in light of the fact that the dog may have immediate veterinary needs. He withdraws his application and the next time he comes across a listing for a special needs type dog, he clicks by without stopping since he figures he can’t afford to adopt a dog from a rescue group. Dog B – well, who knows how she spends her final months or years. Maybe she’ll get lucky. Maybe not.
I don’t expect shelters and rescues to reduce their fees because a portion of the population can’t afford them. After all, some people can. But in these tough economic times, the portion who can’t has grown. And if you are charging $175 for an elderly dog in rough shape, you are excluding a sizable group from your potential adopter pool. Maybe you have so many homes beating down your doors for dogs that this doesn’t concern you. But if that’s not the case, I would suggest adding a little blurb to your adoption listings with regard to fees. Maybe something like “No adopter is denied solely on the basis of an inability to pay the full adoption fee. Please let us know if you need special financial arrangements. We are happy to work with all qualified homes.” After all, it’s matching the dog to the right owner that counts most, isn’t it?