Poor People Want to Rescue Pets Too

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?

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17 Comments

  1. Reading this reminded me of Nathan’s essay in Irreconcilable Differences called “Good Homes Need Not Apply.” I understand that most rescues, at least in my area, use the tax-deductible adoption fee to offset medical costs. So many animals require a lot of medical care that the adoption fee helps with that. Shelters, on the other hand, should be held to a higher standard, particularly those funded by tax dollars. By way of example, the city/county shelter in the community where I work has a 1.6 million dollar budget for this year. If I was Queen of the City (light sarcasm) there would be no adoption fee at all. Adopters would be screened but even the costs of having the animal vaccinated and fixed would be on the city. This particular shelter is run by a vet so surely she could network with her peers to get the necessary initial treatment for cost. (By the way, of that 1.6 million in the budget, 90 percent of it goes toward payroll which should tell you what the focus is).

    I am all for looking at ways to place animals and have it be less elitist in the process. Low income folks need to be considered. As do folks like me who live in a rural area on property which is not fully fence. I could go on but that’s my rambling way of saying yes, yes, yes, lets find a way to place animals in good homes regardless of income and help those folks utilize resources for food and veterinary care if they get into a bind.

    Reply
  2. I seem to be barking in the wilderness on the subject of high fees.

    I’m not entirely happy with our breed rescue’s $200 fee (neutered, vetted, fostered, and often transported long distances dog). And we do work on reducing the fee when we think it’s appropriate. The reality is, the adoption donation doesn’t begin to cover the average costs. Fundraising makes up the shortfall.

    I had one really nice foster who needed specialist surgery to remove a broken tooth root. Extremely healthy, sound, lovely dog — but an expensive rescue for our group. Had we charged what it cost to get him ready for adoption, he’d never have found a taker.

    When I see “rescues” charging north of $200-300 for mixed breeds that may be neutered and vaccinated, but may have barely been worked with, might be older, health issues, behavior challenges — no. Just, no.

    In my breed, you can get an indifferently-bred puppy for $200, less if it is unregistered. And it may turn out to be a really nice pup after all.

    Why would someone pay way more for a “rescue” that came from the same breeder two years ago and bounced around from buyer to pound to rescue, accumulating baggage on the way?

    We need to get real. This is not just a low-income issue, but a value-conscious buyer issue. Not everyone will line up to pay for the privilege of claiming “I rescued him.”

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  3. Sometimes I feel like saying, “These animals NEED HOMES, right?!”

    Reply
    • Exactly how I feel a lot of the time. Especially if it’s a harder to place animal. It’s backwards thinking. If the choice is between keeping the dog in the shelter for months and months, or placing it in a home for that same amount of time, why wouldn’t you want it in the home instead? Isn’t that why shelters value foster care?

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  4. Heather – I might be misunderstanding, so forgive me if that’s the case.

    What dogs don’t realize is that they are mixed breed. And by that, I mean they still need vaccinations, dental work, spays/neuters… all the expenses you have with a purebred dog. So rescues who work with both purebreds and mixed breeds are still putting out the same amount of money to care for their animals, if they’re caring for all of them equally and properly.

    Can you say that Dog X, a purebred, has more value because she’s a purebred, but Dog Y has less value because she’s mixed, all other things being equal? Maybe in the mind of the adopter, but not in mine. We don’t charge more for pure vs. mixed dogs because we don’t pay higher costs for care for pure vs. mixed dogs.

    And you’re absolutely right; adoption fees are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to covering costs. I wish we could charge less, and I wish we could raise more money in some other fashion to offset adoption fees so placing animals would be easier for everyone.

    Reply
    • But if you’re really looking at it just in terms of cost, it saves money to place a dog in a home, regardless of how much money went into his care. Even with a zero fee, the minute he’s placed, they immediately start saving money and have room for another animal in need.

      Reply
    • It doesn’t matter what you or I think a dog is “worth.”

      What matters is what a potential adopter thinks.

      I work for a breed-specific rescue. We limit ourselves to our breed, mixes of our breed, and likelies from the pound.

      That’s not because we only love English shepherds and hate pug-a-schnoodles; it’s because we’re a rescue for a specific breed, and people come to us looking for that breed, or a dog who has substantially the same characteristics, and because we “get” them and can make good decisions about them based on our collective experience.

      We don’t charge more for known purebreds than for mixes or likelies.

      Our costs are higher than a local rescue’s might be because we often have transport costs; part of being a national rescue for a rare breed. (And the parts of the country with many ES in need are not the same places with many foster volunteers and adopters.)

      From the potential adopter’s standpoint, we “add value” to a dog over the average pound purchase because they are fostered with people who actually know something and do some training and evaluation, because we do the necessary vetting, put in a lot of time and thought on matchmaking, have a number of accomplished trainers available for consults, and provide lifetime support and a lifetime takeback commitment.

      Reply
  5. mikken

     /  April 5, 2010

    In my area, you have your rescue groups that charge $150-ish for neutered/vaccinated cats and dogs and you have “the pound” (county run shelter) which will vaccinate and license a dog (no neuter, although some are clearly already neutered) for $45 and cats are “as is” for $15.

    The only “adoption requirement” (you are actually purchasing the animal and they give you a receipt for it) is that you sign a piece of paper stating that you understand that the animal may or may not be healthy and that you’ll take it for a vet exam as soon as you can.

    So no, the animals aren’t vetted and they aren’t evaluated for behaviors, but the place is clean, every cat has a fresh towel to lie on, and no one is grilling you on whether or not you have small children, a doggie door, or calling your vet to see if you’re “a good pet owner”.

    I’ve gotten three cats from the pound, even though I could afford the rescue groups. Why? I like that I don’t have to jump through hoops filling out forms, giving references, waiting to be judged a decent person, etc. (just cash and a signature, that’s it) and that I’m saving a life. Is it harder to look at animals when you know that some of them will be going into the freezer at the end of the week? Yes, it sure as hell is. But there are three cats in my home right now that didn’t end up in the freezer because I made that choice. Total “adoption” cost? $45. And two of them came already neutered and vaccinated.

    I don’t begrudge rescue groups their adoption fees – heaven knows many of them are pouring their life’s blood into care of their animals. But for me, the “cheap route” of the pound was the better choice.

    I’m glad that my area has this choice, really. Would I rather they not sell any intact animals? Sure, of course I do. But if someone wants a low cost altered animal, that can be found there, too. And they’ll be saving a life in the deal.

    Reply
  6. Our no-kill rescue group often accepts the “scratch and dent” homeless cats, including older animals, as they don’t stand a chance at the city shelter. Most groups won’t accept an animal over 5-6 years old; we’ve recently adopted out two 15-year olds.

    We have been adopting out these older cats by offering reduced adoption fees ($45-50) to anyone 55 or better. We began doing this after an elderly adoptor expressed her concerns about her cat possibly outliving her.

    Considering that we never charge more than $95 for an adoption – and this fee includes a spay/neuter operation and a FIV/feline leukemia “combo test” – I think it’s a reasonable price.

    And we will spread out the $95 fee over 2-3 months if necessary. Everyone has cash flow problems now and then.

    Reply
    • I kind of like that “scratch and dent” analogy. I often see myself in that category as well! We take those pets, too, because we know what would happen if we didn’t. A huge “Yay!” to your group, Linda!

      I’m trying to start a “seniors for seniors”-type program at our shelter. It’s incredibly frustrating and sad to see older folks’ disappointment when they find the perfect match only to learn that they can’t afford the fee. It breaks my heart because no one – not the pet or the potential adopter – wins. And except for a few “fudged” long-term foster situations, I haven’t been able to sway the powers that be. Right now, we can’t afford to give the animals away, but I’m sure there has to be a happy medium.

      Reply
      • I love, love, love, seniors for seniors programs. It’s like the epitome of a win-win situation.

  7. selkie

     /  April 6, 2010

    over the years at the THS, I have seen a number of older people come in SPECIFICALLY for an older dog or cat. As one lady, around 75 said to me as she was adopting an absoultely adorable, arthritic, sorta cranky old GSD – we’ll hobble and bitch together! That is exactly what a lot of these people said to me – that one of their big worries was their animal outliving them – and as I have witnessed how FAST some families DUMP their elderly parents’ pet, they are right to worry.

    Reply
  8. This is a great post (and I love the examples). We don’t have a lot of rescues/shelters here with as high of adoption fees that people here are mentioning…however, we have much the same problem. While our adoption fees are fairly low (by comparison), most of our rescues do home checks, where they are then able to “weed out” people they don’t think have enough money because they don’t feel like if the dog comes up with a really bad disease or injury, the owner will be able to afford to treat it. While this is, in theory, true, I am more inclined to take the chance that the low-income adopter will be fine for 95% of the dogs, and in the rare instances where something major does come up, the dog will have to be euthanized, vs the at best 50/50 chance the dog has of surviving (or the dog that is waiting to take its place at the rescue) if we deny the home.

    Reply
    • I could not afford to treat MYSELF if I came down with a major illness or sustained a serious injury. Such is the plight of the uninsured in this country (although thankfully, we are now on the road to major improvement!). If someone would rather have a dog sit in a shelter indefinitely (while dogs in kill shelters die) than place him with me b/c I couldn’t afford a wopping emergency Vet bill, I have to wonder if they really have the dog’s (and all dogs’) best interests at heart.

      Reply
  9. Giovanna

     /  April 9, 2010

    IMO, it is more important how much people value their pets then the balance in their bank account. If a person has a lot of money but they are not willing to pay for expensive vet care, then what is the point? They’ll just get the pet euthanized as quickly as they can drive the SUVs to the vet. Even when I had zero income and living off my savings, I would have done everything in my power to provide adequate care for my cat. Just my two cents…

    Reply
  10. Jennifer J

     /  April 13, 2010

    It seems that since we have been bombarded with animal laws by HSUS that vet fees have tripled on proceedures that are required by law. Vet fees are to high for most to afford. It would be nice if people have been long term owners, anyone could pass to own a dog. Dogs bring such joy into our lives it would be terrible to withold being able to own a dog because of economic reasons. Some wonderful homes may be overlooked and there is nothing better to teach children about compassion as a dog. I say let them go to a home, maybe with a booklet written by the animal selter to alert people on feeding, vet visits, training etc, signs a dog may be ill…..yes I believe anyone should be given the chance to own a dog with low fees charged, sliding scale. The alternative for a dog that does not find a home is senseless. Is death of a dog preferable to a lower income home?

    Reply

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