Maddie's Pet Project

Research shows fears over free adoptions unfounded

Free pet adoptions? Won't those cause people to value a cat or dog less and make them more likely to return the animal?

That had been a big worry for many years among some animal shelter staff and individual animal lovers.

Research – as well as the experience of many animal shelters across the nation – has shown this concern to be unfounded.

The concept of free adoptions got a big boost in 1998 when Wisconsin Humane Society decided to waive adoption fees for adult cats to prevent them from staying longer than optimal in the shelter. As Jim Baker reported in Animal Sheltering magazine, “Five years of follow-up studies showed no difference between the post-adoption experience of these ‘free’ cats and any other animals adopted from WHS. As a result, the shelter made the policy permanent.”

Many other high-profile shelters have followed this example, with cats as well as dogs, including Nevada Humane Society in Reno.

Intrigued, two ASPCA researchers decided to take a more rigorous look at people’s perceptions of the value of a pet adopted for no cost. They were Emily Weiss, senior director of shelter behavior programs, and Shannon Gramann, manager of shelter research and development. Their findings were published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.

According to ASPCA Pro, they found:
• Attachment to cats adopted from the study facility was not decreased when fees were eliminated.
• Eliminating adoption fees does not devalue the animals in the eyes of adopters.
• Free programs could save thousands of shelter cats who would otherwise reside in a shelter for months or be euthanized.

Another study was done by the University of Florida’s veterinary school for a major Maddie's Fund® adoption event in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2011 where about 2,000 pets were adopted without adoption fees. It contacted adopters six to 12 months later and found that only 2% of cats and 2% of dogs were returned to the shelter.

The researchers concluded successful adoptions do not require payment of a fee, and that free adoption promotions may increase adoptions without compromising the quality of the animal's life.

To learn more, watch veterinarian Susan Krebsbach’s webcast “What We Know About Free Pet Adoptions” here and Weiss’ webinar “Fee-Waived Cats 101” here.

– By Mark Robison, co-executive director of Maddie's® Pet Project in Nevada