10 June 2014

The Saving Power of Fee-Waived Adoption

Stephanie McDonald
InfoStream Guest Author 

I think I can easily say that for the past few years one of the most difficult and heart-breaking challenges that shelters, rescue groups and animal controls face is the homeless cat population. In a nutshell, there are simply too many cats being admitted to a shelter and not enough folks coming to adopt. An oversimplification of a complex issue, to be sure, but that’s the result from a shelter perspective.

The highest intake season for cats, at least in Edmonton, typically starts around the third week in May and lasts well into the late fall. Gorgeous cats and kittens that take your breath away with their beauty and elegance enter the admitting doors day after day.

In no time at all, it seems, the shelter is in gridlock, meaning that cats are not being adopted quickly enough from the adoption floor to make room for those from the holding areas. Soon after, the holding areas fill up, but there are still cats that need help. In short order, there is “no room at the inn”.

This issue seems never-ending and, as a shelter, we developed several strategies to help manage this situation year after year. It just never seemed to be enough. We needed another option.

I had heard of a few shelters in the US trying a new approach to the problem – drastically reducing or waiving adoption fees altogether for cat adoptions as a special event. I had not heard of a Canadian shelter trying this initiative, but thought it might be worth discussing. Would this approach work in our community?

The internal discussions were intense. Many of our staff, volunteers and stakeholders were sceptical. After all, we had, for a long time, been struggling to elevate the value of cats in our community – wouldn’t waiving the adoption fee result in the kind of de-valuing we struggled with each and every day?  However, after several internal brain-storming sessions with our amazing team, we decided to give it a shot, and “fee-waived” events were re-imagined for our shelter.

What a success they were, the community responded brilliantly. The adoption gallery flooded with all sorts of people from all walks of life, all sorts of income levels - families, couples, single people - you name it, they adopted. In a single weekend, so much pressure was taken off the shelter feline areas. It felt good to have an empty adoption floor, even if it was only for a short time. It felt good to know that all cats and kittens were spayed or neutered in their new homes. It felt good to know we could help more cats in need in our community. 

But those nagging questions about hosting these events remained - did the cats and kittens end up in responsible homes or were they considered disposable simply because they were free? Did we do right by them?

When Dr. Slater of the ASPCA approached me at a conference and offered us the opportunity to participate in a study that would provide us some answers to our nagging questions we jumped at the opportunity. 

The results were what exactly what we hoped for and now we know for certain that fee-waived cat events save more lives and do not decrease the value of cats.

If you work in an animal shelter, rescue group or animal control facility, I hope you will have the courage to host an event like this when you are at full capacity or even think about doing it before you ecome full as a proactive measure.  If you’re an animal lover in a community where an event like this is held – recognize that the shelter that is holding it is trying to save lives.  Be supportive, and if you have the room, time and inclination to add a pet to your family – adopt!

Research done at the Edmonton Humane Society (EHS) by ASPCA's Dr. Margaret Slater found that fee-waived cats are just as loved and valued as ones with a price tag. 

The study, conducted from November 2011 to February 2013, analyzed surveys of 344 adopters who participated in one of six fee-waived events held at EHS during that time. The research directly compares 138 non fee-waived adopters to 206 fee-waived adopters at the same shelter during the same time period. 

ABOUT STEPHANIE MCDONALD: Stephanie McDonald was the CEO for the Edmonton Humane Society for over 12 years.  Stephanie introduced a multitude of innovative shelter operational improvements, focusing on improved animal care, customer service, fiscal management, disaster response and employee satisfaction.
Stephanie has been recognized internationally and locally for her contributions to animal welfare and has received several prestigious awards.
Stephanie continues to mentor and advise/consult with various shelters, rescue groups and animal controls across North America.

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