As a volunteer with a private animal shelter in New York City, I’ve worked with many prospective dog and cat adopters over the past ten years. Applicants are often surprised to learn that most shelters and rescue groups charge an adoption fee, sometimes several hundred dollars, to take an animal home. After all, many of these animals are abandoned or unwanted, so shouldn’t rescue groups be giving pets away for free?
There are actually a number of reasons why shelters and rescue groups charge a fee, from operating costs to medical expenses. Keep in mind that stray cats and dogs may have been living in sub-standard conditions with no access to veterinary care. When you break down the costs of caring for an animal, an adoption fee can actually save you money. Typical expenses for an animal living in a shelter include:
1. Spay/Neuter Surgery
As a measure of population control, pets are usually spayed or neutered before being adopted into homes. While private veterinary hospitals may charge more, the ASPCA estimates this surgical procedure to cost around $200.
Many states have laws requiring pets to be vaccinated and rescue groups traditionally absorb these costs. Most dogs are given a rabies shot, a distemper/parvo vaccine and a bordetella booster. Cats usually receive a rabies shot and a distemper/respiratory vaccination. The vaccines for dogs total around $80 and for cats about $60 at a typical low-cost clinic.
3. Medical Tests
Pets are routinely tested for parasites, heartworm, and feline leukemia/FIV (for cats). Some animals will need treatments for fleas, ticks, or ear mites. These preventative measures can easily add on an additional $150 in medical costs.
Most rescue groups now pay to have a microchip implanted in the pets they adopt out. While it might sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, microchips have been shown to be quite helpful in cases of lost pets, particularly following storms or other natural disasters. Each chip has a unique ID number that is linked to a database with the family’s contact information. Petfinder reports the average cost for a pet microchip is around $45.
To feed a cat or dog can cost between $5 and $20 per week, depending on the type of food and the size of the pet. Multiply that by the number of animals in a shelter, and that’s a pretty hefty grocery bill!
Toys, blankets, litter boxes, and poop bags can add up, especially when caring for hundreds of animals at a time. The ASPCA estimates the cost of supplies at over $200 per animal, per year. That’s a lot of squeaky toys!
It’s All Worth It
In addition, consider the money needed to maintain the facility and keep it clean, to provide staff to care for the animals and of course to keep the lights on inside the shelter.
It might sound cheaper to scout for a “Free Puppies” ad in the paper, but when you add up all the expenses that go into caring for an animal, an adoption fee ends up looking like a pretty good deal. And the best part is, you’ve helped to save a life!
Image source: Pets Adviser/Flickr
Reason #7 which was overlooked but is important; When people get something for free, they tend not to value it. If you pay for something you tend to value it more and take better care of it.
Reason #8 which is also important: Charging a fee tends to deter casual sadists, animal collectors looking to sell to labs, dogfighters looking for bait animals, and similar wrongos.
(Five years ago, I got my cat for $25 – a bargain, down from $75 because the shelter was having a Labor Day \’sale\’, plus a discount on \’senior citizen\’ animals.) That included all shots, clean bill of health from the vet, and microchip. Pretty good deal.
Our no-kill shelter charges $150 for kittens and $125 for cats (one year and up). Dogs begin around $250 upwards, depending on the dog, health, age, temperament testing, etc. For cats, the fees include, but are not limited to, full exam by a licensed vet, all age-appropriate shots (including rabies with rabies certificate), spay/neuter, testing for feline leukemia/FIV, ear mites, deworming, nail clipping, microchipping – kittens are an additional $25 due to more immunizations. If you were to go to a private vet, all of the above would cost around $400-$500. We do the same for dogs, except they get dog-related shots (parvo, etc.) and are all professionally temperament tested. They go thru behavioral training, agility training (if applicable) and generally are worked with for considerable time to assess the best home. A private vet would charge upwards of $1,500 for the same things we do. Every animal comes with a fully update medical workup that goes to the adopters and we also register all microchips for every animal as part of the adoption process. We are all volunteers with 24/7 shifts to feed, water, clean cages, walk dogs, play with cats, fosters who take in babies as well as hospice care. We also have a successful TNR program (trap, neuter, release) for feral cats and they\’re monitored daily, despite weather, to provide cats with clean food/water. I\’d say the measly adoption fee is a real bargain. When you get \’free pets\’ on Craig\’s List or where ever, you never what you\’ll get.
Pets should be free for the simple reason that if something is free, it\’s often not valued. By charging to take the animal home to be part of your family, you\’re hopefully separating the wheat from the chaff.