Monday, January 4, 2010

Fee waivers boost cat adoptions

In December 2008, April Harris, shelter operations manager for Salt Lake County Animals Services in Utah, attended a training session at the Wisconsin Humane Society, where she learned that a no-fee adoption program was helping move more cats from the shelter and lessening the need for euthanasia.
By June, Harris' facility had launched a similar program.
"In the first month, adoptions just skyrocketed," Harris said. The number of cat adoptions at the Salt Lake City shelter increased from 702 in 2008 to 1,038 in 2009, through Dec. 15, she said. Euthanizations have decreased to 2,356 cats from 2,778 in 2008.
An increasing number of animal shelters across the USA are promoting adult cat adoption with similar no-fee programs or special promotions to address their cat populations, said Emily Weiss, senior director of shelter research and development for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal.
"Cats, especially adult cats, are at tremendous risk at shelters around the country," Weiss said. "In almost any part of the country, cats are much less likely to leave a sheltering facility alive."
Harris said shelters have not found it necessary to hold similar promotions for dogs, because dogs — and even young cats — are more popular than adult cats.
"The public just views cats differently than they do dogs," she said.
Harris said her shelter made up for the loss of the $65 cat adoption fees primarily by increasing adoption fees for more popular dog breeds. A sliding scale for dog adoptions was developed: Fees range from $45 to $295.
Shelters in states including Utah, Wisconsin and Kansas have launched ongoing programs to waive adoption fees for older cats. Others places try short-term fee waivers or special adoption events.
What some facilities are doing:
• Austin. The Town Lake Animal Center waived adoption fees for cats older than 5 years during the peak kitten months of June through August, increasing adoption rates by 27%, according to an ASPCA study. Dorinda Pulliam, shelter director, said the center will continue the program.
• Walnut Creek, Calif. Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation began month-long free-cat promotions in the summer of 2006 and has continued them yearly, according to the ASPCA study. The promotions waived fees for cats 6 months of age and older. As a result, the average stay for cats in the facility dropped to 3.3 weeks from 6.6 weeks.
• Portland, Maine. The Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland holds a no-fee promotion twice a year, the ASPCA reports. During the program's first year in 2006, the shelter showed a 12% increase in cat adoptions during the months fees were waived.
 Charleston, S.C. The Charleston Animal Society has held two weekend-long "Feline Frenzy" promotions in which it waived the adoption fee for adult cats, said communications director Kay Hyman. She said the events, held in May and October, dramatically increased the number of cats adopted. During the first three-day event in May, she said, 148 cats were adopted, compared with 20 felines the previous weekend.
Some shelters try short-term fee waivers instead of ongoing programs because there is concern about losing revenue, Weiss said.
"The cost to care for a cat per day can be significant," she said. "Even with an adoption fee for $100 you're likely not offsetting the cost of care for a cat."
Angela Speed, of the Wisconsin Humane Society, said its waiver program has been successful since it began in 1998. The program not only allows the shelter to adopt out cats at a faster pace, it also reduces illness, helping the shelter avoid additional medical costs. It also lets pet owners find other ways to spend the money they would have paid in adoption fees, she said.

"Instead of putting that $35 toward adoption fees, they're putting it toward treats and litter boxes and toys for the animals, which increases that animal's quality of life," Speed said.
And although the adoption fees are waived, Harris and Speed said potential pet owners are still required to fill out forms and meet with a counselor to ensure the pet is a good fit for the family.
"If you can make it happen it's definitely worth it," Harris said. "You'll save so many more lives."

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