Proven Strategies

A black and white dog outside in a yard looking into the camera

Should you or shouldn’t you change your adoption fees?

September 6, 2023

A few months ago, we shared “A roundup of resources advocating for fee-waived or reduced-cost adoptions” in advance of the July National Adoption event to encourage participants to change their fees. We know that’s scary to consider for a number of reasons: Will you meet budgetary needs without that revenue? How will staff react? Will you attract “deal-shoppers” rather than people who want a new family member?

It’s a lot to think about, but it’s worth it. Organizations that reduced fees at the July event had 86% higher cat adoptions and 119% higher dog adoptions than groups without special fees. For those that waived fees, impacts were 5% higher for cats and 55% higher for dogs.

Especially if your concerns are financial, what better time to experiment than when Best Friends Animal Society is providing $25 stipends for each cat or dog going to a new home? Here’s some additional feedback from peers that might motivate your organization to try changing their fees for the next event.

A dog with a short snout looking at the cameraBluefeather Horse Sanctuary and Misfit Mustangs, NV

Waived fees; adopted 5 cats, 9 dogs

"We have always reduced fees for veterans or people with disabilities, and sometimes waive them entirely. We still have a few concerns and had some "do not adopt" people show up at this event, but we also had many veterans show up. I would tell other groups to at least give it a shot. You can alleviate fears by really talking with people. Remember in the end, it's about helping those in need and getting the right home for a cat or dog." 

- Founders Becky and John Flowers

black kitten looking at the camera

Fresno Humane Animal Services, CA

Waived fees; adopted 34 cats, 36 dogs

"We find that the community is more aware of our needs when we reduce or eliminate fees. Seeing loving families fill the Animal Center has helped silence fears about changing fees. We focus on the great adopters instead of the scary, exaggerated "what ifs,” and educate staff with data showing return rates don't increase. Fee-waived adoptions are a great way to engage your community and a fantastic day for staff, and seeing pets leave the shelter happy and healthy is always worth leaving your comfort zone." 

- Sally Breyer, senior operations manager

A couple poses for the camera with their newly adopted dogHearts Alive Village, NV

Reduced fees; adopted 8 cats, 7 dogs

"We reduce fees about once a month to increase awareness of the crisis our community is facing. Our adoption process and counseling remain the same in terms of matching people with dogs and cats, and we have never seen an increase in adopters who give us concern. Return rates remain consistently around 5% regardless of the cost. Also, we find that donations increase at the time of adoption during such events. People feel tremendous gratitude and goodwill toward the organization." 

- Christy Stevens, executive director

A woman holding a dog she just adopted from the Humane Society of the New Braunfels AreaHumane Society of the New Braunfels Area, TX

Waived fees; adopted 60 cats, 17 dogs

"While we primarily organize waived-fee adoption events for special occasions, we also occasionally run waived-fee specials outside of events. Many individuals who visit our shelter intending to adopt — whether during fee-waived events or when adoption fees are at their regular price — do so out of a genuine desire to welcome a new pet into their home and save an animal in need.

Waived-fee adoptions can sound intimidating, but I implore groups to give it a shot. Reducing or waiving adoption fees will get people through your doors and give animals an opportunity to be seen by individuals who are truly ready to adopt and love a new best friend!" 

- Zac Turley, director of community engagement

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Animal Care & Control, NC

Waived fees; adopted 14 cats, 25 dogs

A brindle dog standing on grass looking at the camera

"When we first began waiving fees, there was some concern. Just because some people cannot afford to spend hundreds of dollars on the initial adoption fee doesn’t mean they will be irresponsible pet owners. We even help homeless members of the community with animals. I assure you; they have some of the most cared-for animals we see, who share unbreakable bonds with their people.

We would rather save a life today and offer financial assistance tomorrow than go with the alternative. I recommend groups take time to get to know adopters regardless of their income level. I think you’ll find these homes are filled with love to share." 

- Haley Stewart, development and donor relations specialist

A tabby cat laying on the floor of their new home after being adopted in VirginiaFancy Cats and Dogs Rescue Team, VA

Reduced fees; adopted 46 cats, 4 dogs

"We have adopted more than 25,000 cats into new homes since we began in 1997 to help the county shelter. When we have an abundance of cats or a slow period, we reduce or waive fees. We also have a “senior cats for senior laps” program where fees for cats 8 years and above are waived for adopters over the age of 62. Since we take cats from shelters where they are at risk of being euthanized, we need them to move through the system quickly and reducing fees helps us do that." 

- Catherine McCullough-Awad, executive director

A cat recently adopted from the Humane Society of Barron CountyHumane Society of Barron County, WI 

Waived fees, 2 cats, 2 dogs

"We have waived fees for certain animals before, most recently for senior cats (10 years and up), and the amount varies. We plan to continue offering reduced adoption fees at certain times, especially when we need to help animals who have been waiting a long time for homes. It's best if you announce these specials ahead of time and run them for at least a week. That lets potential adopters consider whether they have the time and energy to commit to an animal."

 - Shyleigh Iveland, shelter manager

A small white and brown dog adopted from McCook Humane SocietyMcCook Humane Society, NE

Waived fees; adopted 1 cat, 2 dogs

"We're a very understaffed, overwhelmed small shelter in a small town with a big heart, and we waive fees every time we participate in one of Best Friends’ sponsored events. It's a blessing and the added exposure that our little out-of-the-way shelter receives is very helpful.

I would tell organizations on the fence about waiving fees to think about the big picture: The longer an animal stays, the more likely they are to develop behavior problems; we’ve also seen them become stigmatized because people assume there’s something wrong with them. The animals in our care deserve a chance to live their best life." 

- Lorie Prestes, Shelter Manager

An orange cat adopted from Onslow County Animal Services in North CarolinaOnslow County Animal Services, NC

Reduced fees; adopted 8 cats, 7 dogs

"We find that reducing fees ALWAYS helps move animals, especially when adoptions are stagnating. Lowering fees as an incentive leads to positive movement out of the shelter, which ensures that we can both reduce the current population and accept more animals in need." 

- Tyler Moore, shelter manager


Remember to check out the recent program spotlight, "A roundup of resources advocating for fee-waived or reduced-cost adoptions" for more on how you can save more lives using this tried and tested marketing tactic.

Liz with cat

Liz Finch       
Senior Writer       
Best Friends Network

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