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How Much Is that Doggie in the Shelter?

By Michele C. Hollow

A friend of mine, who knows I write a blog about animal welfare, was taken aback when she went to adopt a puppy. The fee was just over $300.

“Is that an inflated price?” she asked feeling slightly miffed. She went to the shelter with good intentions, and had the idea that a puppy would cost somewhere between $25 and $75.

Her partner thought the puppy should be free. “After all, it’s in a shelter and they want to get rid of it,” he said.

Get rid of it! Ugh! I explained that the $300 fee included spay/neutering fees, veterinary care, shots, and housing. Running a shelter is expensive, and most of the people who work at shelters are volunteers. I know my local shelter (and many other shelters that I have contact with through this blog) are in need of food, kitty litter, cages, leashes, cleaning supplies, toys, and veterinary care. The $300 price tag is cheap compared to what a breeder or pet store charges.

“Take a look at the prices that the backyard breeders are advertising in the newspaper, the puppy mills are posting on the internet, or the signs hanging in the pet stores at the mall,” says Mike Arms, president of the Helen Woodward Animal Center (HWAC) in San Diego. “Compared to their prices, our adoption fees are very low.”

Adoption fees at HWAC start at $75 for an adult cat and $125 for a kitten. Adult dog adoption fees start at $195. Puppies start at $275. “When we say that the adoption fees start at this level, this means that the adoption fee for a highly-desirable pet (for example a purebred Golden Retriever puppy) could begin at $375,” says Mike. “It’s the law of supply and demand.”

Shelters have a wide range of pure breeds as well as the lovable mutt.

The pets adopted from HWAC have received up to date vaccinations, medical and behavioral evaluations, and any necessary medical treatment.

“W are not in the business of selling dogs and cats,” says Mike. “We’re in the business of saving lives. And we firmly believe that life has value. If we start giving away pets with no adoption fee we are sending the message that they are throw-aways and their lives have no value. An adopting family needs to understand that they are receiving a precious gift when they take a new pet into their home.”

At the ASPCA
Adoption fees vary depending on the type of pet, and in cases of cats age 3 and older, there is absolutely no fee at all. Puppies and kittens are $125; if an adopter wishes to adopt a pair of kittens, the fee is waived for the second kitten. Adult dogs and adult cats up to age 3 are generally $75. “In some cases, the fee may be higher if the pet is a type of breed that is in high demand,” says Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of the ASPCA Adoption Center. “In all cases, adoption fees do not even come close to covering the costs that we invest in each pet since every animal is medically examined and treated, vaccinated, behaviorally assessed, spay/neutered, and even microchipped.”

Most shelters around the country charge similar fees. Often, with cats, if you adopt one, the second is free. Prices cover housing, veterinary care, and spay/neutering fees. Cats tend to cost less than dogs. At the Humane Society of West Michigan dogs usually cost $125; kittens cost $95, and cats over a year old are free.

At Best Friends Animal Society in southern Utah, the standard dog adoption fee is $100 and the standard cat fee is $65. All cats and dogs are spayed/neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, and have a veterinarian exam them.

Return Rates and Fees
In an informal poll I took with shelter workers around the country, it didn’t seem to matter if the animals were free or over $300; the return rate averaged around 9 percent.

A study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, Oct. 12, 2009, by Weiss E. and Gramann S. found, “A comparison of attachment levels of adopters of cats: fee-based adoptions versus free adoptions suggest that no significant differences were found.”

So what is a Fair Price?
We know that breeders and pet stores charge between $495 and over $2,000 for pure bred dogs. Pure bred cats range from a few hundred to over $2,000. It’s hard to put a price on a shelter animal. Personally, I would never purchase a pet at a pet store or breeder. The Humane Society of the U.S. estimates that between 6 and 8 million dogs and cats enter shelters each year. I’m sure that we can all find our perfect pet at a local shelter or rescue group.

So is $300 and up too much? I told my friend to adopt that dog at her local shelter, and she did. What do you think?

And check out the contest that is going on at Pet News and Views.

50 comments to How Much Is that Doggie in the Shelter?

  • Helen V

    I agree with you Michele- if the animal has been spayed or neutered and shots and it is cheaper than paying for an animal from a breeder. My cat cost me around 700dollars when she was a kitten and vet costs for the first year without the spaying for the shots was approx 300 dollars.

  • I don’t think people realize just how much it costs to care for shelter animals. The operating costs are high, not to mention all the expenses you cited (spay/neuter, food, etc.). In all likelihood, the $300 probably didn’t cover the shelter’s costs for housing and maintaining that dog, so I’d say that amount is more than fair!

  • I agree Maggie. A lot of people who never visit a shelter, just aren’t aware.–Thanks, Michele

  • Fulvia

    I’m learning something absolutely new. You know, I’m in Italy and adopting a shelter pet is absolutely free here. I’m an activist, and when I rescue a street pet and I give it for adoption, I pay for everything, the new family gets a vaccinated, neuted/spay microchipped and medically treated animal for free. Most of times, the pet needs to travel to its new family, so I pay transportations too. Well, it turns to be a big deal! On the other hand, people tend not to appreciate what they get for free, so charging them for a shelter pet may discourage not really motivated people, a sort of selection to find the right adopters.

  • Fulvia,
    We can learn a lot from Italy–one of my favorite countries in the world.–Michele

  • Madeline

    I have a friend that has had a simular problem. I went with her when she picked out the puppy and after she asked whaat it would cost I nearly fell to the floor. it cost her over $400.00 for a 6 week old puppy. He came with papers and had had all his shots but i told my friend that that was too high of a price to pay but she had lost her dog to heart failure and wanted another dog and was willing to pay any price.

    I take care of people’s pets when they are out of town and I charge a miminmal fee and as not to scalp anyone. I don’t like to see animals put into a shlter so I started my own business of taking care of these animals when their masters go out of town. I have seen first hand what these shelters look like and i don’t like the shelters. My customers pay me to take care of them in their own home while they are gone and I gladly do it. The animals are happier in their own enviroment then in a dank old shelter where they sleep on a cold concrete floor and maybe don’t even get a walk outside. I have repeat customers and the animals are like my own.
    Thank you for letting us all know Michele. There are some cruel people out there and I am one to help those animals to live better.

  • Kristi

    Michele…I agree, the fee is a reasonable fee when it includes the cost of spaying and shots. I also believe that when you adopt a pet from a shelter that part of that fee includes helping to keep the shelter keep going. Like the article states many workers are volunteers and shelters depend on donations from caring people. We lost a beloved furry friend last April…when we are ready to adopt another from a shelter, we will definitely give the shelter MORE than its fee, to help the waiting animals. I think the people that get upset by it probably do not have a good understanding of why the fee exists.

  • Becky Stover

    I know I live in a pretty backwards state. But I have to say that the price’s for adoption is $50 around here and you get a $20 gift card to a pet store. I can see the logic in charging that much, but doesn’t it keep poorer people from being able to adopt a pet that badly needs a home. I will be adopting again when my senior dog pass’s away. If they had charges like that around here, I would not be able to adopt a dog. I just find that soo sad. I pamper and care so much for my dogs. There should be some room for those of us who are in special circumstances (I am disabled), to have fee’s reduced or waived if we can prove we are responsible caregivers.

  • I have 14 cat, all neutered/spayed and needles given. The ones I have now were resuced by me from the streets. I paid $280.00 for female cats spays and $150 for the males neuters. Then there were the vaccination fees and medication for any that needed extra help. None of these are purebreds. I think everyone should adopt from shelters and pay the fees asked. It is expensive to care for these pets and make sure they are healthy when they go to their new homes. A return fee I am not so sure on. Most people will not pay a large fee to return them, they just dump them at old barns or where ever they can. There should be a fee added on purchase that would include the return fee in advance. If they have had the animals for 6 months and everything is working out, that fee could be refunded. I know more paper work, but I could save some animals lives.

  • jeannemarie

    i think the fees the shelters charge are reasonable. it cost a lot for a shelter to take care of a cat or dog before it can be adopted. many people don’t realize this. if you can’t afford the adoption fee chances are you can’t afford to provide the cat or dog with the care it will need after you adopt it.

    please do not be turned off by the adoption fees. a shelter pet is so much better then buying from a breeder.

  • Great article, Michelle. I second the comments that many potential adopters (especially those who are first-time pet owners) don’t have a clear idea of the cost of turning stray or surrendered animals into adoptable pets.

    Another layer of the costs associated with pet rescue are the costs of the shelter itself – it seems reasonable to assume that people may be less likely to visit (and therefore potentially adopt from) a sad or depressed looking shelter, so many groups (like the HWAC) invest in their infrastructure to draw potential adopters into their buildings.

    In the long run, a $300 adoption fee is a drop in the bucket when you consider the costs of owning an animal over the span of its normal lifetime, which can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

  • I think it is a fair price to pay. and is a lot cheaper than buying one from a pet shop something that I would never do, The cost of running these shelters are costly and they neuter or spay the animals and all the shots and microchip are costly, I think if a person really wants a animal the best place to get one is from a shelter.

  • LittleStar

    I was in SHOCK when I went to the Shelter to adopt a kitten, to fill the space in my heart after my Orange Tabby died. $95 ?….WHAT? and I really didn’t NEED another furrbaby, as Michele well knows, since I have a small cat hospice, but we all know how we get attached to a certain breed or color. ANYWAY, back on subject. I was shocked to hear that price…even though it included spay (way too early at 3-5 weeks),a micro-chip (which I am having bad results with cancer at injection site), general Vet care..yada yada. I probably would have paid it though (even though I knew I qualified for $45 spay)..what stopped me was the realization that this Shelter (the BEST for MILES around me) had not tested the kittens for any known disease and on close examination of over 50 there, I found they ALL had some sort of health problem, be it upper respiratory infection, muscle strain, broken appendages…or an unknown cause. (which I quickly saw was Coccidiosis, but they swore it wasn’t).
    Somehow, Spirit placed a woman in front of me the next week who was giving away her barn kittens, Orange tabbies, and I came home with MEME (yes, because everything is about HER)…at no cost and then $75 later, she was spayed and tested for all known diseases and that was at cut rate cost at GOOD VET.
    I have come to realize that I have taken a HUGE loss over the years with my trapping of ferals, shots, spay/neuter, feeding, training, medical care and exams…and then adopting them out at $35-$45…but I wanted to make sure they had a HOME, a GOOD HOME, (you don’t want to know how strict I am on adoptions..I even do periodic check ins at 1 month, 6 months and a year…then I start calling) and sometimes that extra $50 at one time is just a little too much for people to pay, with the economy the way it is.
    I CAN’T give a definitive response to this, because I have been on both sides of the issue. I do realize that not all people who can’t afford the big money outlay at one time are any less caring about animals…they are just trying to make it in a strained economy. Sometimes, I honestly feel the Vet care is inflated, as well as, the other costs, at MANY shelters, but then WHAT ISN’T ANYMORE?
    I think I let you down on this one, Michele…..

  • While I agree with Maggie, most folks don’t realize the actual costs involved with caring for an animal in a shelter, BUT a $300 is quite expensive! I think that it would keep some prospective owners away when for about $500, you can buy a puppy from a breeder that advertises in the classified ads.

    I’ve also never understood why cats are so expensive, since on any day you can browse a classfied ads section on the computer and find at least one person giving away free kittens. All of my step Mom’s cats were “barn babies” we recieved from farmers or strays that we found on the farm.

  • When I adopted my cat, she was spayed, vaccinated and microchipped. The price (ca. 100-110 USD) was much less than what it costs to get those things done at the local vet. I thought it was a good deal, and I got a wonderful cat.

  • Henriette Matthijssen

    All animals in shelters are worth more then what anyone would pay! I feel that with the care that is provided to these animals, the spay/neuter & Vet care all in all an adoptive family should pay for this service! After all the animals will give you years of companionship, love & affection. Those pets will even trow in hugs & kisses along the way! Thanks Michele.

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  • Jill Vickerman

    Thank you Michelle, you have to pay here as well, but then the animal is spayed or neutered, innoculated, dewormed…everything is done all you have to do is taken them home….

  • Henriette, If you do throw in the number of hugs and kisses you get from your shelter pet, the price would be in the millions!–Michele

  • Nope Little Star, You didn’t let me down. I want to know all viewpoints, and I appreciate your taking in so many strays and helping them. It’s so hard, and it isn’t easy to put a price on a pet.–Michele

  • Sarah, Yes, $300 is a drop in the bucket! It’s so hard to put a price on a pet. But I do think pets that are spayed/neutered (which all should be), housed, given vet care and shots, fed, played with, etc. are easily worth $300.–Michele

  • Yup, Jeannemarie, buying a shelter pet is always the better choice than going to a pet shop or breeder. Michele

  • I agree Ann, Good point abut return fees.–Michele

  • Yes, Becky, here is the dilemma. Shelters need to do great jobs of screening people. If a person has a kind heart and finds he $300 and up fees too much, a waiver should be extended in some cases. Michele

  • Thank you Madeline. I have come across a few good shelters. Unfortunately, there are still ones that need a lot of work, and I’m putting it kindly.–Michele

  • Great article! Informative and well-written. Thanks so much.

  • I don’t find $300 to be too high. SO much care goes into the pet before it leaves the shelter (and what a perfect world if they all got homes), that the cost is really justified. I suppose many still believe that $300 is inflated and I respect opinions of everyone. However, having been involved in pet rescue and visiting shelters over the years, the good ones deserve it and the pets stuck in the not-so-good ones deserve to get out even sooner.

  • I work with a private rescue. This year we adopted out about 380 dogs, the cost per dog (vet fees mostly) was about $318, and the average adoption fee was probably $175. We are very dependent on donations, grants, and kindhearted volunteers who spend their own money for gas to help with transport. If you take into consideration these costs as well as the fact that when you adopt from a rescue or shelter, your animal should not require another vet visit for at least a year, and at least with our rescue, if they needed dental work, tumors removed, or any other vet care, it has already been done, adopting a dog for $300ish actually seems like a bargain!

  • Laura Leydes

    I work for 2 dog rescues. And at one we charge around $325.00 per dog. Most people are ok with it, but many have said they thought the price was too high and that we should be glad someone wants our dogs.
    I have talked to people that were given “free” puppies and they all paid over a thousand dollars at the Vet. I don’t think people realize how expensive Vet costs are. Rescues get discounts for volume of business.
    If people think we are making a ton of money charging $325 a dog they are mistaken. I work for free and so do all the other people at the rescue. All the money goes towards helping the next batch of dogs.
    Many of the dogs we get come from down south and lots are sick. To treat a heartworm positive dog its over a thousand dollars!

    Thanks for the article.

  • Sherry

    In North Jersey there’s one shelter that charges a fee that’s quite a bit higher than some of the others but we still came home with 2 cats from them. We’ve also adopted from our vet who also charges a fee (although not as high as some shelters)which includes spay/neuter, at least the first set of shots, microchip and you get a ‘kitty care pack’. We’ve also taken cats in off the street too – by the time you pay for everything they need in that case it’s probably about what it costs for the average shelter adoption. We look at shelter adoption fees as making a donation to the continued feeding and care for the other animals who still need homes.

  • At the Wisconsin no-kill shelter where I am a volunteer, we have set adoption fees of $150/dogs and $95/cats with some additional discounts for some circumstances. Adoptions include spay/neuter, common tests, and all shots. Our actual vet costs are about double our fees, and we have negotiated with our clinic for a contract to get best rates and other benefits in return for the public relations boost.

    At the time of adoption, we show adopters the true cost for the vet work for the dog or cat and ask that they consider donating to cover some or all of the cost. This is a new effort and we don’t know yet how effective it will be.

    But we think it is important for adopters to understand that their adoption is being subsidized by a struggling non-profit for the sake of the animal’s health, if standard fees only are paid. We hope that some adopters will choose to pay for all vet costs as a point of personal pride. I sure would not want to take a gift of money from a little non-profit. I will always want to pay my own way.

  • […] How Much Is that Doggie in the Shelter? « Pet News and Views […]

  • pwhite

    It’s very interesting. Last January I purchased a pom male pup. One I wanted all my life. I was talking with my mom and we figured his expense since purchase for upkeep and shot and neutering I had spent $1800.00. My point is, no one should expect to get a pup or cat and have it look cute in the corner each day. The animal will have expenses and if you do not accept that before you get one…leave it there for a better family. Animals, children, gardens they all come with costs. With animals from a shelter you are saving its life.

  • Yes I think 300 dollars is probably fair, As that money is used for the operating of the facility & caring for the animals there,
    If there was no surrendered pets, puppy mills & careless breeding there would be no need for the shelter at all, As so many have said in the comments it often includes the spay / neuter of the pet, However with puppies & kittens they are counting on that person to take the pet to be altered when old enough, Even the most well intentioned person may forget or not alter the pet at all. Thus the cycle is perpetuated .

    BTW, I find the rescue groups here in New Jersey often have lower adoptee fees or if the home is ideal sometimes they will waive the fee, My first kitty was given to me by her foster mom for free right before she was to go into the pets for adoption cage at Petsmart because she knew me from helping w/ feral cats in my town.

  • What people don’t realize is that the adoption fee is not the pet’s price. It’s only a fee to pay for part of all the care the animal needed so far – vaccines, vet visits, food, litter, etc. Most times, the adoption fees are way lower than the costs a single pet requires.

  • […] Portrait at 5 Months ©Rose De Dan 2011How Much Is that Doggie in the Shelter? by Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views raises the question of whether shelters should charge […]

  • Given the number of unknowns when animals are accepted into shelters, pounds and animal rescues, $300 is a small price to pay.

  • Thank you, Michele, for this excellent article and to all the caring people who added comments, especially those who took the time to share the real costs involved in animal rescue.

    I was so inspired that I ended up writing my own post on the subject: http://wildreiki.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/the-shelter-adoption-fee-controversy-what-price-love

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by GoPetFriendly.com, Michele Hollow and others. Michele Hollow said: Is $300 to much to pay for a dog at a shelter?Or $125 for a cat? What do you think? http://lnkd.in/j6qmcH […]

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gina D. Gina D said: RT @AnimalNewsInfo: How Much Is that Doggie in the Shelter? « Pet News and Views http://ow.ly/3CUcU #dogs […]

  • Buffy

    I find this a fair price and the reason I have to pay is fair too. Animal care is not cheap. They need the money.

  • Sionnedd

    Just wanted to comment regarding: free adoption. I don’t think it’s a good idea. I’ve seen too many cats at my local shelter who were chipped or otherwise had obvious indications that they had been a pet…but nobody came looking for them. (I have a couple of them at home with me right now; I am fostering them.) For many, unfortuantely, the pet is a commodity, easily replaced. Charging a fee will at least weed out those who are impulsive, have bad intentions, or will be unwilling to pay for the veterinary care all animals need. Add to this the expense of caring for the animal while it is in the shelter, and $300 is cheap. (And I vet my fosters myself if they need it – the shelter can’t afford the high end antibiotics, or, in the case of one, IV fluids, monitoring, and a stay in the kitty ICU.) But his adoption fees will be the same as any other cat.

  • WickedCats

    I don’t think the fee was outrageous, not when you think that the money you are spending will go to the shelter and allow them to take in another dog or cat in need.

    By charging, you would also think the people are serious. You aren’t going to spend that kind of money to get an animal and abuse or neglect it. There are sick people out there, and free animals might be like winning the lottery for them.

  • Really interesting post – I think everyone’s made a lot of good points. I don’t think that’s too much to pay to adopt an animal. Shelters need the money to maintain operations, and I agree with those who said it might discourage people who aren’t serious about adding a new furry family member.

  • Coleen

    Absolutley not too much! It costs shelters money to keep these dogs, from housing to food to vet care to the salaries of what few staff members they do have (adoption counselors, kennel attendants). And the few dogs that come in needing no veterinary care are offset by the ones that come in needing a LOT of expensive veterinary care (needing an amputation, heartworm treatment, etc.). And even with $300 adoption fees, they STILL are always operating at a deficit. Hence the “non-profit” status.

  • kathy

    Carin for animals is not cheap – especially for the lifetime of the animal. The fact that shelters charge upwards of $300.00 is also a good way for them to screen who is legitimately interested in adopting a pet vs. those who really can’t and should not do so. In otherwords. if they don’t have the means to do so, the dogs/cats/bunnies etc. will just end up either back on the streets, returned to the shelter or worse – the unspeakable – abused or dead. Ok, I said it, as much as it pains me to do so – but there are a lot of bad people who adopt pets unfortunately for the wrong reason.

    That said, there a a lot of very well intentioned people who simply can’t afford to pay $300.00 or anything for that matter – who may have provided a good life for the pets but in these economic times, it becomes cost prohibitive for them to even try.

    I only wish that the 1% of society that earns 99% of the income would start shelling out much more money to shelter and rescue groups this year and going forward. It is big bucks like their’s that are so desperately needed to make a serious impact on a humane crisis in America today: the over crowding of shelters and animals that are being euthanized in high kill shelters for absolutely no reason – other than to make room for a new group of pets to move on in and wait for their date with destiny.

    Shelters need help today and most operate as non profits with very little funding.

    Hope 2011 is a better year for the economy and for our furry friends awaiting their forever homes today.

  • I definitely don’t think $300 is too much to adopt a dog. Owning a pet is a significant financial commitment, the adoption fee is the first of many expenses that will be required. Rather than thinking of the fee as being the “price you pay for the pet you get,” I think of it as paying it forward for the next life the shelter will be able to save because of the financial contribution you’ve made. Once again, I think the issue is in educating the public why the fees are important.

  • Hi Kathy, I totally agree with your statements. And while I think $300 is fair (look what breeders charge), I don’t want to see a good family on a budget being turned away.–Michele

  • I am a Veterinary Technologist and founded a no-kill rescue that uses foster homes exclusively.We charge up to $400.00 for, say, a young purebred Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. We might only charge $50.00 for an older dog with special needs. We’ve caught some flak from other rescues and some potential adopters. However,our rescue is trying to think “out of the box” in order to keep operating, and to serve as many dogs as possible. We have an excellent adoption rate,and few placements that don’t work out. We have no paid employees either.Obviously the way pet adoption has “always been done” hasn’t worked out well for the dogs. We really try to be flexible, so that we can meet our adoptable dogs needs. We just treated two puppies that came to us with Parvovirus. Some rescues would have euthanized them. Treatment is very expensive. We will adopt them out for about $250.00 each. Highly adoptable in-demand dogs help pay the way for senior or very ill animals. All dogs come from our LOCAL community. We are very active in the community, and are working on projects such as community dog food bank,free Pit Bull spay/neuter, and medical care for the truly needy (those on unemployment or medicaid).
    I work in a beautiful, progressive veterinary practice, Clients routinely pay $500-$1500 for dogs that are not even purebred (“Labradoodle” “Puggle” etc). Incidentally, very few of these dogs come with any sort of health guarantee, or information on basics such as crate training and parasite prevention. If these pups have had the first vaccination, which we rarely get proof of, we are pleasantly surprised!
    The rescue provides spay/neuter (the AVMA has approved for pups as young as six weeks), age apppropriate vaccinations, fecal check, deworming, heartworm check, and heartworm and flea preventative. We also use the Home Again World Edition microchip. Every dog goes home with a collar and the microchip and rabies vaccination tag. All dogs are bathed and nails trimmed. Any ear problems, etc. are treated! Ask for what the rescue provides IN WRITING.If a client BUYS a dog for $500.00, it will probably cost at least $500.00 in veterianry fees the first year. Fees vary widely by geographic location. Rural Oklahoma is likely less expensive tha Downtown Chicago. However, your average large animal vet is probably not using cutting edge protocols for your dog spay, either.
    Yes, education is the key. When looking for your dream dog, do your homework! It’s not a sin to buy a purebred, but make sure your German Shepherd Puppy has parents who are OFA certified (hips). Make sure the parents have friendly, outgoing tempermants.Just because a dog is “registered” does not mean that it is valuable or should be bred. You might be just as happy with a dog from German Shepherd Rescue. Don’t be fooled by slick advertising.
    In conclusion, it’s not all about price. Research breeds, be realistic about your lifestyle, and ask the right questions. There are good breeders and rescues, as well as bad. The public should take responsibility for finding their perfect pet 🙂

  • Thank you Lisa for this well thought our response. It is very helpful. –Michele