Free animals: is waiving adoption fees a good policy?

Pit Bull, black cat (photo credit: flickr, TKpics616)

Last week a friend sent me a link to a news story out of southern New Mexico. The Mesilla Valley Animal Center there in Las Cruces is offering free Pit Bulls throughout October (in honor of National Pit Bull Awareness Month).

Gut response: Ugh.

A few hours later, a colleague pointed out an article about seven shelters in the greater Cleveland, Ohio, area who were participating in a program called Everything Goes with Black. The idea was that all adoption fees for black cats would be waived that Friday and Saturday. The article specifically noted:

“Multiple studies have shown that black cats are not tortured or sacrificed around Halloween. It’s a myth most rescue groups no longer allow to influence their adoption policies.”

For a while now, the ASPCA has been saying that waiving adoption fees is an effective way to find good homes for animals. They refer to a study they conducted in 2006 that compared levels of attachment among people who’d paid adoption fees for their cats and levels of attachment among those who hadn’t. Their conclusion:

“Eliminating adoption fees does not devalue the animals in the eyes of the adopters.”

For some reason, I’m having trouble getting on board. The idea that it’s a good thing to give away animals is so counterintuitive, I’m unable to support it. Is it just me? Am I stuck in my old-school thinking, inside the box? Should I be embracing these innovative approaches to getting animals out of shelters and into homes?

Maybe I’m too scarred from the Craigslist horror stories — postings offering puppies “free to a good home.” We know that these animals often end up in nefarious hands, like brokers who sell dogs and cats to labs for medical experiments.

Shelters, of course, have more elaborate screening processes than those of folks advertising on the internet — more paperwork is required before someone can walk away with a puppy or kitten. A representative from the Mesilla Valley shelter, which is giving away the Pit Bulls, assured the press that all potential adopters are grilled by professional screeners.

I don’t know if simply getting paid qualifies one as a professional screener. With any adoption, there are questions about how an animal will fare once he’s signed over to the custody of a stranger. I’ve witnessed many adoptions, and I always wonder if the dog or cat is going on to the great life he deserves. Plus, if the goal is to get animals out of the shelter, I suspect there may be a few potential adopters given the benefit of the doubt. Some argue it’s worth the risk, considering the alternative.

I guess I’m just uncomfortable with gimmicks. The idea that “we’re gonna getcha with this free offer!” is better suited to…I don’t know — sample granola bars being given away on the street? Something you don’t know you want, but are willing to try.

As a rule, I want the adopters at my shelter to have thought about bringing an animal into their home, prior to hearing the word free. Financially they’ve planned for it. It’s not an impulse acquisition or “a great deal!”.

The pros insist the strategy works. I want to believe that it’s really that simple, but I’m not there yet. What do you think?