If someone else pays the adoption fee when you adopt a pet, does it change how much you "value" the animal as a member of your family? How you answer that question may reveal how you feel about many of the changes now underway in the shelter and rescue community.
It has long been a core belief in the community that people who didn't pay for a pet were more likely to "get rid of it" for pretty much any reason at all or for no reason at all.
In recent years, though, organizations such as Maddie's Fund, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians and the No-Kill Advocacy Center have challenged those views and many others, working to increase the number of homeless animals placed in good homes by changing the way shelters do business.
One of the first things they looked at: the idea that adoption fees help pets find better homes. After Maddie's Fund experimented with paying the adoption fees for a relatively small adoption drive, the Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine tracked the people and the pets they adopted. They found that the overwhelming majority of the animals were still in their homes months later, most sleeping on the beds of the people who adopted them.
This year, Maddie's Fund has expanded its adoption drive. On Saturday and Sunday, more than 200 shelters and rescue groups from eight communities in five states will participate in the fourth annual Maddie's Pet Adoption Days, with Maddie's Fund ready with $4 million to provide the adoption fees that shelters and rescue groups are counting on.
Adoption drive organizers hope to place 5,000 pets in new forever homes, adding to the nearly 7,000 pets placed in the three prior, more geographically limited events. (There are drives in the Bay Area. For locations and more information, go to Adopt.Maddiesfund.org. )
A few years ago, I would have been in the "people value what they pay for" camp. I ran a breed rescue for a couple of years, taking in and rehoming about 200 dogs in that time. You definitely can get burned out and cynical when dealing with people who are giving up pets.
But the relatively few "bad eggs" in the pet-owner population seem to get concentrated into the "baskets" of rescuers and shelter workers. It's easy to start thinking that pretty much everyone is a pet-dumping jerk, even those who don't want to give up pets but have to, such as when someone loses their home.
There will always be some people who don't do right by their pets, but studies show that most people truly are doing the very best they can for the pets they consider family. Even if sometimes the "best" is finding another home.
When you stop looking at everyone as an enemy, you can ask your communities for help and you'll get it. That's why this year I volunteered to help Maddie's Fund spread the word of this year's Pet Adoption Days. For weeks now, I've been helping the group connect with people who will share the information and with some, I hope, who'll adopt a pet!
We are pet-loving societies here in the United States and Canada, and Maddie's is truly on to something here. In providing shelters and rescue groups with the resources to change how they work with their communities, they're giving them room to change for the better.
It's a pretty good bet that 5,000 pets will find new homes during Maddie's Pet Adoption Days as planned, but it's just as likely that more hearts will be changed forever by drives like these than can be filled by shelters operating on their own.
And that's great news for pets and the people who love them.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.petconnection.com. Back columns: www.sacbee.com/spadafori.