How much should it cost to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue organization? This was a question I asked myself over and over this summer as I searched shelters, rescues, and even online classifieds for the perfect addition to our family of two humans and two cats.
In my search for an adult dog I found adoption fees from $250 to $1,000. The lowest and highest fees belonged to foster-based rescue organizations operating without brick-and-mortar shelters. I’d looked into a few rescues groups with fees from $250 to $450, but I disliked the judgmental tone I found on some of their applications. I felt like I was expected to provide more information to the rescues than they were providing about the dogs. The conventional shelters in my area were a better fit for us, and their fees were in the middle of the scale I found — near $600.
In the end, my husband and I paid $588 in adoption fees for our wonderful pal GhostBuster (not including city registration, which increased it to more than $600). While I don’t regret our decision for a second, I did wonder about the pros and cons of such costly adoption fees. Is making these animals expensive benefiting them, or is it simply keeping them in cages longer?
We adopted Buster from a satellite adoption center at a pet store in Red Deer, Alberta. The animals there come from an organization that provides animal control for my city and several surrounding municipalities here in central Alberta. These are the dogs that were picked up for running loose and were never claimed. Being on display in the pet store is their best shot at a better life. I wonder how many families have walked into the adoption center intending to pick a pet, but walked out dogless after hearing the adoption fee?
It’s not hard to imagine that some people would find nearly $600 in adoption fees prohibitive, or that others would rather just get a puppy for that price. In either case, Kijiji, Canada’s most popular online classified site, is just a click away.
According to Shawn McIntyre, community relations manager for Kijiji Canada, an increasing number of people are turning to the site to buy, adopt, or rehome animals.
“Kijiji’s pet section continues to grow across the country, including Alberta, with the majority of dog ads posted charging a fee,” McIntyre says.
This growth is despite the $4.99 fee Kijiji charges to post an ad for a dog. The fee was implemented to dissuade irresponsible and unscrupulous people from posting dog ads. Despite Kijiji’s efforts to encourage trust in its community, it can’t force users to follow its Pets Code of Conduct or its Guide to Responsible Pet Ownership.
Before adopting Buster, I responded to a Kijiji ad offering to rehome a Puggle. I’d asked for vet records for the dog (as Kijiji suggests buyers do) but was told she didn’t have any. The seller admitted this dog, three to five years old, hadn’t been to the vet since she’d received her initial round of puppy shots.
In many ways, buying a dog using Kijiji is just like buying a car through Kijiji. You’re not getting an inspection or a guarantee, and your mileage may vary, as they say.
“You just don’t know what you’re getting,” says Kim Elmslie, communications and advocacy manager for the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. “Part of the vicious cycle of this is that people will impulse-buy [a dog] on Kijiji, realize that it isn’t a good fit for them, and surrender it.”
According to Elmslie, high adoption fees are well worth it, because in addition to covering the cost of spay and neuter surgeries, microchipping and other health-related issues, buyers are also able to ensure that animals are good matches for personality, lifestyle and skill level.
“You’re getting a full behavioral assessment of the animal,” says Elmslie. “It’s up-front, it’s transparent, and you know what you’re getting.”
I have to admit that while I balked at the idea of a nearly $600 adoption fee at first, GhostBuster and his behavioral assessment persuaded me that fee was worth it. We’d been to that adoption center a couple of times before and visited some lovely dogs, but we never clicked with any the way we did with our Buster.
When we walked in, he was the only dog who wasn’t barking. Instead, he just looked up at us with these sad root-beer eyes, ignoring the cacophony of desperation all around us. Had I been there alone, I would have written him off as too big to be mine. Luckily, my husband was there to talk sense.
“I like this one,” he said. “He’s big, but he’s got the right attitude.”
The tag on his cage said this enormous Yellow Lab mix was looking for a laid-back family to stroll through life with. This dog was not an athlete — a fact he proved when we took him into the visitation room to play. This big guy was happy to hang out and shake paws, but fetching was obviously not his thing.
While my husband hung with Buster, the adoption center manager and I went over Buster’s behavioral assessment point by point. I asked how he reacted to cats (with indifference). I found out how he reacted to seeing a police officer in uniform (with face licks) and how he reacted to other dogs (without aggression, by inviting play). The manager even told me how he aced his food-guarding test, where a fake hand was used to pull his dish away. This was the kind of knowledge I needed to know before I could consider him for adoption. I told the manager I would come back the next day.
We went home and I read everything I could about Labs that night. I returned to the adoption center the next morning and the staff allowed me to walk Buster around the store. I got to see how he was on a leash, and how he reacted to smaller animals, such as kittens and bunnies. After our walk, a staff member explained how the dog came to be at the shelter. He was found running loose, wearing a collar. His family was called, but they’d said “keep him. We don’t want him.”
They might not have wanted him, but we did. Because of GhostBuster’s behavior assessment, I was confident we were making the right choice for all of us — and in the weeks since we got him, he has been busy proving me right. I’ve heard him bark exactly once, and he has learned how to roll over and become friends with my cats. He is nice to other dogs and little kids.
He’s is the perfect dog for us. This mutt is worth every penny we paid — and all the ones we will pay in the future.
Do you think $588 is a reasonable adoption fee? How much did you pay to adopt your dog?
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About the author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google +