Rehoming or Adoption Fees – What Are They and Are They Necessary?

Picture of two dogs an an adoption center

When a family sets out to purchase a pet, there is never the expectation that at some point that animal may need to be rehomed. Though the public at large often assumes that rehoming occurs due to lack of thoughtfulness, inappropriate care, or impulse buying, there are other factors which affect a family’s ability to be responsible for a pet including divorce, loss of a job, residential move, severe health issues, and much more. Pet rehoming is a common practice, and in most cases, is better for the dog or cat in question if it is untenable or unsafe for him to remain with his original family. When a pet is rehomed or adopted through a shelter or rescue organization, there is an associated fee. Many families wonder why a fee is required and what the money is used for. But more than this, fees vary from person to person, rescue, agency, and shelter. Who sets the pet rehoming fees, and what is the money used for? What are pet rehoming fees and are they necessary?

What is a Pet Rehoming Fee?

Pet rehoming fees, sometimes also known as adoption fees, are simply set prices put forth by the animal’s current guardian that are charged for the transfer of the animal to his new family. The fees range from as low as $20 to $350 or more. There is no specific governance over the designated amount a pet rehoming fee should be. Since many different agencies rehome pets, it would be nearly impossible to legislate. Some pet owners purchase a dog only to later discover the dog is not suited to their home life and list the dog on an online marketplace in an attempt to recoup the money expended on their original purchase. In these cases, the amount requested is often nearly identical to the amount requested by the breeder and can result in fees as high as $1,000 or more. When this occurs, a pet owner is simply trying to do a simple exchange of a return of funds spent in exchange for a product, in this case a dog, much like any other commercial transaction. Though in the world of commercial goods, this is an acceptable practice; the selling of a living being is entirely different and can engender very strong feelings in people. The fact that the animal in question is made up of flesh, blood, and feelings muddies the waters. Many people believe you cannot put a monetary value on a life and to request large amounts of money in exchange for a rehomed pet is morally wrong. In addition to this; if a pet has remained in his original home for any length of time, there may have been large bills for the animal’s care. If a dog or cat has been spayed or neutered, those costs would have been borne by the animal’s original family, and they will often seek reimbursement for those expenses via a pet rehoming fee. In these cases, the amount is less than the original purchase price of the dog or cat but does provide some financial compensation for costs incurred. For registered purebreds, even the simple act of changing ownership on registration papers and microchips have associated fees which must be paid.

By comparison, some people who list pets on common internet classifieds forums only charge a nominal fee of between $50-$100 or slightly more. Because unscrupulous people have been known to troll the internet in search of pets who are free or nearly free to a good home for nefarious purposes such as bait dogs for fight rings or medical experiments, these people assert that charging a small amount of money is an act of good faith that the person will love and care for the pet they have purchased, even though the rehoming fee is low. In addition to this, dogs and cats require regular care including appropriate food, toys, bedding, vaccinations, flea and tick medications, and veterinary visits on an as needed basis. All of these things cost money. Charging a pet rehoming fee that is a nominal amount of money demonstrates a family’s willingness and ability to provide for all that their pet will need both now and for the entirety of the pet’s life. These people sincerely believe that the pet rehoming fee serves as a form of protection for the animal. For them, it is not about recouping any spent money; it is more about providing them with the peace of mind that they have done their due diligence in rehoming the pet to responsible, loving people with the means to properly care for the animal.

However, things are not always as clear cut as they might seem. In today’s world, we face a major pet overpopulation problem. Though many states are now home to no-kill shelters, there are still far more ASPCA’s, Humane Societies, and private shelters who must euthanize healthy animals after only a brief stay of 48 hours to make room for the next day’s influx. With so many unwanted pets desperately in need of homes, is it fair to charge an adoption fee greater than $20-$50? Should people of lesser means be restricted from owning a pet, even if it means that that animal will be euthanized if a wealthier adopter cannot be found? It is a complex issue.

The sad reality is people often do not value things they do not have to pay for. Though this cannot be broadly applied across the whole spectrum of people wishing to own a pet, many people who are given an animal without an associated cost then find it quite easy to dispose of the same pet when the animal becomes inconvenient for them. Having to pay a fee for an animal, regardless of the amount, requires forethought. Since people work hard for their money and most only part with it after careful consideration, it gives them pause to really reflect on if the timing is right in their life for adding a pet to their family and if they possess the requisite money and time to be a responsible owner of a dog or cat. These are important considerations. Dogs and cats are living beings and require and deserve proper love and care, but they are also a large amount of work. If a pet rehoming or adoption fee can aid potential owners in making well-thought out informed decisions about pet ownership, then it is an excellent tool.

Picture of a dogs paw at an adoption center

Why Do Shelters and Rescues Charge a Pet Rehoming or Adoption Fee?

It is the policy of most rescues and shelters to charge a pet rehoming or adoption fee. The amount varies from organization to organization.

Why do shelters and rescues do this?

Often when a pet is surrendered to a shelter or rescue or is picked up as a stray, the pet is in need of medical care. The veterinary assistance required may be as little as updated vaccinations and medications for ear or eye infections to large scale surgeries for broken limbs or torn muscles and ligaments. Many come into care requiring tumor removal, dentistry, treatment for persistent skin infections, and spays or neuters. All of this medical care is costly. Since rescues and shelters are non-profit organizations, they rely heavily on fundraising to gather funds for veterinary care for the animals they house. Unfortunately, rescues and shelters receive only a nominal discount from veterinary clinics if at all. After all, veterinary clinics run tight bottom lines and cannot afford to give their services away for free with expenses of their own to cover to continue to operate and provide quality care.

What does this mean?

This essentially means that for every dog or cat who comes in to a rescue or shelter requiring only $100-$200 in veterinary care, there are at least several more who must have surgeries, dental work, or skin treatments in excess of $1,000. The funds collected through rehoming or adoption fees are distributed equally across the entire number of dogs and cats in a rescue or shelter along with any funds raised during special events and initiatives. Sadly, the amounts collected are often not enough to make ends meet, and hard choices must be made. Often shelter and rescue workers will donate from their own pockets for the animal to receive the care it needs. Veterinary staff are also generous with their time and talents; at times, offering substantial discounts for needed treatments.

Of course, the longer the pet remains in a rescue or shelter situation, the more expensive his care will be. Dogs and cats require high quality food to remain healthy and access to toys and treats for training and mental stimulation. For some breeds, grooming is necessary to prevent the dog or cat’s coat from becoming matted and uncomfortable. Microchips for identification must be implanted. All of these things cost money, and that money must come from somewhere.

Particularly in the case of rescue or shelter pets who are recovering from illnesses, surgeries, or who are simply in palliative care due to health conditions or old age, many animals live in foster homes while waiting to be selected by their forever family. These foster families front all of the costs for the animal’s care with the expectation the rescue or shelter will reimburse them. These expenses can quickly add to a substantial amount, particularly if an animal receives little interest from potential adopters. Rehoming and adoption fees help to cover and offset these costs.

Research supports that shelters advertising high rehoming fees who later lowered the cost to encourage families to adopt saw a dramatic rise in the number of pets placed in loving homes. Is it possible that the high cost of rehoming or adoption fees is why pets are lingering in shelter and rescue care far longer than they should be? Would a return to a more economical price reduce long wait times for adoption in shelters? Would this same approach reduce the number of healthy animals euthanized for space? The answer would seem to be yes to all.

Does a Large Pet Rehoming or Adoption Fee Discourage Pet Returns?

An argument has been made that those who pay higher rehoming or adoption fees will be far less likely to return the pet at a later date since the initial investment was so costly. Unfortunately, research does not bear this out. While there are some families for whom a $1,000 is very hard fought for; for others, that amount of money is of little significance. Attaching a monetary value to a dog or a cat will not increase the value of the animal in the heart. It can be argued that if someone is a true animal lover that they will do right by their rehomed pet regardless of whether the animal was obtained for free or came at an extremely high price. Conversely, for those who have little care for animals, a high price tag will not propel them towards better behavior. As with most things, money simply complicates a matter of the heart.

Are Pet Rehoming or Adoption Fees Necessary?

Opinions run hot on both sides of this equation. While there is no question that pet rehoming fees do assist shelters and rescue organizations with operational costs and veterinary care for the animals entrusted to them, there is also the issue of so many unwanted pets facing death sentences simply because adoption or rehoming fees are set so high as to be unaffordable by loving lower-income families who would cherish and properly care for a new furry friend.

As with so many pressing questions, there is no easy answer. The best solution is to continue to work towards providing excellent care for pets in need of rehoming and to minimize the amount of time they spend in limbo, waiting for the arrival of their perfect forever family.

A highly personal topic, it bears giving some thoughtful consideration to. What are your thoughts?

Do you feel that today’s rehoming fees are too high?

If so, what would a fair amount for a rehoming or adoption fee be?

Is there a chance that a higher adoption fee will encourage more responsible pet ownership and attract people better suited to the role?



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