Why Adoption Fees Should Never Be Sponsored – the OFFICIAL Stokes County Humane Society Stance

We are lucky here in Stokes County, NC, to have a great network of sane animal welfare advocates.  People care.  Some of the people who care are people who do amazing things – witness Candis Loy of Animal Rescue of Stokes County, and Mona Triplett of Stokes County Humane Society.  Both groups are at the forefront of advocacy, education, and rescue in this county.  Of course, both groups are also volunteer based and donation supported, and so their great works are limited.

Mona dedicated a great deal of time and personal resources to earning the educational credits required to qualify as an official Cruelty Investigator.  Last year she was appointed to the position by the Stokes County Board of Commissioners.  Mona has been involved in humane education and rescue for many, many years, so she was pretty sure she’d already seen it all.

She was wrong.

One of the most shocking aspects of Mona’s work as County Cruelty Investigator has been how many dogs and cats that are “rescued” from the shelter wind up victims of gross neglect and in some cases blatant and intentional abuse.  

Even more shocking is the fact that the majority of shelter “rescues” that Mona winds up investigating were pulled from the shelter by people who couldn’t afford the adoption fee.  How, you ask, was this possible?  Well, there is a group of well-meaning individuals who sponsor adoption fees for animals in the Stokes County Animal Shelter.  These people are doing a great thing – they’re putting up their own hard-earned funds as an incentive for other people to rescue animals from death row.  We respect their dedication to these animals and their willingness to help get them out of the shelter and into loving homes.

That being said, the Stokes County Humane Society has adopted this official stance:

Anyone who cannot afford a $36 pull fee at the county animal impoundment facility does not need to own an animal.  Period.  

If you can’t afford a $36 pull fee, how are you going to afford a wellness visit at the vet?  My vet is pretty reasonably priced, but I just walked out of his office today with my daughter’s seven year old cat – who we’ve had for all but four months of the entire seven years of her life – $110 poorer.  That’s right, that says ONE HUNDRED TEN DOLLARS.  What in the world was wrong with kitty?  NOTHING.  Well, her nerves are shot as a result of our move last fall, but other than that she’s healthy as the proverbial horse.  What, then, did I pay for today?  An annual wellness visit:  a complete physical exam, a fecal flotation, a feline leukemia/feline immunodeficiency virus test, a rabies vaccine, a feline distemper vaccine, and, since the test was negative, a feline leukemia vaccine.  I didn’t have to pay my vet’s prices for these vaccines, mind you – I can get them at cost from my own employer – but I’ve been worried about kitty lately, she’s been under a lot of stress, and I didn’t want to vaccinate her without making sure she was in tip-top health.  Physically, she is.  Mentally is another story.  (Note: I spent another $15 at PetCo on a pheromone collar that I hope will help soothe her mental upset and anguish.)

I’m not here today to talk about my daughter’s bipolar cat, of course – but she’s a perfect example of the point I’m trying to make.

Two weeks ago I spent $36 per dog for a heartworm/tick-borne-pathogen test at my vet’s office.  He never charges me an office visit for my dogs unless they need an examination, because I’m one of his best clients and he loves me.  If I couldn’t afford a $36 pull fee, then how would I be able to afford this very necessary test?

The least expensive heartworm preventative on the market costs around $60 for six doses for a medium sized dog.  The preventative I use includes a flea control agent as well and markets for around $90 for six doses for the same size dog.  I have eight dogs right now, four of whom are much larger.  I’m lucky; I can get it at cost, which still isn’t cheap… but if I didn’t work where I do, I’d have to pay market prices – you do the math.  If I couldn’t afford a $36 pull fee, how would I afford heartworm preventative?

I’m sure you’ve all read my post about Biscuit – if not, please do.  I’m out around $200 on that incident, and I’m lucky yet again that my vet loves me and supports what I do.  If I couldn’t afford a $36 pull fee, what would have happened to Biscuit?  Nothing good, I assure you.

My vet, whom I love, charges around $300 to spay a 35 lb bitch in heat.  That’s a little pricey no matter who you are.  Central Spay, Neuter and Wellness Clinic in Kernersville charges $80 to spay the same dog.  If you can’t afford a $36 pull fee, how in the world are you going to swing an $80 spay fee (plus $15 for the rabies if it wasn’t received elsewhere)?

I spend around $250 a month on dog food…  If I couldn’t afford a $36 pull fee, how would I feed my dogs???

Now that we’ve had a few examples of the sorts of expenses animal owners incur, let’s look at a couple of the actual cruelty cases that have led us to publicly declare our opposition of adoption fee sponsorships.

Case #1  Last year, a pregnant bitch was pulled from Stokes County Animal Shelter.  SCHS volunteers offered at that time to assist the woman with placement of the pups once they were old enough.  A few weeks later, Mona received a tip that there was a hoarding situation with abject neglect in the northern part of the county.  Upon arrival at the property, Mona found that it was the woman who had taken the pregnant bitch.  The pups were in a cardboard box on her front porch, with a hand-lettered “Free To Good Home” sign tacked to the front.  Other animals on the property lacked appropriate shelter, were malnourished, and/or didn’t have access to fresh water.  There was animal feces throughout the house.  There were also very young children on the property.  Mona issued a formal reprimand and a list of compliance items to the woman and said that she would return in a week or so to make sure all issues had been dealt with – when she returned to the property later the woman was in compliance with a few of the requirements.  Unfortunately, in spite of the lack of care these animals received, there was no legal grounds for seizure and so the animals are still on the property.

A few weeks ago, it came to our attention that the poor bitch is pregnant again.  To make this even more onerous, we had offered the woman assistance in getting her animals altered.  She refused our aide.

Case #2  Mona recently received a call from a woman who had gotten a medium-sized bitch from the shelter with the adoption fee sponsored.  The woman said that she took the dog because it was free.  She is on disability and can’t afford veterinary care, and so the dog never received a physical exam.  When she called Mona, she said the dog had been vomiting non-stop for a week and a half, and since she couldn’t afford veterinary care, she wanted SCHS to take the dog.  Mona refused – all of our foster homes are past full, mine included, and none of us currently have facilities to quarantine a potentially contagious animal.  The woman became angry and said in that case, she would just return the dog to the shelter.  Mona told her that what we could do was help with having the dog vetted, and she arranged for the woman to take the dog to Dr. Debbie Cowan in Walnut Cove.  She didn’t show up at Dr. Cowan’s office for the scheduled visit.  The woman claims she has a health condition that only allows her to drive two hours each day, and that she was too busy during her two hours of daily driving time to take the dog to the vet right away.  It was the following week when the woman finally got around to taking the dog to Dr. Cowan’s office.  The dog was diagnosed with a severe pyometra and underwent an emergency spay and IV fluids and antibiotics.  She’s been in the hospital now since this past Tuesday, and is still in very, very bad shape.  When clinic staff questioned the woman as to her delay in dropping the dog off, her response was, “I suppose the dog is so important that you don’t even care if I might be going blind!”  Clinic staff was wise enough not to respond.  Mona discussed the situation with Candis at Animal Rescue and they agreed to take joint custody of the dog and share the expenses.  The woman agreed to surrender the dog.  The dog is still in the hospital fighting this very serious infection.

Those are the two cases that I chose to illustrate why we are opposed to pull fee sponsorships.  They are not the only ones, nor are they the worst of the many; because they are fairly uncomplicated, they are the ones I chose.  However, there is one more case that I think needs to be included – the difference is that while those two cases involved individual animals, this one involves multiples animals.

Case #3  Our shelter recently euthanized nearly all of the dogs being held and ceased canine intake and adoptions in order to purge a massive outbreak of parvovirus.  Parvo is one of the nastiest illnesses in existence in the dog world.  It was unknown prior to the mid-1970s, and while it is easy to prevent, it’s difficult to treat, has a 100% mortality rate if not treated, and even if it is treated there’s still no guarantee of survival.  How do you prevent it?  By following the recommended vaccination schedule.  Most vets recommend three or four initial vaccines, starting at age 8 weeks and repeating every three to four weeks until the series is complete, and then an annual booster up to age four, at which point the booster can be given every three years.  Why am I including this as a case to make my point?  Because the parvo vaccine (which is included in the DHPP vaccine) is only $15 at Central Spay, Neuter and Wellness Clinic, only $17 at my personal veterinary clinic (neither of these clinics charge an office visit fee for vaccines, though it is recommended that anyone with a new puppy also obtain a complete exam), and is also available (though not recommended by me or by most veterinary and drug company professionals) over the counter at feed & seed stores such as Tractor Supply for around $7.  If you can’t afford a $36 adoption fee, it’s extremely unlikely you’re going to be able to afford the entire DHPP series.

I’m sure that this is going to make a great many people angry.  If so, good.  That is my intention.  If I make you angry, then that means that what I’ve said has hit a nerve, and hopefully it will make you rethink your methods.

The people who are sponsoring these adoption fees are doing so for the right reasons… unfortunately, your offer is being accepted by people who shouldn’t have an animal in their care, custody or control for any reason, ever.  If you want to help increase the adoptions at the shelter, offer to sponsor the initial veterinary exam, or the first round of vaccines, or better yet, the spay/neuter surgery.  You’ll be doing the animals in our community far more good that way.