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New Thoughts on Adoption Fees

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

This blog is addressed to the professional community of animal sheltering and rescue, but in the interest of transparency, I am sharing it here for the public to understand as well.

Our Infamous Husky Litter

A Controversial Idea is all it takes to go viral.

Never in a million years did I anticipate so many posts on the photo above when we announced the availability for adoption at $599 each. But then, when I researched the cost of a Husky puppy in Wisconsin, I did not expect $800 to be the lowest price I found, either! I took a deep breath and set the price of our fully vetted, "fixed", microchipped pups at $599. I want our puppies to be thought of as precious, not a deal. We have found with past litters of pups that people will come from all over to adopt them and that most people will be unconcerned with the adoption fee. They have looked around and already know it's a good deal.

There will be some who complain really loud. Many of them seem to be in the rescue community. To them, I would ask, "Why does it bother you that we're asking that much?" and "Why aren't you asking that much?"


There are no rules or regulations on setting adoption fees. Historically, fees have been set low to encourage adoption. We have now arrived at a place in time where adoption is the fashionable thing to do, and more and more people are choosing to adopt. In some areas, and with some animals, this translates into a situation of high demand. According to Economics 101, this means the adoption fee of that animal should go up. The trick is in finding where supply and demand balance each other out because we still want them to be adopted quickly.

Why should our animals be de-valued just because they live in an animal shelter?

The following are questions/misconceptions paraphrased from the viral adoption announcement post for the huskies on the HSWC facebook page recently. If you want a basic understanding of what we provide with adoptions, please visit our webpage

"If you charged less for them you could adopt out more dogs."

Perhaps, but then we'd have a bigger financial problem, as most dog (and almost all cats) cost more for us to care for and ready for adoption than we could ever get back in adoption fees. That would put us in the hole all the time, forcing us to attempt more fundraisers, which are hard to predict outcome and are also very time consuming.

"Why are you charging breeder prices?"

We're not. We look at what the particular type of dog is going for and set our adoption fees based on that. We want to discourage "flipping" of our animals. This means, they adopt from us and either decide they don't want to keep it, or it's more than they bargained for....our adoption contract states they have to bring the animal back to us. However, if the dog is worth more than the adoption fee, what's to stop the owner from selling the dog on craigslist? We would rather they contact us, either for assistance, or to return the dog and get their refund.

Also, there is no ignoring the fact that some dogs are worth more $$ than others. It is hard for those of us who LOVE animals to think of them in these terms, but that's exactly what the general public does! If a person who wants a purebred dog can come to us and get a great deal on one, pay our higher adoption fee and help out our budget then I see that as a Win/Win/Win! Dog gets a home, adopter gets a deal and we get some $$ to help other animals. The adopter has just acknowledged that he/she places a high value on the animal. Win!

"Who can afford these adoption fees?"

There are a lot of people right now thinking of buying a puppy from a breeder and spending twice as much as we charge. We will have no problem finding adopters at this price, and if it happens that we do, we can always lower the adoption fee. We are not depriving people of adopting. If they can't afford the $599 for a husky puppy, they can look at a number of dogs that are $174 and under. Or a senior cat, which is only $49.

"This is just WRONG. No Humane Society should charge this much for an animal!"

Arbitrary and judgmental. Why not? Who said? If there's a top number, what is it? What should fees be based on, anyway? Fact is, there are no rules. As long as the money goes back to helping the animals, it's perfectly legal and if done mindfully, it will not hurt the animals in any way, shape or form.

As I mentioned earlier, Economics is a factor, whether you want to believe and embrace it or not. I am aware of the school of thought that says no animal is more valuable than the next. Lovely thought from an emotional standpoint, but it can't translate to adoption fees or we'd be charging $50 each across the board for all dogs, cats, rabbits and hamsters. That doesn't make any sense, does it? We know there's only so much people are going to pay for certain animals and to set their fees higher is interfering with their getting adopted. Now a look from outside the box: Why should more expensive animals like purebred dogs and cats be devalued and adopted out "cheap"? This is not only doing them a disservice but eliminating a potential and legal source of revenue that is much needed.

I call it "Value Based Fees". The person receiving the value is the one who, by and large, foots the bill for the costs. Why should our faithful donors' contributions go towards keeping our adoption fees low? Putting myself in their shoes, I would much rather my donations went towards medical and animal care supplies, or to utilities or payroll for the dedicated staff caring for the animals. They don't send us their hard-earned dollars so we can subsidize adoption fees for people who don't want to give us a fair adoption fee.

"I've looked at your tax return and something just doesn't seem right! Why does your staff get paid so much?"

The number you're looking at is the gross pay for 10-11 people. We don't get ANY benefits, not even vacations. Do the math. None of us are getting rich working here. It's a labor of love. Our building is staffed 12 hours or more each day. Our animal enclosures are cleaned at least once daily with dog runs and litter boxes touched up through out the day.

Also, you may notice that we took in more than we spent last year. We are in the process of raising money for some necessary repairs to our old building and then an addition of another building so we can help even more animals and people. All that "excess" money will be going towards that.

"Why does a tax exempt 501(c)(3) organization charge sales tax on adoptions?"

Because the State of Wisconsin said we have to! We don't have to PAY sales tax on stuff we buy that goes into the mission, like dog food, office supplies, etc... But since adoptions are considered Sales in Wisconsin, we have to collect the 5.5% sales tax and submit it to the State on a quarterly basis. I have noticed some organizations calling it an "Adoption Donation" and not charging sales tax. Sooner or later, they will get busted for it. We choose to operate within the law.

Okay, this is getting long. I will be picking more questions to answer them in another installment. For now, THANK YOU to all who shared the post to friends/family and especially to those of you who had our backs when the negativity started to flow! We are all here to help the animals!


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Thanks for explaining adoption fees in a fiscal type light. I was of the mindset that since the shelter was not actually buying animals and paying for them, they should be offered at a break-even price-point. Now I understand the need for the adoption fees and how they are calculated. I went on the website to see if the shelter needs volunteers. My wife and I recently retired and have a lot of time on our hands. We both love animals and would like to volunteer. Who do we contact?


Thanks for addressing this issue.


My own dogs came from shelters and had early neuters. They have not had any problems. One of them we just euthanized at 16 yrs old. The other is 10.5 yrs and still very athletic. Not every dog will have issues, but every dog has the potential to procreate until they are "fixed" and that is a HUGE issue.

Shelters and rescues pretty much have to do early alters, otherwise we end up having to be the spay/neuter police, and no one has time for that. Also, many of our adoptions are from far away and it's too hard to work out the logistics.


Yeah well, good luck! I had a purebred, at that time 6 mos. was recommended. I took him to puppy classes and he was so obnoxious the owner/ trainer of the facility asked me to have him neutered. He had already been! He lived a long life...nothing contributing to neutering made a difference.

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