Recently, due to the large number of kittens and cats we are fostering, and a leveling-off of adoptions, we decided to waive the adoption fees on our harder-to-adopt adult cats and black kittens. We hoped it would encourage people to reconsider the much-maligned black cat, and the older cats—which are still quite young, most of them less than a year; they are just seemingly older when compared to acrobatic two-month-old kittens.
And it worked to some degree. We had a couple of good weekends, with increased adoptions and a lot of interest. But it seems to have come at a price. We’ve had a disproportionate number of cats returned to us, often within just a few days. Some of the reasons for return seem less than satisfactory, too. With young rescues, however friendly and playful, there is going to be an adjustment period—both for the family and for any pre-existing pets. We take care to explain how to allow the cat to adjust to the new environment, and to the people and pets, suggesting they keep the new cat in a room of its own for a few days, maybe even a week if necessary.
It leaves us shaking our heads when people who adopted a cat on Saturday call us on Monday to say that it is not working out, that the family’s adult cat hates the kitten. Assuming they took our advice, the cat and kitten should not have even been face-to-face yet. We do our best not to romanticize bringing a new cat into a house, explaining all the things that might happen and how best to deal with them should they, and the things they can do to avoid them in the first place. So it is both disheartening and maddening when we find that people ignore all our suggestions and return the cat as if it’s a pair of shoes that fit wrong.
Had they listened to us, they might have taken the appropriate steps to ease the transition, or perhaps even reconsidered adopting in the first place. Each time a cat goes out and comes back in, some of our efforts to socialize it are undone. This is evidenced by the fact that we have a few cats that after multiple returns to us were simply no longer viable for adoption.
A rock and a hard place. That’s how we feel with every adoption; that line between wanting to get each cat adopted, and get each cat adopted to the right home. With the number of cats coming back to us, we are feeling our position between that rock and hard place becoming even narrower. Is waiving the adoption fee the cause? Does giving someone a cat for nothing give the impression that this is the value we place on that cat?
There’s another question I always have to ask myself, as well. If someone is only willing to adopt a cat with no up-front cost, what does that mean for the cat should it end up with an infected tooth, urinary tract infection, or other health issue that will cost its new family a couple hundred dollars. If they were unwilling/unable to pay $100 for a spayed, vaccinated, socialized cat, are they going to be willing/able to see it gets the medical care it may eventually need?
I ask myself these questions at every adoption showcase and I never come up with a satisfactory answer. Whatever the answer, and whatever level of commitment people may or may not feel when adopting one of our charges, we have decided to discontinue our waived adoption policy, instead lowering the fee across the board: $50 for kittens and cats, whatever the age, color or breed.
We hope this will decrease returns by weeding out some of the impulse adopters that are mainly attracted by the non-existent adoption fee, but I am not entirely convinced it’s going to work. A part of me—the pragamatic, non-emotional part of me, knows there will always be people who will adopt a pet, seeing it as just another purchase, rather than seeing it as a life to be cared for, loved, and protected.