Rescue Costs, Adoption Fees, and Fund-Raising
I wrote this in April 1997, so it is now badly out of date as to dollar amounts. During the past 6 years vet costs have risen a lot faster than adoption fees. This was written to the Southern California Bouvier Club in response to requests for input on Rescue financing generally; at this particular time , the club was finding funding rescue to be a struggle at times.. (And there is a further update at the end written in November 2006, but I don't attempt to update dollar amounts.)
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I wrote this in April 1997, so it is now badly out of date as to dollar amounts. During the past 6 years vet costs have risen a lot faster than adoption fees : cost for many items are now double the amounts cited below. I will include some updated prices where I can. This was written to the Southern California Bouvier Club in response to requests for input on Rescue financing generally. I wrote the original late at night and it was pretty sloppy.
In some regards perhaps I am the wrong person to ask about rescue budgeting as my own experience has been that of a private individual who is accountable to no one else and who enjoys an income that is in very comfortable excess of my own needs and needs of my own dogs. So I have simply spent what was necessary when it was necessary and been thankful that I was able to do so. On the other hand this experience has made me aware of all the added costs that can occur and the benefits to the dog of being able and willing to provide them. Also by nature I am not a spendthrift so I have availed myself of the more reasonably priced ways of getting things done.
(Update 2006 : for the past 6 or 7 years, we have had a club, so now I am also familiar with the financial issues in clubs doing rescue. Still the knowledge that I can supply added money out of my own pocket probably influences some of my thinking.)
Firstly it is essential to recognize that our ADOPTION FEE unless raised to prohibitive amounts CANNOT COVER ALL COSTS of many of our rescues. The Adoption fee can and should cover the "hard core" costs of the typical rescue, provided that we are usually able to obtain these services from sources that charge moderate amounts, ie avoid the more exorbitant sources except in special cases or emergencies. In most cases or at least in many rescues, in addition to the Hard Core or Basic costs, there are ADDITIONAL costs, which I will illustrate below from my own experiences. The main message is that we need to find ways to utilize the more reasonably priced sources of needed services (chiefly vet) and we MUST ACCEPT the NEED FOR ONGOING FUND-RAISING from our membership to cover the added costs needed by many rescued dogs.
(1) SPAY/NEUTER (absolutely essential in ALL cases where dog not already altered). This should NOT cost over $100 (prices in 1997; would be at least double in 2003)unless there are very special circumstances (see below). We should ask our membership to investigate what vets and clinics in their areas will do low cost spay neuter. Then we will have a list of such sources available to guide us according to where the dog is being picked up or fostered. Also some members have volunteered to transport dogs as needed, thus we could arrange for transport form foster care to vet and back.
Examples of appropriately priced sources for spay neuter :
UCD Vet Med Teaching Hospital (Davis, near Sacramento) charges $65 (in 1997; in 2003 this is now $95 and is a super bargain) for any dog spay neuter, including neuter for dog with undescended testicle. They will usually also check out apparent foxtail tracks and check ears for foreign objects or do other minor procedures at same time while dog is "under" for little or no added charge. Adding in a DHLPP, Rabies, and heartworm test brings total to $100 +/-. THe VMTH does good quality work and their ability to provide intensive care or other special care is unsurpassed. They've spayed neutered at lest 7 or 8 rescue dogs for me over the last few years, including a cryptorchid. Also on middle aged bitches their judgement that a bitch did have a midline scar that was likely to be a spay scar has prevented some unnecessary surgeries. (Update 2003 : I still have the greatest respect for the VMTH and use this as my main source for spays and neuters. Their anesthesia and after-care capabilities are the best. Price is now higher, $100 for the spay/neuter, but now includes blood panel and other pre-surgical evaluation as needed.)
Santa Clara Humane (near San Jose) charges $40 (in 1997) for dogs being adopted out of that facility. They also have low cost spay neuter for the public, but I don't know if that is at same price or somewhat higher -- need to find out. Even if higher, would still be a very low cost source -- and they do excellent work, especially pediatric spay neuter. I was very impressed at the quality of work they did on the litter of Ted's sibs.
My personal vet charges $85 (in 1997) for a Bouv sized spay neuter and she gives 10% off on Wednesdays -- it's her way of trying to keep it affordable for some who would otherwise hesitate. (Incidentally I've noticed that when I bring in a rescue she often forgets to charge for some little extras that would ordinarily have a charge.) Now the charge is higher for those in heat or pregnant or seriously obese or other complicating factors. This example probably represents what a well intentioned private vet would be charging. (Update 2003 : this vet has since gone out of private practice and returned to the university. Current private vet prices would be $200 and up --- sometimes with emphasis on the "and up!") You may or may not be able to find a vet who will give you some price breaks for rescue dogs.
Low cost clinics specializing in spay neuter such as "Animal Birth Control" of Sacramento. A lot of these clinics have contracts with local pounds or shelters to do a lot of their pre-adoption mandatory spay neuters, so they get a lot of practice and are used to doing a volume low priced business. I've had a few dogs done this way and found the results satisfactory.
Note : it seems like a lot of Bay Area vets charge the sky for everything, ie twice what any vet in Davis would charge. Now maybe that reflects that Davis vets compete with the VMTH. In any case there seems to be a great deal of difference between one vet an another.
Spay neuter with special circumstances : such as special risk surgeries (eg heart, liver, kidney impaired function -- and yes, many such dogs are "worth saving" as they can live quite a few years of quality life) or cases where additional procedures should be performed at the same time (eg tumor removals, major abcesses) or other complications such as pyometria (which is an emergency that can kill within hours and which usually costs double ordinary spay). Now the best place for those dogs with special problems could well be the UCD VMTH , as they have the competence for damn near anything. UCD also has some special subsidy funding for hardship/rescue/found dog cases. They also will subsidize costs where the case has a lot of teaching value. (Update 2006, the teaching value discounts seem to be a thing of the past.) In any of these cases, we should before bringing dog in explain the circumstances and that this dog is a rescue and we are a breed club rescue organization dependent on donated funds, then ask about pricing and if they can give us a reduced price as their support of the rescue concept.
(2) RABIES shot : essential to protect the foster home and the dog. Costs about the same, ie $8 to 12 (double that in 2003), everywhere except when vet insists on including an office visit charge. Most vets have "shot clinics" or "tech appointments" available (usually only aat certain times of the week) in which only the shot is charged for. I try to stick to using vets for this as I want to get a Rabies tag that will stay with the dog; this tag is one more way the dog can be traced back to me if it should get lost during the next one or three years. Some of the low cost shot clinics (eg as may be available monthly or oftener at PetCo and other large pet supply stores) are a few bucks cheaper but they don't give tags. Sometimes Rabies will have been given at the shelter or at the vet who does the mandatory pre-adoption spay neuter.
(3) DHLPP shot or pair of shots : essential to protect dog. Like Rabies shot, costs about $8 to 12 (in 2003 about twice that amount) from most vets who don't insist on adding an office visit charge. Dogs whose shot history is not known should receive two shots , 3 to 6 weeks apart. Often one will have been given at the shelter. (update 2006 : more and more shelters are vaccinating DAP at time of intake.) It is feasible for the foster home to give the DHLPP shots, which saves about half the cost but does not provide a record for the adopter to rely upon. Again the mobile shot clinics at the pet supply store are less costly than at a vet office.
(4) Heartworm test : not essential , though desirable. (In 2003 I would rate testing and monthly prevention as being essential any area except those where high altitude or desert conditions prohibit mosquito survival.) .If the dog is likely to be fostered for longer than a couple of weeks I would highly recommend doing heartworm test and putting dog on monthly prevention. Test should be $18-20 (in 2003 it is $25 to $40, except at mobile clinics where it can still be only $20) from most vets, and prevention is about $6 per month (as of 2003 this hasnt gone up much).. This is good insurance against waiting for adopter to do test and then learning dog is heartworm positive, which is likely to result in adoption being cancelled and then we would be facing several hundred dollars vet costs (in 2003 a minimum of %600 and don't be surprised if it is twice that) for cure plus need for foster care home to keep dog on severely restricted activities for about a month or more. Considering that the new heartworm cure drugs have a very good prognosis for safe cure, we could not in good conscience kill a dog that is heartworm positive. Incidentally in several dozen rescues, all of mine have been negative. Lets keep it that way. (Update : in 2003 I had my first positive one. The treatment is painful for the dog and requires at least a month of totally inactive life in close confinement.)
(5) Fecal sample : probably advisable as precaution against infecting foster care premises and also beneficial to catch problems affecting the rescued dog. costs about $12 from vet. Of course if the dog does have coccidia or giardia or worms , the needed treatment would be one of those Added Costs. Note I have not been routinely doing fecal samples on newly rescued dogs but I am coming to think that probably I should. In maybe 1/3 to 1/2 of cases I wind up having cause to do it, ie seeing goopy poops, within the next week or two after the rescue. So better to do it early and avoid possibility of transmitting to fosterer's own dog. (Update 2006 : it's also advisable to do a fecal sample or to do a worming to protect the humans invoved from zoonotic transmission of some parasites.)
Now as you can see , the sum total of the Hard Core costs would usually not exceed our $175 Adoption Fee. (In 2003, the BCNC adoption fee is only $225 and it does NOT cover typical costs of spay / neuter plus shots plus heartworm test !! To me that means that the fee needs to be raised enough to do so.) (Update 2006 : the fee was raised a couple years ago to $350 , which did cover Hard Core costs very well and which was well accepted by adopters. Late in 2006 some of the Board wanted to raise the fee to $500 , which I consider excessive for reasons that will be explained in the final sections of this article. As I write this , that issue is up for re-consideration.)
The BAD NEWS is that in 1/3 to 1/2 of cases there WILL be ADDED costs, sometimes minor and sometimes major. Here are examples, mostly from my own experience. Unfortunately I have not routinely kept rescue dogs' bills separated ie accounted for separately from my own personal dogs' bills. in some cases however I do remember all too well the approximate costs !! (Update 2006 : since the club started, I hae been keeping careful records of all vet costs on my foster dogs.)
The "major" foxtail problem = abscess requiring surgery under general anesthesia. typical costs : minimum of $100 up to several times that (in 2003, it will probably be double that; I had one in 2002 who needed two anethesized proceedures plus several local ones, total bills exceeding $1000.). One of my rescues early in my career (in late 80s) had a horrible "buffalo hump" that required two surgeries (as not all foxtails could be found first time) and lots of medication and lots of flushing and hot packing after each surgery. Fortunately major foxtail problems are relatively rare, but when they occur we are obligated to treat them as prognosis for totally normal life is near 100%.
Infected ear : ranging from moderate to severe. requires vet visit plus medication. typical costs $25 to 50 (minimum costs in 2003 are duble that). Occurrence between 1/10 and 1/5. Treatment mandatory as dog is in pain and prognosis is extremely good. note that in very rare cases the infection will have been long neglected and will have become very difficult to treat. in extreme cases surgery to reconstruct the ear to create new drainage path will be needed. cost above $100.
Kennel cough : mild to severe, likely to be communicated to other dogs in household. In mild or ordinary cases , little treatment beyond supportive care and Robitussin DM or similar med will be needed. Costs would be minimal fo mild cases. In severe cases or where the dog is either elderly or very young, vet care may be needed and antibiotics prescribed as preventative for secondary infection. In severe cases costs $25 to 100 likely. Incidence of kennel cough varies with the particular shelter involved , as some have low incidence and some very high. overall my experience has been between 1/10 and 1/5 with all cases being very mild. It may be prudent for fosterer to immunize own dogs, but ideally this would be done before commencing fostering, and financially should be fosterer's responsibility.
Miscellaneous injuries, either initiated before rescue or during foster care, including injuries from altercations with fosterer's own dogs. Minor dings and scrapes are fairly common; some require vet attention. (I had one rescue who somehow cut an artery in his leg on a shard of glass, encountered outdoors; the shard remained embedded and was not discovered on first vet visit nor on second one; serious bleeding from which dog could easily have died.) Fight injuries are very likely to require vet attention ; whether or not fight injuries should be responsibility of fosterer is debatable, perhaps partly depending on whether it is a no-warning first fight ( not preventable thus fosterer less responsible?) or a repeated engagement (which fosterer could have prevented, thus fosterer should be financially responsible?)??
Skin problems, ranging from flea allergies to gawdknowswhat, often very long neglected and resulting in large bare areas or infected areas. May require vet visit for diagnosis, may include thyroid test.
Infected/impacted anal glands. I've had two cases where there was a long neglected anal gland infection/impaction. One required two surgeries to effect a cure. The other required vet visits and medication but not surgery, and proved to be a permanent problem (permanent fistula = draining tracts) requiring simple home care on long term basis by the adopter.
Suspected Thyroid problems. If mild may wait for adopter to test & treat. If severe must be tested and treated -- severe hypothyroid creates added surgical risks so dog must be tested and treated for several weeks prior to surgery. Severe cases fairly rare, ie less than 1/20?
Entropion. SCBDFC had a case of this in a very nice totally adoptable dog. While treatment could have been postponed pending adoption, the dog was in pain and deserved relief. Prognosis for this is ideally good. Cost $300. In this case Ada Brann's approach of simply showing the adopter the vet bills and leaving it up to adopter to choose to reimburse was successful in getting adopter to cover the added costs. (Update : I've had a couple of these too. In one case the dog was quickly adopted by a club member who was a vet so she did the fix herself. In the other, (in 2003) it was done at the same time as neuter and a toe amputation and the total surgical bill was about $1000, and I feel my vet was being good to me on that ; the aftercare added a fair bit to this.
Tumors , malignant or benign. All tumors MUST be aspirated or otherwise tested to determine whether or not possibly malignant. Often the initial test will show tumor to be benign, in which case decision to remove or not can be left for adopter to make. (of course if removal can be done at same time as spay neuter and at little added cost , it should be done). If initial test shows suspicion of malignancy or show a definite malignancy then usually next step is either removal or where removal would involve major procedures removal could be proceeded by chest Xray (to see if metastasized to lungs) and/or ultrasound (to try to find suspicious areas in liver, pancreas, etc). Unless such tests show that malignancy has already metastasized , I think we are obligated to attempt treatment, especially if the type of malignancy is one for which there is reasonable hope of cure or substantial life extension. In some cases, it will be impossible to make a valid prognosis without doing surgery,and in these cases I feel we are obligated to do so. (eg my bitch Yelena who had a spleen tumor for which there was a 50/50 chance that it would be benign, whose tumor proved malignant and metastasized and who did not survive surgery. eg Georgia who had breast tumors which might or might not be completely excisable, and who is currently enjoying a good quality of life, though with a shortened life expectancy.) Where there is a very poor prognosis, then treatment may be foregone in favor of keeping dog comfortable until euthanasia is needed. Costs for tumors can vary from very moderate (under $100) for those that are clearly benign or easily removed to many hundreds for the more difficult cases. In these cases the club has to be prepared to make some special donation appeals to cover the costs. (Update : as of 2003 the availability of useful treatments and the effectiveness of treatment is considerably better than it was a mere 6 years earlier. For many cases treatment is morally mandatory. In cases where the dog is untreatable a considerable period of pleasant life may be possible if someone is willing to be the "hospice home" -- I have done this and it is very rewarding.)
(Update 2006 , I am currently fostering Hazel who came in with a malignant breast tumor and advanced heartworm. Thanks to great treatment at the VMTH and to my own ability to pay for same , it looks like the cancer is cured and the heartworm controlled and on way to being cured. So this wonderful 10 year old dog is likely to live another 2 to 4 years in comfort and happyness. Did I mention that I love and admire her ? And that she will be adopted when someone prys her leash out of my cold dead hand ?)
We need to cultivate an ESPECTANCY (ATTITUDE) in ALL OUR MEMBERS of MAKING REGULAR MODEST DONATIONS. We should include a donation request in all membership applications and renewals. We should include a donation appeal for "comfortable" sized donations at all of our events. If a majority of our members would kick in what I call a "refrigerator magnet sized" donation, ie price of a trinket, of $5 to $10 once a year or several times a year, we could have a well filled rescue fund. I think it might be appropriate at events at shows to literally say "ask yourself if you really need one more Bouvier refrigerator magnet more than these poor neglected rescue dogs need a chance at a new and decent life, then write us a check for $5 or 10 or whatever you can comfortably spare."
We need to cultivate a RESPONSIBILITY in ALL OUR BREEDERS (bitch owners and stud owners) of MAKING CONTRIBUTIONS FOR EVERY PUPPY that they bring into the world. Other club do this , eg the Belgian Sheepdog Club has expected this of their members for at least the past 15 years that I know of and they get a reasonable level of compliance. Now that PEDIATRIC SPAY NEUTER is available , we should cultivate the expectancy of making a SUBSTANTIAL DONATION for every puppy that is retained by the breeder or that is sold/placed in REPRODUCTIVELY INTACT condition and a MODEST DONATION for every puppy that is sold/placed in REPRODUCTIVELY NEUTRALIZED (ie pediatrically spayed or neutered) condition. I would suggest that the breeder contribute 5% to 10% of the value of each intact puppy, which should be $50 to $100 -- but I would be overjoyed to actually get half of that!! --- and anywhere from $10 to $25 for each spayed/neutered puppy -- and again I'd be overjoyed to get half of that. The stud owner should be expected to contribute 5% to 10% of the total stud fee ; the stud owner does not have the opportunity and responsibility to screen and educate the ultimate puppy recipients nor to effect pediatric spay/neuter, but that should not mean that the stud owner has no responsibility for the lives he creates.
Needless to say whatever fundraising we can do thru auctions and raffles is certainly highly desirable and may reach some who would never make a simple voluntary contribution. Likewise if at our various fun and educational events some portion of attendance or entry fees could be designated for rescue, that too is highly desirable. (Update : BCNC has been very successful at raising funds through auctions and raffles at our club parties -- especially the Christmas party at which the wine flows freely.)
I have fantasies of selling a Rescue Tee shirt that would show a cartoon Bouvier with extremely anxious look on its face strapped into an electric chair and overprinted with a scarlet circle-diagonal-slash symbol, ie the universal "not allowed" symbol. message : dog executions are not allowed !! Now it could be objected that the electric chair stands for execution as punishment for crime and these poor dogs have committed no real crime (indeed are victims of the owner's crimes of neglect), but I think for most viewers that will only underscore the message because they realize that we are dealing with executions of the innocent. (I suppose we could add a halo to the Bouv's head as is done in religious representations of scenes of martyrdom of saints, but this would offend some viewers. Likewise a scene of a Bouv nailed to a crucifix overprinted with circle-slash would surely offend some and be not understood by others.)
(Update 2006 : I settled for a logo of a sad Bouvier sitting behind prison bars, with that red circle-slash symbol over it. Most people get the message, though occasionally one asks if this is a statement against the use of dog crates. That's the trigger for another sermon of course.)
Update : as of the late 1990s, making appeals for donations thrugh breed - specific e-mail lists and on breed-oriented websites has become possible and is a good way to appeal for help for special cases. When raising funds in this manner , it is especially important to document the application of the funds carefully. One good way to assure donors of the legitimacy of the appeal is to ask them to phone the vet caring for the dog and make payment direct to that dog;s account.
In dealing with all issues involving foster homes we must keep foremost in our minds that FOSTER HOMES ARE THE HEART OF RESCUE : without foster homes , we could not do rescue at all or we would have to resort to the very expensive method of keeping rescued dog in boarding kennels. Aside from expense, the foster home is generally much superior to the boarding kennel as a means of rehabilitating the dog and educating it to become a cherished housedog & family companion dog. (I have written an extensive analysis of advantages and disadvantages of in home foster care vs boarding kennel care, which I will provide to anyone interested.) ] Now we do need to know of some affordable boarding kennels for short term emergency use, and we should be asking our membership to investigate to find kennels willing to give rescue a special price -- some rescuers have found kennels willing to board rescued dogs for as little as $3/day to $5/day, ie about half the rate they charge regular clients.
With the foregoing in mind, if a foster home is otherwise qualified to do good foster care but cannot afford to provide any of the costs, then the club should be prepared to provide all costs. However in the usual case the foster home should be able and willing to bear the ordinary day to day costs = food, monthly heartworm pill, flea control, etc. Plus the foster home should immediately put a ID collar on the dog which bears the fosterer's own phone number on it; this can be any ordinary light colored flat buckle/snaplock collar with the phone number(s) written on with a "permanent" ink marker (in reality these need to be refreshed monthly or thereabouts). (Ideally we would also have club tags that have phone numbers of one or mor of our key long term rescue people). The fosterer should be prepared to "front" money for vet visits especially emergencies, but should be able to do so in reliance on reimbursement from the club rescue fund. In a real emergency, such as a traumatic injury (eg dog fight , car accident, bloat, pyometria, or other sudden drastic illness) there may be no opportunity to get consent of Board Members nor even consult one of them. We have to be willing to back up good faith decisions made by a fosterer and their vet (or whatever vet is available for an emergency).
Fosterers should always have the option to permanently adopt a foster dog with whom they have fallen in love. Ideally they should be counseled to seriously consider whether or not adopting this dog will make it unduly difficult or impossible for them to foster other needy Bouv in the future. They should be encouraged to weigh the benefit to self and dog of adopting this one dog (who is certainly one that is highly desirable and thus easily adoptable by others) and having one less "rescue slot" available in their home for the next however many years as weighted against the benefits of using that same "slot" to foster several dogs (to be adopted by others) during each year of that same howevermany years. But in no case should a foster be "shamed out" of making the "selfish choice" to keep a dog he/she has come to love. In most cases it will still be possible to go on fostering others. In any case a fosterer must never be made to suffer for having been a fosterer. Where the fosterer has gone to the pound/shelter to bail the dog immediately on learning of its need, the fosterer should not emerge in worse position than any other member of general public who adopts from a shelter. ie fosterer would pay the shelter fees (including benefit of any "rescue" discounts) and would pay actual costs of spay/neuter , shots, etc. There would be no additional fee to the club. Where a fosterer has taken on the care of a dog already bailed by the club, the fosterer should not emerge any worse off than any other person who adopts from the club, thus the maximum paid would be the normal adoption fee. however in those cases where our actual costs will have been less than the adoption fee, I would favor charging the fosterer only the actual costs.
At some time down the road when we might be well endowed with funds , we may consider whether for a long term foster person who is committed to fostering up to several dogs each year the club should consider making labor or materials available to help the fosterer construct a kennel run to facilitate fostering. When we can afford to do so we should also consider having a few useful bits of special equipment, eg such as a bark collar, available for fosterers to borrow when needed for dealing with special problems in fostered dogs; for the present we will simply have to ask our members to let us know if they have such equipment available for loan to fosterers.
At present we are charging a fixed fee, $175, which we know is usually sufficient to cover basic rescue costs but is not sufficient to cover the extra costs encountered in a substantial proportion of our cases. (Update : eventually increased in 2004 I think to $350 , which was very appropriate and adequate and well accepted.)
Some rescue groups attempt to charge the actual expenses of the individual dog, and when successful this has the advantage of actually covering expenses. The disadvantage is that it can make some dogs prohibitively expensive for the majority of good homes to adopt, and often these dogs with higher costs are dogs who have other factors, such as non-youth or ongoing health-care needs, that already reduce their desirability as adoption candidates. Another disadvantage is that it tends to favor the wealthier adopters over those less affluent , although the latter would be financially able to care for a dog and would in other ways be very desirable adopters. I think our focus should always be on the quality of home provided, which is primarily the adopters attitudes of lovingness and responsibility towards the dog and the adopter's ability to provide the dog with quality companionship and adequate education , as well as basic financial ability to provide for dog's care.
Now Ada Brann has used a variation on the "actual costs" scheme which is to charge a basic adoption fee and select adopters on basis of quality of home provided, but then when turning the dog over to also show the adopter copies of all the bills on the dog "just so you'll see what is involved in rescue" and then leaving it up to the adopter's own conscience to prompt the adopter to volunteer additional contribution. Ada has been very successful in inspiring adopters to pick up some or all of the extra expenses. I think we might use this tactic ourselves.
Some rescuers, I have heard, have experimented with charging a higher fee for especially desirable dogs, eg puppies or very young dogs, very good looking dogs, registered dogs (ie whose papers have accompanied them), or very well trained dogs -- ie according to what their adopters "market" views as especially desirable. With the extra funds, they expect to be able to subsidize the adoption fees of dogs with "desirability handicaps" --oops guess I should say "desirability challenged" dogs -- eg the older dogs, the ones with ongoing health-care needs, or whatever. I myself don't much like this scheme on philosophical grounds : I believe that a dog should only be adopted by someone who truly believed that THIS dog is TOTALLY DESIRABLE -- never mind what age or beauty or whatever -- this person wants this dog "to love and to cherish, till death". The adopter should believe that this dog is totally wonderful -- I don't of course mean an unrealistic belief that the dog is "perfect" in sense of not needing training etc, but that this is the "right and perfect dog for me". And also philosophically and in reality I find that making the "premium dogs" more expensive and thus favoring the more affluent adopters can go contrary to our goal of providing each dog the best and most suitable home available. Wealth is not correlated with quality of home. Also raising prices tends to delay adoption, not a desirable result. Now I confess in a few cases I have LOWERED my own fee on dogs which were "hard to place" = "desirability challenged" when a good home offered itself and that particular home was one on a lower income (provided of course that I was convinced that they would never hesitate or be unable to provide needed care, especially for expensive vet needs) -- and I have in one or two cases agreed to a deferred payment even though I knew I might get "stiffed" because I certainly was not going to "repossess" the dog if I did not get paid (and in the one case where I did get stiffed, I would cheerfully have paid 5 x as much to be rid of that particular dog -- some of you will remember "Bingo" the Bouv from Hell).
Update : in Shelia Boneham's excellent book , "Breed Rescue: how to start and run a successful program", which was based on surveying experiences gathered from many rescue groups via an Internet e-mail list for Dog Rescue groups, the consensus on an appropriate fee is one which (1) covers the basic typical rescue expenses (spay/neuter, shots, etc) and / or(2) which is equal to about one-third the price of a responsibly bred "pet quality" puppy. By that latter criterion , most Rescues are charging far too little. DO remember that there has been research showing that dogs acquired for free or cheaply are at enhanced risk of later being abandoned or put up for placement. And with ordinary vet costs for normal maintainence care and for the common run of accidents and illnesses having risen greatly, to say nothing of the potential costs for state of the art care for serious illness or injury, I do think we must ensure that our adopters are committed to providing such care and have the financial ability to do so. Ultimately of course the laws of supply and demand may limit a Rescues ability to ask and get a decent adoption fee. It's a balancing act, but on the whole I would bet that most Rescues could and should charge more than they currently do.
Well it is now another 3 years later, so some of the cost figures have changed, mostly upwards. But my current vet , not the same as the one mentioned in 2003, has special "rescue rates" for some procedures, including spays and neuters for usually under $100 for the surgery , plus of course her office visit and exam fee.
There is a third factor that I would add to Boneham's two (given above) for determining appropriate adoption fees : (3) the adoption fee should NOT be HIGHER than that being charged for puppies or adults by local "backyard puppy mill" breeders, ie the irresponsible ones who do no health testing and little or no socialization and who will sell to anyone with the cash or credit card to pay for it, no other questions asked. (I call these "paper or plastic breeders", because the only question they will ask is how the buyer intends to pay.) While the puppy sold by such breeders is likely to be a time bomb of behavioral problems and health problems, most potential adopters do NOT realize this and see only an adorable fluffy puppy. It's hard enough for a rescued dog who is no longer a cute puppy and who may come with some physical or emotional "baggage" to compete with these bargain basement puppies without adding a price disadvantage into the equation.
Back to Boneham's factor (2), that the adoption fee should be about one-third the going price of responsibly bred puppies (health tested parents, well socialized puppies, and a breeder who carefully educates buyers and carefully match-makes puppy with buyer), it is important to emphasize that this refers to the price of "pet quality" puppies, NOT the higher price of "show quality" puppies. When I first published this article, I failed to make that clear. One third the price of a "show quality" puppy is likely to be half or more that of the "pet quality" puppy and that is likely to be too HIGH. It is likely to make the prospective adopter think that "for not that much more I can have a cute puppy who is a clean slate (ie no problems) and will be a better dog." Now it's not true that a puppy is a clean slate, but a really responsibly bred puppy is apt to have more good stuff already written on his slate than bad stuff, while the rescued dog may have some bad stuff on his slate, ie "have baggage". Adopters tend to worry about what "baggage" the rescued dog may have. Add to this the fact that some breeders offer time payment plans or take credit cards (yes, even very responsible breeders do take credit cards), and it is all to easy for the adopter to choose the puppy rather than the rescue dog. You know that if an adopter asks me who is the breeder of a rescued dog or was it a responsible breeder, in most cases honnesty compells the reply that I just do not know. In some cases I have to reply that this dog did come from a poor breeder but was lucky enough to be healthy and sound minded. (Or in the really unfortunate cases, not so sound minded or not so healthy.)
So it is important not to set your adoption fees too high as well as not to set them too low.
One more issue : dealing with adopters who indicate that one of their motives for wanting a rescue dog is they " cannot afford" or "don't want to pay" the "high prices that the fancy breeders want." It's important to educate these adopters. I think it is critcal to educate them that "it's not the initial expense, it's the upkeep ---- and especially the vet care !!!" I always invite the adopter who mentions money to visualize themselves in the Emergency Clinic at 3 am with a dog in great pain with distended belly and the vet saying "your dog has Bloat, and the good news is that there are 2 chances out of 3 that I can save your dog's life and the dog can live the rest of its life normally, but the bad news is that it will cost you $1500 to 3000, paid half in advance, for me to try and there are no guarrantees. The survival rate without surgery is zero and it is a hideously painful way to die, so if you don't want to go for treatment, you have to authorize euthanasia. You have the next ten minutes to decide, because every passing minute makes the odds worse." I then go through some more routein expenses and the need to begin their veterinary emergency savings account. That's a real wake up call for some of them. After we get through that part, I do mention that they can find cheaper dogs from backyard "breeding for bucks" breeders , but that these dogs are often walking time bombs who will cost far more in the long run. The only real bargains are to go directly to the shelter, to a shelter that takes care in evaluating dogs and in match-making dog and owner, but that they have to have some confidence in their own ability to judge a dog's temperament in case the shelter has not taken great care in this regard. I then explain the basis for my Rescue's adoption fee.
Of course if I am really lucky my prospective adopter has already read this article.