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Author: Emily Fromm

In memory of my Gracie baby. Me and my family adopted her from an overcrowded shelter almost 9 years ago. She brought the light into my life when I didn’t think it was possible. She was the most loving, energetic, and protective angel. We know you’re wagging your tail again with Jesus. Forever in our minds and hearts.–Rebecca S., VA

Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

One shelter enlists people seeking to surrender cats to foster them until they’re ready for adoption.

> Have a program we should feature in our Adoption Innovation series? Email us!

A mom and kittens fostered through Sun Cities 4 Paws Rescue

It’s a common story: Someone needs to surrender a pet, calls every shelter in the area, and is told they’re all full. Needless to say, the situation doesn’t lend itself to a positive outcome. So Sun Cities 4 Paws Rescue, Inc., a cat-only shelter in Youngtown, Arizona, decided to work with community members seeking to surrender rather than presenting them with yet another dead end.

“We started a Surrender to Foster program in which we ask the person wanting to surrender if they would be willing to ‘foster’ the cat or kittens until we are ready for actual intake. It turns a six-week (or longer) waiting period into a three-week one,” grant writer Angie Grams said in her grant report.

“The person wanting to surrender signs the cat over to us and we do all the needed veterinary care: vaccinations, testing, sterilization, etc., while the cat resides in the home of the person surrendering.

“This is beneficial to both Sun Cities 4 Paws and the surrendering person. We keep much-needed cage space, reduce illness, and reduce the length of stay, since the cat will not actually come into the shelter until they are adoption-ready. And the surrendering person is able to turn the cat over to us much sooner than if they had to wait for available space.”

I spoke with Sun Cities 4 Paws President Ninette Sellar about the program.

When did you start Surrender to Foster?

It’s been going on since the middle of 2022. So almost a year ago. 

How did the idea come about?

We always were looking for innovations. Our board doesn’t have a background in shelter management, so we’re all learning as we go. We had a change in staff leadership, so it was an opportunity for us to try new things. We were looking for ways to reduce our length of stay and involve our community more. And part of the Maddie’s Fund We Foster Challenge was [to find] a way to work with other organizations who are also trying to be innovative. We joined in their group meetings and developed what I think is now a really successful Surrender to Foster program. 

What has the impact been on your organization and your pet population?

Just in the six months in 2022 that we were doing this, we were able to bring on 30 fosters through the program and 120 cats. Initially we thought it was just going to be owner-surrenders, but there’s no reason not to offer it to people who have found cats, or who are taking care of their neighbor’s abandoned cat. We found that, when people understand that there’s not an open place, and they’ve called two or three other shelters and they’re all full, it becomes, “Okay, well at least we know it’s [only] a three-week commitment.” You know, they want to help the cat. And when they learn what the challenges are to the shelters, they become part of the solution.

What’s been really great too is that some of the fosters that we’ve recruited through the Surrender to Foster program have continued to be fosters for us.

What are some of the issues people bring up when they’re resistant to the idea of fostering? Allergies, other pets in the home, not enough space?

Certainly all of those. I think that the biggest resistance is, “I need this cat out now; I’m moving tomorrow,” or “My mom passed away and we’re only here for a little while cleaning the house.” And for those kinds of things, we figure it out. But for those that have the opportunity, we talk to ‘em.

But I think the biggest challenge is, we have a veterinarian who comes in once a week, so there’s a really specific day and time that we need the cats back in the shelter for vaccinations, exams, and all of that. That’s really the biggest challenge: You’re going to have to take a weekday morning, three times during the cat’s stay, to bring the cat in.

Are you an all-volunteer organization? 

No, we have 10 paid staff and the rest are volunteers. We do not have a vet on staff.

You know, they want to help the cat. And when they learn what the challenges are to the shelters, they become part of the solution.”

Have you had to enlist staff or volunteers to go out to people’s homes, whether to pick up a cat and bring it to the vet or to deliver supplies? 

No. We haven’t offered that. Not any more than we usually do, and we don’t do it very often. Usually that’s reserved for our legacy cats, cats that have been registered with us for us to be able to go in and take care of them when the owner no longer can.

If I call you and I say, “I have this cat. My family member passed away, I can’t keep her, can you take her?” How would the conversation go?

Well if we have space, then we would absolutely take them. If we have space but, you know, sometimes it sounds like they don’t really want to part with them, but they know the cat’s just not going to fit in their life, we do offer — we offer it to everybody: “If you are available to keep the cat for three weeks and let them stay in a home, that will keep them out of a cage and they’ll go straight to our adoption center.” And for somebody who’s grieving, that sounds really good, that they can keep their mom’s cat out of a stressful situation. 

Because if a cat is not vaccinated or altered, it will be in the shelter but not available for adoption for, is it three weeks, generally? 

Yeah. About three weeks.

What if I’m saying, “Listen, the cat is scratching up my furniture. I’m just over it.” How would that conversation go?

If we have space and we can accommodate, we will. If we don’t have space, we’ll say, “We can help you with your cat, but the only way we can do that is if you basically foster the cat for us for three weeks.” And I think that people who are trying to rehome their cats appreciate that, after they call the other shelters and find out how nobody else is going to take ‘em. What we forget is that, while I’m in this world every day, the callers that we get are not. When they finally make the decision to rehome their cat, this is all very new to them. So they think, “I can just call and take the cat to a shelter.”

So there’s some education, and I think that it’s important to always keep the frame of mind that you’re a nonprofit and you’re working with your community. You really have to involve the community in what your mission is. We can’t do it by ourselves, so we’re always looking for ways to engage our community, through donations, through volunteers, and through helping them take care of their cats.

Haillie, a former Sun Cities 4 Paws foster kitten. Read her story here.

Do people have an easier time wrapping their heads around three weeks because it’s a clear-cut, finite time frame?

Absolutely. Even if we find that the cat is going to take longer than three weeks [to become adoptable], like if they have a really bad mouth and need a dental, we can say, it’s going to take a little longer, but the intake is going to be this time. So if you want to keep the cat a little longer, great. If not, we’ve made the commitment that it’s going to be three weeks and we’ll take the cat. And sometimes then we find another foster who’s willing to take on an adult cat who needs a dental. I don’t think we’ve had many say, “Okay, I’ll keep him for three more months because that’s how long the wait is for a dental.” 

Have you ever not had the space at the end of the three weeks?

No. We figure it out. We kind of know what’s coming in. And we do keep a couple of empty banks in case there’s a dump or whatever. There was one week where we had to do some pop-ups, but that was the week before a spay/neuter, so we had so many [cats in the shelter] anyway.

So you have some flexibility.


Have you found that this program has changed your organization’s relationship with your community?

The best and biggest change is that, for our staff and volunteers who are answering phones, it’s not a bunch of, “No, we don’t have space, call the other shelters,” when we know they don’t have space. It’s been great to be able to say, “We have another option. We don’t have space, but we have another option, so let’s work together on this.” 

And then kind of like, tightening up our description of the program. That took a minute to wrap our brains around, so that our staff and volunteers who answer the phones really understand what it is well enough to be able to explain it. That took a minute to work out, but now we have a script.    

There was a lot of nervousness that people were not going like it, and be put out that we were asking for help. But we’ve really found the opposite: that it’s been great to have one more way to offer to help. 

Has it changed your staff’s and volunteers’ perspectives on the people who are surrendering?

That’s a tough one. We’re still working on that. But as we have conversations with people, [we’ve learned that] very few of our Surrender to Fosters have been owner-surrenders. It’s not usually their longtime pet cat that they’re trying to bring in. It’s somebody else’s cat, or a cat they found in the community, or the litter of a pregnant mom who showed up at their workplace. 

We didn’t expect to find that. But I think by having the conversations with them, we get to learn more, [and understand that] it’s not just somebody trying to get rid of their cat. It’s somebody who’s really working to help a cat that they didn’t expect to encounter.

We’re always looking for ways to engage our community, through donations, through volunteers, and through helping them take care of their cats.”

Have you found that having the foster period cuts down on stress for the cats and makes them more adoptable once they come in?

Yeah. I think so. We’ve got fewer cats getting sick because they’re not getting exposed to [contagions] in the shelter, so we get healthier cats that go straight to the adoption centers. I think some of the staff wish they had more time with the cats so they could get to know them and describe their traits, but there’s plenty of other cats. We’ve got about 120 cats at our shelter at any given time, so there are other cats they can get to know [laughs].

Does the foster provide a description of the cat’s personality once they bring it in? 

Yeah, that’s part of the paperwork at the time of surrender, so that we get some description. Some of the fosters, although not always, are like, “Here’s the cat. I did my part, bye.” And then of course when the cats are in the adoption centers, the adoption staff get to hang out with them and can update adopters on what the cat’s behavior is.

How does it work financially? 

We do let them know what our surrender fee is. We have gotten some eyerolls, like, “Wait, so you want me to give you money and then I take care of this cat?” We have been flexible if we know that there’s a need. We also provide food, supplies, and litter when they ask for it, so we let them know that we can offer that. But we are a nonprofit [laughs].

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned through the course of this program?

We didn’t start out collecting or tracking these cats separately in our shelter-management system. So we were like, “Wait, what are our numbers? Well I don’t know, who’s been tracking it?” We had to manually go back. We’re still trying to figure out how to work with our shelter data system to separate this data, because we think it’s important to track it. We’re still hand-counting it.

Over the last year, or couple of years, we’ve been trying new things. We’ve been developing a culture where it’s okay to try and fail, and learn from it, and some of it works and some of it doesn’t. Surrender to Foster has been fun because it’s almost universally successful.

Do you have a sense of how much Surrender to Foster has increased your intake?

Last year it was 120 cats that we would have had to delay intake on. Last year we adopted out 750 cats.

It’s been great to be able to say, ‘We have another option. We don’t have space, but we have another option, so let’s work together on this.’ “

What advice would you offer an organization thinking of trying something like this?

There really isn’t a downside. We have volunteer foster coordinators, and it hasn’t significantly increased the amount of work that they have to do. It’s the same as with a brand new foster volunteer: We have the same training and on-boarding.

People doing Surrender to Foster go through your standard foster training?

Yes. At the time of intake, we go over with them what it looks like, what dates we’re expecting them to bring the cat in for vaccinations and exams. And we give them a foster handbook that includes an emergency phone number. We make some assumptions that this is not the first time that they’ve had contact with a cat.

Do they often need basic supplies?

No. For the ones who have found a pregnant mom or little kittens, we have this really cute bag that has toys and all the other supplies a kitten foster might need. For bottle babies, it’s got bottles and formula.

We keep the foster [supply] closet replenished. “Do you have toys? What do you need? Let’s make sure you get it.”

Has someone ever gone through the program and decided to keep the cat?

Yes, actually! It was litter of three kittens they’d found. The family got covid during the time, so when they finally were able to start coming back, they were pretty attached. Two of the kittens they found homes for, and they kept one. So those cats had zero shelter time [laughs].

How many new foster homes have you added through this program?

We had 30 [Surrender to Fosters] and I would say probably 10 of them have continued or offered to stay on as fosters, which is amazing. And two of those live in communities where there are a lot of friendly community cats because people have been dropping off cats, or when they move, they leave them. [The Surrender to Foster volunteer realizes that,] “If I foster these cats in groups, I can clean up my community, I can get these friendly cats away from being coyote food.” That has been an unexpected benefit. 

One community had probably 15 orange cats, all related. [The volunteer] has been really grateful, because she’d been feeding them. She started taking in the quantity that she could house in her home, and I think we’re down to the last three. That’s been a fun part of this experiment. 

–Emily Fromm, Chief Development Officer

Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

An innovative program treats adoption returns as opportunities rather than failures.

> Have a program we should feature in our Adoption Innovation series? Email us!

Ollie was adopted through the open-returns program. Read his story.

When Prairie Paws Animal Shelter in Ottawa, Kansas, received our $3,000 Kia Pet Adoption Grant to reduce or waive adoption fees, Executive Director Vanessa Cowie decided to try out an innovative approach to adoptions: The shelter waived fees for cats and dogs who’d been at the shelter longer than two weeks, and adopters were told they could return the pets at any time, for any reason, with no financial downside — and, more importantly, no judgment.

“Waiving the adoption fees allowed adopters to try out dogs in the home they typically wouldn’t have tried,” Cowie wrote in her grant report. “If the adoption didn’t work out, the dog could be returned, risk-free, and the adopter could try another dog.”

The results? “These trial adoptions were incredibly successful,” Cowie wrote. “Not only did this grant help us place 39 of our pets into loving homes, these 39 were our pets with the longest lengths of stay.”

I spoke with Cowie to get more information about this new approach to pet returns.

How did you get the idea for this program?

Every shelter has long-stay dogs. What we noticed is that if they stay with us for two weeks, they are more likely to stay with us for six months. It was almost like this two-week period was an indicator. 

I knew that the Petfinder Foundation did these fee-waived [grants], and I needed a way to fund the adoption fees of that population of dogs and cats without sacrificing the shelter’s revenue. [So] we could fund an idea, and it was risk-free for us and risk-free for the adopters. It was like, we’re going to get the adoption fee anyway, so let’s target the population of dogs that need this.  

We also realized that, if they get returned once, they’re more likely to get returned twice. So it was like, ok, these dogs that stay here for more than two weeks, and cats as well, if they get returned after that amount of time, they are statistically more likely to get returned again. So let’s look at this as if they are definitely going to be returned. And how will we approach this now that we know that this is the most likely outcome?

That totally changed the way we approached those adoption consultations. Having this Petfinder Foundation funding, it was like: “Don’t worry about the adoption fee. These cats and dogs are fee-waived for a reason: We need them to go into two homes before they find their forever home. Can you be one of the homes that helps them get one step closer to their forever home?” 

The adopters were like, “I get that you need basically two households to try this dog or cat out to give you enough information to know what their forever home even looks like.” 

When a pet would get returned, we had a Google sheet that listed the date, which animal it was that was funded by the grant, and — say it was a $100 dog adoption fee; it would say “Spencer, $100,” and the date, and it just calculated. If Spencer came back, which he did — and most of them did, that was the point — then we would take him off the list. So it’s not like he consumed grant money every time he got adopted. It was that for that one dog, the grant funded him coming in and out three times during that [period]. And of all the animals that we adopted through this, there was only one out of all those 39 that came back outside of the grant period. So they all got forever homes except for one, of 39. And those animals had been with us for a long, long time.

We need them to go into two homes before they find their forever home. Can you be one of the homes that helps them get one step closer to their forever home?”

Could you do it without the sponsored adoption fees? Say, offer two-week trial adoptions and then charge the fee at the end of that period if the family decides to keep the pet?

I think what changed the whole program was that we didn’t give people a timeline. We didn’t say the trial was two weeks, 10 days, or three weeks. They didn’t know how long they had to find a behavior problem. They could still return these animals tomorrow if they wanted to. We didn’t give them a deadline. We didn’t know when to charge [the adoption fee,] because we never did.

It just takes the revenue piece out of the equation.

Yeah. Now we know, too, that about $2,000 to $3,000 is what it takes to run this for a month, with a shelter of our size, and get 40 of our most difficult animals out. So if we did that twice a year, we know what we need to run it, how long to run it, and what the results should be. Which is awesome!

Neo, who was also adopted through the program

When someone returned one of the pets, did you go through a debriefing with them to get information to add to the pet’s file?

Yes. We would tell them that at the time of adoption, “This animal got returned once before.” And they would go, “Oh, how horrifying!” And we would say, “No no no no, the reason we’re telling you is because we learned X, Y, and Z. So you may very well want to return this dog because of those behaviors, and it’s fine. They’re fine.” And we would also tell them, “Don’t be afraid of returning. It’s the same as a foster.”

We had to change our volunteers’ perception of this, because they would villainize anyone who returned an animal.

That was my next question. That’s a dramatic mindset change.

Right. As soon as we knew we wanted returns, and were encouraging returns in a different way, we had to totally take down [the notion] that somehow this was traumatic to the dog. You know, volunteers would take dogs home to foster for the weekend. Do you think the dog knows the difference between being fostered and being adopted and returned? No, they don’t! There’s no research to support that they’re traumatized by the in and out process. 

The sentence that we started to say was: This dog needs to be returned three times. Statistically, the pattern we’re seeing with this dog is, he needs three experiences in a home. You’re not willing to foster him, but an adopter is willing to take him home for two weeks or three weeks or whatever they’re comfortable with. And we’d actually process the adoption, so they are legally the owner of that dog, but they get to bring him back any time, which is already our policy.

[We had] to tell the volunteers that: That returns are really helpful for difficult dogs, we learn more, we go into it knowing that they’re likely to get returned, we communicate that to the adopter, and we get multiple debriefs. We get adopters going, “Hey, you know how you said that the last home said he wasn’t good with dogs? Well, we know why that is. It was because of a certain situation. With our neighbor’s dog, they got along great, but we had them in this circumstance.”

And so we could piece together a better version of the story, have a lot more information, and be able to communicate that to the next person.

Ollie was the one that I put in the grant report. That dog had been through our shelter double-digit times! 

Do you think the dog knows the difference between being fostered and being adopted and returned? No, they don’t!”

Did his final adopters have a 30-foot wall?

(Laughs) He was beautiful — a gorgeous purebred golden retriever, just stunning. Never knew a stranger; the most friendly dog on the planet. And so when you say “Ollie’s been returned nine times,” they’re like, “Oh my god, why?” And we could say specifically what type of fence would keep him in and specifically what type of crate would work, because we had nine people experiment with him.

And every one of those people who returned Ollie adopted a different dog from us. So we didn’t lose adopters. And we communicated that at the time of adoption, too: “If it doesn’t work out, we really encourage you to meet another dog, because we will learn more about your lifestyle and the type of dog that is a good fit for you. And when you bring this one back, I bet you there’s another one you can try.”

So we had these families bringing in, taking out, saying, “Ollie did this, this, and this; I really think the next home should use this type of fence because our neighbors had that type of fence and he never got out of that, but we just can’t change our fence and we would like a dog that’s more like this.”

So it became more of like, a trying on shoes experience (laughs).

So rather than villainizing people who return pets, you’re engaging them as your research team so they become your collaborators rather than your opponents.

One other big thing we had to change, [was that] our adoption counselors used to take a photo with the pet [upon adoption] and post every single one on social media. And I said, we’re stopping this, because the return rate is 12%.

That was a really hard pill to swallow for the volunteers, because they want to celebrate every single adoption in real time, and it’s like, but that’s not the world we live in. You’ve put so much pressure on that family now to keep that dog forever, when it may not be a good fit. And I know that dog has a return history of eight times! We’re not celebrating this adoption! We’re not going “Al finally got a home” until we know that [the adopters are] really comfortable with us celebrating it.

So we don’t celebrate every single adoption. We celebrate very specific ones, or we have an alumni [Facebook] page where we let them celebrate themselves, so adopters can, in their own time, go, “Hey, it’s really working out with Al. I know you guys really liked him. Here’s some photos of him, we’re hiking, we’re doing this.” 

We even stopped using this language of “forever home.” Because these are just regular human beings trying to adopt a dog. 

Is it still a struggle with the volunteers?

It’s still a struggle with some. We have volunteers who have been with the organization for 15 years. Change is hard, and this was a lot of change in a really short amount of time. And with my leadership style, there’s been a lot of reducing the barriers to adoption and eliminating as many as we can. So this was just another ingredient in a much bigger pie: “AND we’re not going to call landlords, AND we’re not going to require that people have a fence, AND we’re not going to look up the BSL ordinances in your town if you want to adopt a pit bull.” 

How did you get your staff on board?

We cross train, so our adoption counselors and our animal-care technicians are the same employees. On some days they’re cleaning kennels, they’re medicating, they’re exercising dogs, and they’re running playgroups. And on other days, they’re at the front desk processing adoptions.

The reason I wanted it that way — obviously we have a small enough staff, we only have 10 employees — I wanted them to know the dogs. So when they were adopting out a dog, I didn’t want them to go, “Hey, I don’t know anything about this dog; let me go get someone who does.” I wanted them to say, “He does this in playgroups, he loves the pool.”

But I also wanted them to have a vested interest in getting them out. And if you are in animal care, you get attached to the dogs; you want to see them get out. I don’t have to tell you to do it because you want it to happen. So I really didn’t have to get any buy-in from the staff, because every single adoption counselor has a vested interest in the best outcome for every animal because they care for them every day.

Did having this different attitude toward adopters change your shelter’s relationship with your community?

Yeah. it did. Even the way they talked about the shelter on the alumni page was different. And the Google reviews, all the stuff that you shouldn’t read late at night but you do (laughs). A perfect story was a dog who came through the Kia promotion a couple times — Neo, a three-legged pit bull — who finally got a really good home. And that adopter just recently posted on the alumni page, “Hey! I know everyone really loved Neo. Here he is with our kids at the park.”

And another alumni was like, “I had Neo for two weeks! That’s so awesome! Now I have Sarge.” And someone else wrote, “Hey, I had Sarge for two weeks!”

So they really become a community themselves.

They did. And there was no, “You jerk, you returned Neo.” It was like, “Yeah, but we ended up with this dog instead.” It totally changed the dynamic of pet owners to pet owners. It got everyone off their high horse. No one was self-righteous, because no one’s the perfect pet owner any more. There was no, “You failed the dog.” It was, “You did the right thing, because now look at the home he’s in, and now look at the dog you have, and look how perfect those families look now.” Whereas if you switched those dogs, [you’d have] two very unhappy families.

[In addition,] we also then got to go, we are not really going to vet you that closely. Because if it doesn’t work out, bring him back. We’re not going to go, “Oh you don’t run three miles a day, every day?”

I think it made us much less judgmental and easier to work with. There was a free flow of information [from adopters]. They would say, “Hey, we left him in a crate for eight hours and he did this.” Normally they would lie about that. They would say, “We were walking him 12 times a day and he still chewed up the sofa.”

[Instead,] it was “We did this, and this was the outcome,” whereas I think if you go into it [with the attitude that], “You need to be the very best pet owner every single day for the rest of this pet’s life,” they will never communicate to you the situations in which these incidents happened.

So it made everyone more transparent. It made the adopters much more accepting of each other, it made the volunteers happier over time because now they can see these posts. It’s just a slower thing, because Neo’s adopter didn’t post until August and they got him in May, and the whole time, the volunteers were like, “They’ve probably got him locked in a dungeon, they probably sold him on Craigslist.”

It’s just like, give the adopters time to feel comfortable enough to promote their own experience. We’re not going to take that from them, and it will be so much more genuine and so much more worth the wait when you see this real piece of information that we didn’t choreograph and we didn’t script from here at the shelter. We’re now seeing a change of mindset in the volunteers because we’re starting to see happy endings.

There was no, ‘You failed the dog.’ It was, ‘You did the right thing, because now look at the home he’s in.’ “

Pets take a few months to settle in and decompress, so if you get feedback after that, you know it’s authentic.

Yup. Everyone just had to take a little bit of pressure off of everyone else. Take the pressure off the dog, off the staff, off the adopter; everyone just relax a little and try it out and see how it goes. 

Having the funding to back it was important too, because the people who bust their butts to raise money, they needed to know that we weren’t sacrificing $3,000 in adoption revenue.

What would you say to someone who’s concerned that people who want free pets are going to be subpar pet owners?

We know there’s no bearing on [a fee-waived pet] being mistreated or being loved any less, but I have seen shelters say, “Our returns do go up [when we waive fees].” But it’s not because of the adopters, it’s because you’ve lowered a barrier on an animal who needed it, and you got him out! And that’s great that you got a return, because it means you got an adoption, and you got him out.

Even if your return rate is higher for fee-waived adoptions, it’s because those dogs were more likely to be returned anyway. And you need to get a couple of returns under their belts to get them into a home that’s a good fit.

–Emily Fromm, Chief Development Officer

Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

Bear (R.I.P.) was a rescue and in turn rescued me. Only had him for 2.5 years before kidney failure took him from me. A piece of my heart has been ripped out. He is dearly missed.–Brook Morris

Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

Both Max and Chance were rescued from animal shelters. They were the most incredible furry family members anyone could desire, bringing my family daily joy and laughter. Max and Chance will be forever missed, but will remain in are hearts.–Shacola Bratcher

Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

In memory of our sweet girl, Molly, who was loved by all who knew her.  She will remain in our hearts always.–Sheryl LaBoda

Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

In memory of Jordan — “Jordy” to those who loved him most. Our time together was too short. You will never be forgotten, my feisty friend. –Donna Callegari

Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

1. “Dogs need access to yards to be happy

Dogs obviously do need outside time, but a few walks a day is often enough. Even dogs who live in homes with yards should be taken for walks: The exercise and exposure to different sights, sounds, and – especially – smells is critical to their physical and emotional wellbeing.

2. “My apartment is too small for a big dog

Even big dogs don’t need a lot of space – and consider that, for a shelter dog, your apartment is a mansion compared to their kennel. And many large-breed dogs are lower-energy than smaller breeds.

“Oftentimes a small apartment is particularly suited for large-breed dogs,” says Jessica Arnold, member success manager at “Think about the energy level of a 150-lb. Great Dane: They sometimes have to be cajoled to get up and take a walk. Now think about a 20-lb. Jack Russell terrier: They often cannot be stopped from walking (and running, and jumping, and playing). Who is going to do better in a one-bedroom?”

What your dog does need is exercise (a few walks a day), enrichment (puzzle toys or things to chew), and socialization (time with you and, if they like other dogs, some canine friends).

3. “It’s not fair to get a dog when I work all day

Dog walkers and doggie daycare offer solutions for getting your dog exercise and socialization while you’re gone. Of course, those can be pricey. If you work long hours, your best bet is to adopt an older dog; many sleep 18-20 hours a day. 

“Some pets do better in a low-energy, quiet environment,” Arnold says. Alternatively, “consider adding more than one pet to your home so that they can keep each other company.” 

Talk to shelter staff or rescue-group volunteers, being honest about the number of hours a day your dog will spend alone, and they’ll match you with the perfect companion for your lifestyle.–Emily Fromm, Chief Development Officer, The Petfinder Foundation  

Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

So you’ve decided to adopt a pet – congratulations! For many people, this journey starts online, with a search on a website such as There, you can see pets available for adoption near you, and narrow your results by species, breed, age, sex, and other criteria.

While the search might feel a bit online shopping, the similarities end there. Once you find a pet you’re interested in, adopting isn’t a one-click process. Here’s how to be prepared when you’ve found a pet you want to bring home.

Understand Where You’re Adopting From

The pet you find online will either be at a shelter or in a private foster home, often through a volunteer-run rescue group (although some shelters also provide foster homes for certain pets). Where you’re adopting from will determine much about your adoption experience.


If the organization has a name that contains “Humane Society,” “SPCA,” or “Animal Shelter,” or if it has a street address rather than a P.O. box, it’s a shelter. That means it has a physical location where you can meet the adoptable pets in person. 

Be sure to check its hours, and note that in the age of covid, you may need to make an appointment. Either way, it will save you time if you submit an application in advance of your visit. The shelter’s website will tell you what documentation you should bring to adopt.


  • Shelters often have less arduous application processes than rescue groups
  • You can generally meet the pets any time during visitor hours
  • If a pet is spayed or neutered, you might be able to take him home the day of your visit
  • You can meet many pets at one time


  • Shelter staff might not have much background on the pet
  • A pet’s behavior in a shelter won’t necessarily reflect his behavior in a home

Rescue Groups

If a pet is in the care of a volunteer-run rescue organization and living in a foster home, you probably won’t be able to meet him until your application has been approved. Then you’ll need to coordinate with the foster caregiver on when and where to meet.

Rescue groups may take a long time to respond to your application, or you might not hear back at all. This is certainly frustrating. Try to understand that the volunteers running the organization are busy and doing their best; also, some pets might get hundreds of applications and volunteers might not be able to respond to all of them. It’s nothing personal.


  • The pet’s foster can give you a lot of information about how the pet behaves in a home
  • The pet will be less stressed and you’ll get a better sense of his true personality
  • Rescue groups often work hard to resolve pets’ health and behavior issues
  • Many rescue groups will be available to provide advice long after you adopt 


  • Rescue groups are often more selective about adopters than shelters
  • The application process is usually more in-depth
  • Adoption fees can be higher

Applications, Applications, Applications!

You’ll need to fill out an application for any pet you want to adopt, and every adoption group has its own application. Some are pretty long! Since you might end up applying for several pets, it helps to keep a Word document with answers to the most common questions (such as vet and personal references) to copy and paste.

If you live in an apartment, chances are, you’ll be asked to prove you’re allowed to have the pet you’re interested in, whether by providing a copy of your lease or your landlord’s contact information.  

You may also be asked to agree to a home visit, especially if you’re adopting from a rescue group. While this might seem invasive, it’s just to ensure the pet will be safe in your home – and it can be a good source of information! Many a hole in a fence has been discovered during a home visit.

Adoption Fees

Adopting isn’t free, but no adoption group is turning a profit on their pets. The pet you adopt will be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and often microchipped, and your fee will be much less than what you’d spend on those services if you were to purchase a pet.

Your pet will also most likely have received additional health care. “Typically, adoption fees reflect the level of investment that groups make into animals in their care,” says Jessica Arnold, member success manager at “Spay/neuter surgeries can range from $200 to well over $1,000 depending on the species, size, age and overall health of the animal.”

Tips for Getting Approved

First of all, be courteous in your communications with the adoption group, and provide lots of detail in your application. Many people think adoption groups are desperate to get pets into homes as quickly as possible, when in fact they’re looking for the best fit for each pet.

If you’re turned down for a pet, don’t take it personally. Ask the adoption group if there’s another pet they think might be a better match for you. Remember, they know the pets’ personalities best.

Finally, cast a wide net and apply for lots of pets, keeping in mind that young ones, small breeds, and purebred animals get a lot of applications. Don’t give up – the perfect match is out there for you! –Emily Fromm, Chief Development Officer, The Petfinder Foundation

Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

Little SweetPea was borne of show-dog-quality parents, the fourth in a litter of four (unheard of with her little mama). She weighed only 2.4 OUNCES, and had to be bottle-fed every two hours around the clock. She survived, and began to thrive, but had some rather unusual problems: her vagina was tilted horizontally, which required surgery to prevent the frequent UTI’s, and when she was spayed, the vet realized she also had “some little boy-parts.” I always said it was a good thing she was so very cute — she didn’t have much else going for her. She never learned to play with a toy or ball until she was 4 years old, but then she learned to recognize which toy I asked for when she heard it  (as in “bring me your monkey”).  She learned two “tricks”: I could get her to  “growl” on command and “speak” on command.

She was very protective, and had no idea of her size — she even challenged a neighbor-dog whose head was bigger than she was. By the age of 14, she had developed severe kidney failure and was entered into eternal rest in June of 2016. To this day, I still vary between great memories and mourning her passing. In the first picture, she has taken over the big bed belonging to one of my other dogs; in the second picture, she is riding in the front of the four-wheeler on the way to our daily hike in the woods, which she LOVED; and the third picture is our sad farewell.–Rosamond Prince

Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

In honor of Bella. Family kitty of Brent, Chantel, Eric and Leigh Gonzales. May positive memories replace the feelings of loss and gratitude for the time spent with her ease your grief.–Steve Creadeur 

Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

In loving memory of Max and Cody, waiting for us all on the other side of the rainbow bridge. Loyal and true, lives well lived, comfort and friends to all. Cold nights will never be as warm without you, until we meet again.–Carolyn and Jim Scott

Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

Tyger at Trampled Rose Rescue & Rehab

We’ve approved three more grants to help shelters and rescue groups impacted by Hurricane Ida.

Our grant to Trampled Rose Rescue & Rehab in New Orleans will help fund repairs to its facility in Ponchatoula, LA. Its perimeter fence and chicken coop, which housed more than 25 rescue chickens, were destroyed by fallen trees, and its outbuildings, which contained dog food, supplies, and refrigerators for medication, were flooded.

“Although we rely on fosters for many of the dogs in our care, the property in Ponchatoula is home to rescue animals who need intensive medical care, are currently non-adoptable, and many others,” says Foster Coordinator Carolyn Broussard.

Snape and Albus at ARNO

Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO) has been handling animal care for nearby shelters that closed due to Ida, as well as feeding pets left behind when owners were forced to evacuate, despite losing power for 12 days in its own facility.

Two dogs helped were Albus and Snape (above), who were dumped between a swamp and a sugarcane field just before the hurricane. Albus had a fractured leg and both were heartworm positive, but they are now safe and receiving care.

A stray dog at Somerset Regional Animal Shelter

Our grant to Somerset Regional Animal Shelter in Bridgewater, NJ, will be used toward medical care for the increased number of animals coming into the shelter as a result of Ida.

Bridgewater received an upwards of 10″ inches of rain during Ida, and many houses were destroyed by flooding. “In just this week alone, 50% of our kennel space was utilized to assist our communities with dog surrenders,” says Assistant Shelter Manager Rose Tropeano. The organization also took in cats from the flooded Plainfield Area Humane Society.


Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

Bubbles, rescued by Louisiana SPCA

Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana on Aug. 29, destroying homes and leaving more than a million people without power.

Many animal shelters in the state were damaged or forced to evacuate. Those that were not scrambled to take in injured and abandoned animals.

Because of donors like you, we’re able to send Disaster Grants to aid these lifesaving efforts. Below are a few of the groups we’re assisting.

Bubbles, trapped under debris

Our grant will help the Louisiana SPCA care for evacuees’ pets and respond to reports of stray, injured, or abandoned animals — like Bubbles, who was chained inside a collapsed shed without food or water (above). Once rescued, Bubbles revealed himself to be friendly and affectionate (top).

Source: Terrebonne Parish Animal Shelter

Terrebonne Parish Animal Shelter’s grant will provide food and medical care to abandoned or surrendered animals. “Ida left an estimated 90% of our homes damaged and 60% uninhabitable,” says shelter manager Valerie Robinson. “There are missing, abandoned, and sick or injured animals all across our parish.

Source: Take Paws Rescue

Take Paws Rescue in New Orleans sustained serious damage to its Stray Café adoption facility. Our grant will help it make repairs and help animals left behind during the storm, including the puppy pictured above, who was abandoned in a garage with two other small dogs.

Source: Cat Haven

Cat Haven in Baton Rouge lost power, has been unable to procure supplies, and sustained some damage from the storm, but continues to take in displaced pets. “We have seen 70 admission requests since August 29, 2021, the day Hurricane Ida hit,” says Executive Director Rachel Waldrop-Holzhauser.

We have also sent Disaster Grants to Bluetails in Marrero, LA; For Pet’s Sake Rescue in Long Beach, MS; Pearl River County SPCA in Picayune, MS; Trampled Rose Rescue & Rehab in New Orleans; Somerset Regional Animal Shelter in Bridgewater, NJ; and Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO) in New Orleans.



Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

In loving memory of my best friend Chubi, you may be gone but you will
live on forever in my heart, mind and soul.–Donald Shereck

Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

In loving memory of Cody – the bi-coastal pup with the best dog mama in the world! You’re missed by all that knew you and will always be loved by many more who will simply miss #codydiaries.–The BiC Team

Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

In memory of Bear, who was loved by all – even my “non-dog-person” husband! His sweet, goofy nature will never be forgotten.–Sheryl LaBoda

Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

Puppies at the warming center operated by Harris County Pets Resource Center

We’ve sent three more grants to Texas shelters to help them recover from this year’s devastating winter storms. Here are their stories:

Harris County Pets Resource Center
Project Manager Marissa Johnston writes: “Harris County Pets (HCP) [in Houston] was directly impacted by the week-long extreme weather event Winter Storm Uri. For six days, HCP was forced to remain closed to the public due to power and water outages as well as dangerous road conditions and freezing temperatures.

“Throughout the six days, staff remained on-site, including overnight, to care for the approximately 190 animals in our facility. As a county-operated organization, additional staff were required to stand up an animal-care site at a county-operated warming facility, where they cared for animals in need of warmth and shelter during the storm.

Puppies at the warming center

“Phone operators and animal-control officers continued to answer calls remotely and respond to urgent needs to ensure animals in the community were being kept inside with adequate protection from the freezing temperatures. At times, widespread power outages and cellular service interruptions presented an insurmountable challenge in maintaining these critical operations.

“One of the greatest trials of the event was the loss of power and water in our building. HCP had just two portable generators at our disposal that could provide power for limited sections of the facility. One of the generators proved unreliable and, therefore, during one of the coldest nights of the week-long storm, HCP had just one working generator to power a small section of our sprawling facility. We were thankfully able to get the second generator working by reducing the load and cutting off power to certain areas of the building. Animals needed to be consolidated to smaller sections to keep the generator running.

“Water was an additional concern, as the boil-water notice, followed by a loss of water pressure, raised concerns about our staffs’ ability to adequately clean kennels and provide safe drinking water for the animals in our care.

“As a result of extended power outages, certain medications and vaccines in our medical refrigerators became unusable and needed to be replaced.

A dog rescued by Harris County Pets

“Due to our six-day closure, the pets in our facility experienced a length-of-stay much longer than our average 5.9 days. To address this issue and avoid any potential capacity concerns, Harris County Pets hosted a free adoption event from Sunday, February 28th to Friday, March 5th.

“This was our first large-scale weather event endured in our new Harris County Pets facility. With only a few months until hurricane season, we fully expect many of the extreme challenges presented during Winter Storm Uri to further impact HCP in future weather events. As we engage in recovery from Winter Storm Uri, we are also looking to better prepare our building to withstand extreme conditions and protect the health and well-being of the animals in our care during such events.”

Our grant will help fund a water tank, replacement medications and vaccines,
temperature monitors, heating and cooling equipment, mobile hotspots, and additional emergency supplies (battery packs, flashlights, fans), as well as reimburse the shelter for waived adoption fees after the storm.

Odin at Bay Area Pet Adoptions

Bay Area Pet Adoptions
“The Texas artic storm hit all of us by surprise, as the Texas Gulf Coast never sees sub-freezing weather like this, in addition to a power grid failure,” writes Ann Traynor-Plowman, a volunteer at Bay Area Pet Adoptions in San Leon. “Our shelter lost power for almost a week. A water pipe in the big-dog kennel burst from the freezing temperatures.

“Bay Area Pet Adoptions prepared as well as we could for this winter storm event and sent the majority of our shelter dogs into foster, so we only had dogs with behavioral challenges left at the shelter, and our cattery. One of our wonderful staff members volunteered to stay at the shelter to care for our animals who were on-site, as well as keep an eye on the buildings. We combined all of the dogs into one building for convenience and close proximity to the cattery and office. He stayed in the small office to look after two of dogs who were sheltered there instead of the kennels.

Benjamin at Bay Area Pet Adoptions

“The power went out the first night on February 13th and did not come back on for five days. Our quick-thinking staff ran to Home Depot and purchased the last generator, gasoline, and multiple extension cords to help keep the small-dog kennels, cattery, and front office warm. She was also able to borrow some portable electric heaters from her neighbors.

“We are located on the Texas Gulf Coast and we had snow on the ground for days, which is unheard of. If it snows down here, it is usually melted by the next day.

“An overhead water pipe broke and rained down through the ceiling and light fixture, soaking all of the dog kennels on the right side of the building. Fortunately, all of the dogs had been moved to the other building and were safe and dry. The below-freezing temperatures also froze our water-well pump pipes and the lever handle broke.

“Plumbers were very scarce as this was happening all over the state. Staff finally located a plumber to patch the broken overhead pipe. To date, he has not had time to come back and give us an estimate for additional repairs. We were also able to locate a handyman to help with basic repairs to get the building up and running again.

“By the weekend, our shelter was recovering and many of the dogs who were in foster were able to return to the shelter. On a happy note, two of our shelter dogs found their forever homes due to the storm!”

Our grant will help cover out-of-pocket expenses the shelter had not budgeted for, such as the purchase of a generator to keep the animals and staff members warm, extensions cords, gasoline, water-pipe repair, and miscellaneous ceiling and lighting-fixture repairs from the burst attic pipe.

Ryder at Highland Lakes Canine Rescue

Highland Lakes Canine Rescue
The deep freeze’s impact on Highland Lakes Canine Rescue in Marble Falls included power loss for several days, impassable roads preventing scheduled animal care staff from getting to work, downed trees and limbs making parts of the property impassable, and frozen and broken pipes causing water outages for several days.

Pokey at Highland Lakes Canine Rescue

“Because we care for 20+ dogs at a time at our shelter, our number-one priority was the safety and comfort of these dogs. In response to these impacts, we took action on the following disaster recovery needs,” says volunteer Holly Goldbetter: “We immediately brought on and paid emergency animal-care staff living nearby to make sure the animals were fed, warm, and comfortable. We also purchased bottled water for drinking and cleaning needs while tap water was unavailable; a chainsaw and fuel to clear our property of many downed trees and limbs so that animal care staff could safely access work areas; and plumbing supplies to repair broken pipes so that water service could be restored.”

Our grant will offset these expenses and enable the shelter to take in and afford basic medical expenses for four additional dogs in 2021. Its basic medical expenses average just over $150 per dog, which includes spay/neuter, vaccinations, heartworm/parasite tests, and microchip.



Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

Luna’s intake photo

What was the money or product used for?
The Texas storm hit us hard and we had unexpected expenses that the $2,500 Disaster Grant funds were used for:

Heat lamps
Propane heaters
Electric heaters
Propane gas to run the heaters
Extreme electric bill
Kennel supplies — Water jugs to go get water when the water was cut off in our area, buckets to distribute the water, blankets, straw.

Luna after she’d recovered

How did this grant help your organization and the pets in your care?
This grant was extremely beneficial for us to meet the extra expenses required due to the storm. We in Texas have never experienced this type of cold weather and your generosity helped us keep the animals warm and meet their basic needs despite the conditions. Rolling power outages and no water were devastating, but propane heaters, propane gas, jugs, and buckets provided just what was needed. Blankets, too, were much appreciated!

How many pets did this grant help?
66 dogs and puppies

Luna in her new home

Please provide a story of one or more specific pets this grant helped.
Luna came to us from her owner, who was threatening to dump her in the lake if we did not take her. She had no hair and was suffering with extreme mange, but she did not deserve to die. The first photo is her intake photo. We began medicating her, but when the cold weather hit, she was especially vulnerable. She not only thrived, but grew her hair back (second photo) and found a very special forever home (third photo)! Thank you for your generosity! You made a difference in so many lives!


Jackson (above) was also a resident during these tough times. Every dog at the rescue benefitted from your support, but we share Jackson’s story because he also got a forever home (bottom photo) thanks to Petfinder!–Karen A. Cadis, Secretary/Treasurer

Jackson with his new family



Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

Swimming, diving for rocks, howling at sirens, running like the wind, running in an enormous circle of joy, rolling in the grass, barking for a treat, giving our cat Corny the look, protecting us, always from dogs. Hiking, running, swimming partner, protector of the family. Lake Washington, Ravenna, Mt.Si, Mt. Teneriffe, Copper Lake, Oregon, California, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado.–Diane Calkins

Further Reading

Author: Emily Fromm

What was the money or product used for?
The funding was for disaster relief from Winter Storm Uri. The funding covered repair of our AC compressor that blew when generators came on and off several times as we gained and lost power.

How did this grant help your organization and the pets in your care?
Funding had to be diverted away from our animal care operations in order to cover the cost of repair for our AC compressor. Having the Petfinder Foundation come back and cover the cost of this unexpected expense means that we won’t have any interruption in our capacity to care for animals in our facilities.

How many pets did this grant help?
550, which is the average daily population count of animals in our shelter

Please provide a story of one or more specific pets this grant helped.
Space is a Great Dane who is deaf and was rescued off the streets in the days leading up to Winter Storm Uri. He was undernourished and skinny. Thankfully, as it got colder, we had a few XXL dog sweaters that he was able to use to stay warm. As we battled the cold and the failure of our equipment, a partner shelter in Minnesota heard about Space and immediately snatched him up for rescue. He left our care just a few days after the storm and is living happily in Minnesota now!–Kerri Burrows, Grants and Data Coordinator



Further Reading