2017-07-26 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Last Hope is having a July Jamboree. Cat and kitten adoption fees have been reduced to $50. You wouldn’t think such a promotion would spark a debate among feline advocates, but it does. Last Hope in Wantagh is in the unique position of being next door to Hempstead Town Shelter where adoptions of dogs and cats are free the whole summer.

When rescues lower or eliminate adoption fees, are the groups putting pets in danger? Most animal rescue volunteers have strong opinions on what is best for homeless dogs and cats. Reducing or suspending adoption fees, even temporarily, is a “bone” of contention between various camps.

Let’s call the two camps- old school and new school. (Yes, my camp names are somewhat biased.) Adoption fees serve two purposes. The monies generated from adoption fees help organizations pay their vet bills so they can continue to rescue and place homeless pets, plus an adoption fee represents a new owner’s investment into the continued welfare of the animal.

The old school mindset is “easy come; easy go.” If an adopter does not make a sufficient financial investment in obtaining the dog or cat, that person will not value the pet, and that person will be quicker to relinquish the pet when a problem surfaces. Worse, some people will obtain the pet for evil reasons.

Meanwhile, new school thinkers consider the pet competition. For example, if it is kitten season, each rescue and shelter is full, and has a long waiting list of kittens and cats waiting for cage space. Kitten season begins in April, peaks midsummer and slows down at the end of November. There are few kittens available at Christmas. If the group’s adoption fee is too high, despite the veterinary services already done or the organization’s stellar reputation, adopters will go elsewhere. Many of the group’s kittens will grow up in a cage. The tiny kitten stage is fleeting.

Long Island is approaching the full overload of kitten season. Last Hope has approximately 200 kittens waiting in the wings, many in foster care, for a spot at our Wantagh Adoption Center or one of our four satellite store locations. Last Hope has adoptable cats and kittens housed at two Petco stores- Wantagh and Syosset, and at two Pet Smart stores- Huntington Station and Bellmore. Presently, there are five kittens available in the Bellmore store and about 50 at the main adoption center in Wantagh.

Cost of getting a kitten ready for adoption: If you found a litter of kittens and were planning to place them yourself, it would be expensive if you did the necessary medical work-up, especially since you wouldn’t get the discounts rescues and shelters have.

Petfinder lists the following estimated costs per kitten:

*Veterinary wellness visit and exam $50-100

*Spaying or neutering $60-100

*Combo vaccination $20-30×2

*Rabies vaccination (at 16 weeks) $15-25

* Feline Leukemia/FIV test (for cats) $30-60

*Flea/tick treatment $50

*Microchip $50

*Deworming $20

** Low total-$315; High total-$465

Both totals -$315 and $465- are much higher than any rescue or shelter adoption fee would be. On average, most charge from $50 to $150 to adopt a cat. Last Hope’s regular fee is $125 which includes follow-up clinic visits, and basically a lifetime guarantee will take the cat back, if need be.

During the Dark Ages: Over 30 years ago when I began visiting Babylon Shelter weekly, cats were an after-thought in our municipal shelter system. Public shelters were not (and are still not) obligated to take in cats by NYS law. When accepted, cats and kittens poured into LI town shelters. Most were euthanized the same day.

No veterinary care was given to dogs or cats; no applicants were screened; cats were adopted for free. In other words, Jack the Ripper could leave a shelter with a basket of kittens to feed to his python. I spoke at a Babylon Town Board meeting when a resolution was being discussed which would add a $5 adoption fee to each cat or kitten. I emphasized how this small price would be a deterrent to the irresponsible or malicious adopters in our midst. The $5 feline fee was approved.

Age of enlightenment: LI municipal shelter care improved greatly over the last decade. Shelters have veterinarians and vet techs. Pets receive intake exams, vaccines and tests. Dogs get heartworm tested; cats are feline leukemia/FIV tested. The medication schedule takes up a whole wall at Babylon Shelter. No pet leaves without being spayed or neutered, and microchipped. There is emergency care, and many pets receive surgery from specialists. Cat/ kitten adoption fees at Babylon are $65; but $35 for people over 60.

Just as important, applicants at Babylon Shelter are screened. Jack the Ripper would no longer pass muster. Private rescues still have the luxury of doing more in-depth screening, reference and home checks, and that is reflected in how “choosy” they can be about proper cat homes.

Maddie’s Fund & free cat adoptions: Maddie’s Fund (www.maddiesfund.org) is a family foundation with an endowment of $300 million founded in 1994 by Dave and Cheryl Duffield in memory of their Miniature Schnauzer Maddie with a mission to revolutionize the status and well-being of companion animals.

Maddie’s Fund re-examined free cat adoptions in 2011. The study found "the cat is still facing high death rates in shelters partly because 65% of people acquire a cat or kitten for free from friends, family and “free to a good home” ads. Also, about 20% of caregivers acquire a cat as stray, leaving cats at a serious competitive advantage.

Our former fears about fee-waived cat adoptions weren’t based in reality. A study conducted by ASPCA took a look at how no-cost adoptions affect adopters’ perception of the value of the pet. The researchers concluded eliminating adoption fees does not devalue the animal in the eyes of the adopter, and free adult cat adoption programs could “dramatically impact the lives of thousands of shelter cats who would otherwise reside in a shelter for months or be euthanized.”

My belief is thorough screening is more important than an adoption fee. Do not despair if you missed Last Hope’s July Jamboree. The $50 cat adoption fee will continue during Last Hope’s Awesome August.

Babylon Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Chiclet” 7-159 is an adorable, female kitten while “Calvin” 17-379 is a friendly, senior Shepherd/ Chow mix.

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