Thursday, February 18, 2010

How Much Does a Pet Cost?

AARF is raising our adoption fees. Starting March 1, adoption fees for dogs will be $225 and cats will be $150.

I know there will be complaints. I know some of our supporters will say those fees are too high. I have heard it before - "If you really want to find homes for those pets, why don't you just give them away or charge what the shelters charge?"

Do you know how much it costs to rescue a pet and get him/her ready for a new home? The ASPCA has a detailed chart outlining the costs of a new pet. For dogs, the estimated first year cost is between $1314 and $1843. For cats, the first year cost is $1035. This costs include spay/neuter, initial vaccines, supplies, food, ongoing medical cost, bowls, collars, etc.

For each pet in the AARF program, we provide spay/neuter, full vaccines, testing for heartworms for dogs and FIV/FeLV for cats, and a microchip. We also buy them all collars, leashes, litter boxes, and toys. And we feed them every day. And if an emergency arises, we cover those medical costs, too.

Our intial vetting costs are approximately $350 per dog and $300 per cat (and these are prices with generous discounts from our partner veterinarians and spay/neuter clinics). Even if we had no other costs, the newly raised adoption fee won't cover the vetting costs. And rarely do the expenses stop there. Pets coming out of shelters almost always have respiratory infections. Many dogs need training to help with socialization to get them ready for a new home. Sometimes they need to be boarded when the foster parent is out of town. All dogs need heartworm preventative medication. And every pet needs to eat, every day.

AARF spends about $700-$800 per year per dog and $600-$700 per year per cat while they wait for new homes. Some are more, much more, very few are less. So, we "lose" about $500 with every adoption. If we were running a business, we would have shut down years ago.

Thankfully, we have incredibly generous donors and great fundraising planners, and we somehow find ways to make up a lot of that $500 loss. But we don't always, and we rely on the flexibility of others who help us get these pets ready for new homes to keep doing the work we do.

So, is it wrong to ask the new families to contribute $25 more toward the cost of getting their new pet healthy, socialized and ready for their home? If someone walks away from a pet over the raised adoption fee, they probably would also walk away from a pet when he or she is sick or needs training or needs extra care.

I never want AARF to be accused of making it too expensive to adopt a pet. We aren't trying to make money, or eliminate adopters because they can't pay the adoption fee. But even at the new prices of $225 for dogs and $150 for cats, our adopters are getting a deal.

** On a side note, I don't mind if AARF is accused of being too stringent or having too difficult of an adoption process. Read our volunteer director Melanie's thoughts about "tough" adoption policies, and why we feel our process is so critical. **

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Lives We Can't Save

Last week, we got a call from our adoption coordinator (who also works at a local county shelter) about the sweetest puppy that was there.

She was only 14 weeks and was a staff favorite. But she had been passed over for adoption and rescue because she had demodex, one of the forms of mange. Demodex is usually highly treatable and not contagious. Knowing how much this little girl was loved by the staff, we wanted to try to help. We put out a plea to our foster and volunteer list, hoping that someone would want to give this girl a chance.

We got several responses from people who were willing to bring this little one home, and try to help her have a second chance start on life. We even had an offer from a vet to treat her mange for free.

The morning we had planned to move her from the shelter to the vet's office, she began to act sick. The shelter clinic staff suspected parvo, and when they tested her, the test came back positive. With her already compromised immune system, the shelter decided to euthanize her. We found out after the decision, and the euthanization, had already happened, so there was nothing we could do, but mourn the loss of this little life that we never even got to meet but were already committed to. I cried when I found out, not only for her, but for all of the ones we can't save. Rescue work is difficult, often emotionally draining and painful.

I get at least 10 emails a day into my personal AARF email, and AARF gets 2-3 times that number, about pets that need help. Some of the local shelters send out almost daily lists of dogs and cats of all ages, sizes and breeds that will be euthanized if no one comes for them. Individuals who have picked up a dog or cat running down the street or huddled up in their yard and need help email and call us, hoping we have an open space to take the pet. And unfortunately, about 1/3 of our calls and emails come from people who simply don't want the responsibility of caring for their own pet anymore.

I look at every email, and every picture. My heart aches for each life that we can't save. They are all deserving, and all need safe shelter where they will never face homelessness, abandonment or euthanasia again.

But we can't save them all. And I know that. We could build the biggest shelter ever, with space for hundreds of dogs and cats, and clean out every shelter in Atlanta. And in less than a week, every shelter would be full again. There simply are not enough homes or shelter spaces or foster homes for all of those pets who need us.

But we can make a difference for one pet at a time. In the same week that we said goodbye to this little life, we also saved another one that needed us. Zoe is a 5 year old shepherd mix who had been hit by a car and left for dead. She was picked up by the same shelter that had the sweet puppy, and the vet there amputated her leg and got her back on her way to health. Zoe is now in a foster home, recovering from her surgery and learning to trust people again. Soon, she'll start heartworm treatment to continue her journey toward a happy and healthy life.

I take comfort in knowing we saved Zoe. And I'll continue to hold this sweet puppy in my mind and heart, not as sadness, but as motivation. There are so many Zoes and so many unnamed puppies, and cats and kittens, and rabbits, and birds, and creatures of all shapes and sizes who need us.

We have created a world where they need to be saved. And it is our responsibility to save them. And we have a duty to create a world where every one of these lives matter, even the lives we can't save.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Help Stop "The Michael Vick Project"

Convicted dog fighter Michael Vick is being rewarded again for his behavior. He is now starring in "The Michael Vick Project," a reality show based on him and his return to the NFL. This show only exists because Vick bankrolled a dog fighting ring and personally participated in the torture and killing of dogs who didn't perform up to standards. If he was just a regular NFL quarterback without the dog fighting conviction, he certainly would not have been offered this show. So, he is, in effect, being rewarded for being a convicted felon and animal abuser.

I am disappointed in BET for producing and airing this show. But no matter our level of protests, I don't think they'll stop airing it.

But we can stop the show by stopping the advertising during the show. Letters of concern have already convinced Denny's to pull its ads off the air during the show. Your letters, emails and phone calls can convince other sponsors to pull their ads, too. With no advertising support, BET would have no option but to pull the show.

Your two minute email can make a difference. Please email, write or call the sponsors below and ask them to stop advertising during "The Michael Vick Project."

Nivea -

Broadview Security (formerly Brinks Security) -