a woman sits with two rotweiler type dogs
Photo by Nicole Marie Thomas/The HSUS

Welcome to Adopters Welcome!

  • How is Adopters Welcome different from traditional adoption policies?
    • Traditional adoption policies are designed to prevent surrenders--if animals are surrendered for lack of affordable veterinary care, adopters must prove they have solid vet references; if litters of puppies regularly enter the facility, adopters must prove all of their existing pets are altered; and so on. The problem with this approach is that it's based on a flawed presumption--that adopters are also surrenderers. In reality, only a small fraction of pets in your community will ever be at risk of homelessness (likely fewer than 6%); the rest, are living in happy, healthy homes. Why are we making the majority of pet lovers jump through hoops to prove to us that they are worthy? Adopters Welcome recognizes that we can secure quality homes for the animals in our care without intensive scrutiny and judgment, and without putting them at risk. 
  • Why should I switch to an Adopters Welcome program?
    • Shelters and rescue that follow the Adopters Welcome philosophy are able to connect with more potential adopters and place more pets into loving homes. They are also able to engage with adopters in a positive and respectful way that enables them to be a resource throughout the life of the adopted pet and beyond. Bonus: switching costs nothing, yet can save time, money and lives!
  • Does embracing Adopters Welcome mean I have to say "yes" to every single adoption?
    • No, it doesn't. But the goal of Adopters Welcome considers the impact of every "no" and challenges the organization to consider whether that "no" is really the best decision. Consider the effect each "no" has on the pet to be adopted, other homeless pets, the adopter, the adoption organization, the animal welfare community and the competition (other sources for pets).
  • Do organizations see an increase in returns when they use Adopters Welcome policies?
    • Adopters Welcome is premised on data and studies that prove that returns do not increase when adoption restrictions are lifted. While it is true that some agencies that dramatically increase their adoptions may see an increase in raw numbers of returns, there is typically no increase in the overall percentage of returns. Regardless, it is important to recognize that returns should not be viewed as “failures.” They’re an opportunity to learn more information about the pet, so that a better match can be made in the future. And in some cases, increased returns can be viewed as a positive--they may indicate that your adopters trust you enough to admit that a match isn’t working and look to you for support moving forward, rather than fearing they will be judged if they concede failure.
  • How can I convince my board, staff and/or community to try Adopters Welcome?
  • How long should it take to implement Adopters Welcome?
    • While Adopters Welcome can’t be achieved “overnight” because it involves much more than just moving from an adoption application to a questionnaire, it doesn’t need be a long, cumbersome process. Set a timeframe that’s realistic for your organization. Make full use of the tools Adopters Welcome offers. Keep your trainings fun and interactive. You’ll be celebrating your success in no time!

Policy Review: Are Your Existing Policies Working For or Against You?

  • My written SOPs are already in alignment with Adopters Welcome. Is there anything else I need to do?
    • You need to be sure all decision-makers for your organization are on board and to check your community for adoption blind spots. You need to have in place both self-assessment plans, as well as marketing action plans to share with your community your Adopters Welcome approach. Finally, and possibly most importantly, you need all team members on board, to practice, and then be ready to engage and support adopters!
  • What if my organization has a policy not listed on the Adopters Welcome Adoption Policy Review worksheet?
    • We don’t anticipate that we have covered every potential policy or circumstance that might arise. Put Your Policy to the Adopters Welcome Test will help you determine how to use the Adopters Welcome approach in situation.
  • What about areas that have breed bans in place? Does Adopters Welcome promote adoption of pets where they aren't permitted?
    • While many communities still have arbitrary breed restrictions, more are recognizing that these policies are unnecessary. Even in areas where restrictions exist, many people who fall in love with “restricted” pets still find ways to keep them. That’s why it is important not to predetermine what types of pets people should be permitted to adopt. Provide them with appropriate information and guidance, and then trust them to find ways to make their adoption work.
  • How do I guarantee people won't just tell me what I want to hear? Can I trust that our animals will find safe homes when we replace screening and checks with conversation and being a resource?
    • You can’t guarantee that potential adopters aren’t telling you what you want to hear with traditional screening in place. Chances are your adopters have already become conditioned to provide “right” and “wrong” answers, particularly if they have been previously denied by an organization. By replacing traditional screening with Adopters Welcome-style conversation and open-ended questions, you remove the “yes/no” questions and create opportunities for open, honest dialogue with adopters.
  • What if someone says they're going to declaw the cat or chain the dog outside?
    • Not everyone who suggests a practice we disagree with is inherently cruel or a bad adoption prospect. Someone could have had only positive experiences with declawed cats and no real understanding of what declawing entails. Or a family dog was always kept outside because he seemed to enjoy it, and was chained to prevent him from running off or being hit by a car. Automatically dismissing these people as potential adopters cuts off any opportunity you might have to understand the reasons behind these choices, and eliminates any opportunity to share information that could help them make better choices. While The HSUS agrees that cats should not be declawed and dogs should not live their lives on chains, we recognize that the only way to help people make better choices is through dialogue and information sharing.
  • What about the people who pick a pet that just isn't a good match for them?
    • Data shows that most pets are acquired from sources other than shelters or rescues, so people are successfully picking pets every day without any help (or judgment) from us. We’ve all had experiences with adoptions we were convinced would never work that lasted a lifetime and some we thought were perfect that wound up failing. Adopters Welcome recommends that agencies avoid making blanket determinations about what matches will and will not work, and instead work with adopters to help them succeed even if they are committed to a pet we believe is not ideal for them.
  • Are we risking impulse adoptions by using "same day adoptions" and other similar marketing techniques?
    • Research shows that marketing techniques like same day adoptions, pets as gifts, reduced adoption fees and other adoption gimmicks have no negative effect on the care and love animals receive once they’re in their new home. And getting pets home as soon as possible actually protects them from stress and illness, even euthanasia. Having a strong marketing plan that gets more adopters interested in your pets actually saves lives.
  • I'm already short-staffed and pressed for time...won't Adopters Welcome take even more time?
    • Although it may take some time to fully implement an Adopters Welcome approach, over time Adopters Welcome will actually save you time. Effective conversations with adopters don’t have to take more time than the application reviews, reference checks, etc. that you were doing. The more quickly adoptable animals are moved through your facility and into new homes, the more time you will have to devote to other lifesaving efforts. More positive adoptions also directly translate into higher staff and volunteer satisfaction and adoption teams that have positive interactions with people find more pets homes than they used to. They have more time for other important work, have higher job satisfaction and less risk of burnout.
  • We can keep animals for as long as it takes to find the perfect home. Why should we change our policies when we don't have to worry about euthanizing for lack of space?
    • While you could keep animals for any length of time, you really shouldn't. Great homes come in all shapes and sizes and may actually look very different from our preconceived notion of "perfect." In reality, intensive adoption screening only identifies some of the adopters that could be "perfect" today, and it doesn't ensure those homes will be perfect tomorrow, next month or next year. Passing up on quality homes in favor of waiting for one that's "perfect" may not seem detrimental, but it will most certainly mean that another pet will languish in a shelter waiting for a foster home to open, potentially facing euthanasia.
      Waiting for homes you judge to be "perfect" also means your organization isn't maximizing its resources. Donations and volunteered time are entrusted to you by donors and volunteers who believe in your mission to do all you can do to reduce animal suffering.The Adopters Welcome approach ensures you are maximizing adoptions and fully honoring the trust your donors and volunteers have place in your organization to fulfill its mission.
  • I see how Adopters Welcome could work in other places but my community is different...how can I make it work in my community?
    • Almost everyone believes their community (and its animal care challenges) is unique. People are people. There is no evidence that behavior of pet owners changes from state-to-state and region-to-region. Knowing your community may help you best anticipate common issues and be proactive with resources to help overcome potential problems, but it shouldn’t be a barrier to becoming Adopters Welcome.

Procedure Review: Are You Reaching and Engaging Every Potential Adopter?

  • Is it really necessary to revisit all of our procedures, communication channels, web pages, etc.?
    • Yes! The public is your pool of potential adopters. Your adopters connect with your organization long before they get to the adoption approval stage. From the first moment they connect with you, they are deciding whether yours is an organization they can trust to help them find their new family member. If your website has language describing a difficult process, they may decide it's not even worth the effort to try. If they inquire about a pet but don't hear from you for a week, they may give up and go to a source that will respond immediately (like a pet store). Don't skip this important step an unknowingly allow barriers between your organization and potential adopters to remain.
  • Why is it important to analyze my adoptions by zip code?
    • Because you'll find more homes this way! Chances are there are neighborhoods or other segments of your community that aren't using rescues or shelters to acquire their pets. It may be because you aren't convenient to them or they don't know you have pets they'd be interested in adopting or they aren't even aware you exist. We call these "blind spots" since there's no way to see them without analyzing your data. Follow the steps laid out in Identify Your Adoption Blind Spots to do just that.
  • How can it be a good idea to adopt to an underserved community where pet support programs don't exist, and affordable vet care is limited to low-cost vaccines and spay/neuter services?
    • "Low income" can be a temporary state (the poor graduate student) or a chronic one (generational poverty), and we know from data that income doesn't dictate how much someone will spend on a pet. Research shows that having money doesn't mean it will be spent on a pet, and vice-versa. Research also tells us that many individuals in chronically poor situations love their pets just as much (if not more) and will find ways to give them the care they need. It helps all adopters when they start off with a pet that's healthy and spayed/neutered, and to have the option of support from your organization if they run into any issues. Interestingly, residents of underserved neighborhoods have little or no interaction with shelters or rescue groups. This means that not only are they not adopting from you, they're also are not a significant source of surrendered/seized animals for you either.
      If someone is committed to obtaining a pet, they will find a way whether it's through you or not. And if you limit that adoption based on a person's income, they'll find another way to make it happen, whether by taking in a stray or a relative's pet, or even seeking out a breeder. Underserved neighborhoods often serve as a captive audience and backyard breeders are willing to provide payment plans or other incentives to make a sale. In these zip codes, we know that the animals from all of these sources are typically unvaccinated and not spayed/neutered. These pet owners are often disadvantaged from the moment they bring their new pet home.
      By adopting a pet that’s already spayed/neutered and vaccinated to a home where money is tight, you start them off with the best possible footing. And perhaps more importantly, you are ensuring that the adopter knows you are a resource for guidance and information that they can turn to in the future. For more information on adopting to underserved communities, view the final Adopters Welcome webinar, Adopters Welcome: Find and Attract More Adopters.

Set the Stage for Success

Get Your Team on Board

  • How can I convince my team that Adopters Welcome is right for our organization?
    • The Adopters Welcome DIY shows the practical steps required for developing an Adopters Welcome program. It also provides the inspiration behind the approach. Following the DIY should give you all you need to bring your team on board.
  • What do I do if I have team members who refuse to accept Adopters Welcome?
    • As with any policy shift your organization makes, there may be some individuals who simply cannot or will not adapt. At some point, if they stymie your organization's progress, you will have to make the difficult decision to either move them to a position that won't undermine your new policies or encourage them to move on.

Train Your Team

  • Do my foster homes need to participate in this adoption training?
    • Yes. All staff, volunteers and fosters,  must complete this adoption training. It's important for anyone who will have direct contact with potential adopters to be well-versed in Adopters Welcome. They must understand and help communicate the reasons behind your new policies in order for you to maximize the impact of the program.
  • How can I be sure my team is ready to have conversations with adopters?
    • Get a good gauge of your team's comfort level with the new approach through the Adopters Welcome Adoption Role-Playing Exercises. Everyone on your team needs to make use of open-ended questions to draw potential adopters into conversations that reveal what the adopter knows and what they don't. They'll have reviewed the resources you have laid out with the Adopters Welcome training tools, and the role-playing will make their delivery confident and smooth.
  • We're always pressed for time...is it enough if our counselors just watch the webinars?
    • Watching the webinars is a terrific way to jumpstart your team's knowledge with the Adopters Welcome approach, but there is no substitute for utilizing the entire Adopters Welcome DIY to ensure your team is fully able to put the philosophy into practice.

Celebrate Your New Program

  • Do I need to have a special Adopters Welcome celebration?
    • We highly recommend that you celebrate your new Adopters Welcome program and announce it to your community! Host an adoption open house, take out advertisements, ask your municipal officials to pass a proclamation--explore every opportunity to celebrate this important milestone in your organization's history.

Back to Adopters Welcome DIY