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Look ‘Em in the Eye (and other ways to help increase adoptions)

Dr. Emily Weiss shares 5 things you can do on the adoption floor today that may lead to more lives saved.


Kitten season is right around the corner, and now is a great time to ramp up adoption strategies for adult cats to keep capacity in check. Strategies such as fee-waived adoptions and managing the number of visible cats on the adoption floor are great ways to light an adoption fire. This blog post from a few years ago offers some other simple tweaks you can make that may lead to more lives saved!


Height Matters… and more interesting facts that can increase adoptions

Originally published July 8, 2010

Recently, the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (JAAWS) published a research report focused on factors relevant to adoption of cats in an animal shelter. The research was conducted by Jackie Fantuzzi, now at Animal Rescue League of Boston, and it served as her Master’s thesis. Both the ASPCA’s Dr. Kat Miller and I were honored to serve on her committee.

The research was conducted at the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City. Fantuzzi focused her work around adult cats on the adoption floor. Cats were singly housed in glass fronted cages—the cages were in 2 tiers—so cats were either in cages at eye level or below eye level. Cats were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 groups: a toy group (there were toys in the cage) or a control group (no toys in the cage).

Observations occurred over 16 weekends, with some interesting trends:

  • Cats at eye level were viewed by adopters longer than cats not at eye level
  • Cats with toys were viewed longer. While the cats with toys did not interact with the toys in any significant way, the presence of toys in their cages increased the amount of time adopters viewed the cats.
  • Cats who were active were viewed longer than cats who were not active.

I suspect you are already thinking of some ways to use this data. Here are some ideas I have considered—with an aim toward increasing transition rate (number of potential adopters walking in your doors who actually adopt):

  • Place toys in with your cats—ideally, these would be toys that your cats interact with—maybe a food-filled ball. Since the data showed that adopters viewed active cats and cats with toys longer, it is likely that a cat who is active with his toy will be viewed longer.
  • Place kittens low (as they are likely to be viewed no matter what) and adults at eye level. Even better, simply get rid of those very low or very high cages.
  • Try to time feeding or other enrichment around your busy adoption hours to increase the likelihood your cats are active when your adopters are there to view…IMPORTANT—be sure you have adoption counselors in the cat areas so that when a potential adopter lingers in front of a cage, there is a counselor there to capture that interest and turn it into an adoption!

Have you already tried any of these strategies? Have others relevant to the data? I would love to hear how it worked for you.


Related Links

Blog: “Are You Giving Cats the Workout of Their Lives?”
Fee-Waived Adoptions
ASPCA Research: Less Is More on the Adoption Floor






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There is a lot of really great advice in here! I love it! But I would point out that in some shelters eliminating cages as suggested at one point, can result in fewer live release opportunities for cats. Yes, I understand that some research has shown that cats move faster if fewer are being shown, however there are many factors that affect the adoption rate in any shelter that need to be considered. And there are other ways to facilitate adoptions beyond eliminating cages. Cats can be rotated into the cages at eye level that optimize their adoption potential. The suggestion of adoption counselors on the floor is wonderful. This was one of our keys to success at Nevada Humane Society. We called them cat adoption associates and they were friendly people who really knew the cats and helped people in a no-pressure way to find the perfect cat for their lifestyle.
Lots of great and helpful info here, just want to mention that there are alternatives to reducing the number of cages in your facility that have been proven to work in shelters.


Thank you, Bonney, for your thoughts. To clarify, we are not suggesting fewer cages overall, but instead, for shelters with high numbers of cats visible for adoption, to decrease the number of visible cages (and refill as soon as an adoption occurs) and carefully monitor transition rate. We are always interested in more data - please connect with me to share more around the finding you noted - would love to know more.

Dr. Emily Weiss


Show your adoptable shelter cats as House Hold Pets (HHP) at a cat show. We have done this and each time we did the cats came home with ribbons. The ribbons were then hung on the cat's adoption crate at the shelter. A short description of the award lets potential adopters know that this kitty is in healthy/outstanding condition and well mannered. (Each cat has been reviewed at the show by 4-6 very knowledgeable judges.) Cats that are HHPs are becoming a focus of the Cat Fancy world. Any cat or kitten that has all their vaccinations, has been spay/neutered, and over four months of age can be shown. Cats with handicaps such as missing limbs, blind, deaf, etc., are welcome and even the most senior cat is eligible to show in the HHP classification. Showing a cat is very simple and lots of fun. Plus the ribbons they win can signify to potential adopters how well these kitties have been cared for by the rescue agency.


Thanks for this insight. We have a number of glass fronted rooms set up like a library or lounge room that volunteers spend the day interacting with the cats. We have found these spaces are where our fastest moving adoptions are. We also have standard cages so I think the idea of rotating to the eye level for the longer termers or more mature cats is a great one.
Ronelle- RSPCA QLD Australia

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