Adoption Ambassadors

Research Behind Adoption Ambassadors

Research conducted by the ASPCA has found that empowering fosters to find adopters is a simple and powerful strategy for saving more lives. 

Charleston Animal Society

Don’t just take our word for it: The data behind the Adoption Ambassadors program at Charleston Animal Society (CAS) points to at least two major benefits that warrant giving the program a try.

Fewer Returns

During the study, only 7% of dogs who were adopted through the Adoption Ambassador program were returned to the shelter, compared to 17% of dogs adopted directly from the shelter.

Twenty-four percent of adopters considered information provided about their dog by the foster family when making a decision to adopt, whereas only 3% of regular shelter adopters factored information from shelter personnel in the decision. This difference could represent adopters going into relationships with more realistic expectations about their animals, resulting in fewer returns.

Fresh Adoption Pool

Results from CAS show 29% of Adoption Ambassador adopters got previous pets from a shelter or rescue. Since 93% of the adopters in the study reported they were already considering getting a dog before they adopted, it’s likely adopters who could have chosen a dog from another source – such as a breeder or pet store – adopted instead.

The Charleston research found that the majority of people adopting directly from the shelter (81%) first saw their dogs when visiting the shelter. The Adoption Ambassador adopters first learned about their dogs in these ways:  Internet, including social media (54%); from a friend (18%); seeing a dog wearing an Adopt Me vest in public (15%).

Louisiana SPCA and the Birth of Adoption Ambassadors

The Adoption Ambassadors program was developed at Louisiana SPCA during the 2010 ASPCA $100K Challenge, and the exciting approach resulted in an R&D innovation grant from the ASPCA to research the impact of the program.

Adoption Ambassadors – called Fast Track at LA/SPCA – all started with a big black dog named Tulip. The shelter was full, so Tulip was placed in foster care, and her foster was asked to help find her a home. Within three days Tulip was adopted and a new program was born.

The program started out small, working with seasoned volunteers. But as homes for more and more dogs were found, the program expanded and new foster ambassadors were recruited throughout the community.

Meg Allison, who was the first adoption coordinator for the program at LA/SPCA, says Adoption Ambassadors “is a game changer” and adds that if she could go back and start it over, “the only thing I would change is how loudly I promoted the program – I would have done it LOUDER! There are no words to describe watching your first dog be adopted offsite.  A light bulb goes off in your head and you realize there is a way to save them!”

Engaging, Empowering

The program gained momentum because it engaged the community, volunteers, and staff on a whole new level. Everywhere Adoption Ambassadors dogs went, they were magnets that drew interested passersby who had never considered adopting as an option and didn’t realize that such great dogs were available at the local shelter.

Staff members wholeheartedly supported the program, and volunteers got on board as well because it gave their favorite dogs new chances of finding homes.

“All of a sudden you aren’t alone in the fight to save the dogs in your shelter,” Allison says. “You have a whole community helping you – and that makes the fight a lot easier to win. No matter how many times you hear it, getting that excited call from a foster announcing they have adopted out their dog is the brightest part of your day.”

The ASPCA followed two groups of dogs adopted through the Louisiana SPCA. Each group was randomly assigned and consisted of 45 dogs:

  • Dogs in the Traditional group were adopted directly from the shelter
  • Dogs in the Adoption Ambassadors group were adopted out by their foster families

Data was collected on age, breed, size, and total length of stay for the dogs in both groups. In addition, after an adopted dog had been in his or her new home for two weeks, the adopter was given a survey to complete. From this data, the research included:

  • Amount of time between the date the dog entered the shelter or foster home and the date of adoption
  • Returns

  • Whether people who adopted from fosters represented a new market

Louisiana Data

Time to adoption: It took a little longer for Adoption Ambassadors dogs to be adopted; however, since the dogs were in foster homes, they weren't taking up space in the shelter.

Returns: The return rate for Adoption Ambassadors dogs was significantly lower than it was for the Traditional group: 2 percent versus 14 percent.

Adoption Pool: The data suggests that the program enables shelters to reach a pool of adopters who might not have considered adopting a shelter dog. Only 30.3 percent of those adopting from fosters had adopted from a shelter or rescue group in the past, compared to 51.9 percent of the people adopting directly from the shelter. 
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People adopting from fosters found their dogs through a wide variety of sources, including word of mouth and seeing the dogs out in the community. People adopting directly from the shelter found their dogs primarily by visiting the shelter or the searching the Web.
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In addition, Adoption Ambassadors adopters were much more likely to have purchased pets from a breeder in the past than people adopting directly from the shelter.
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