New research by ASPCA staff members Emily Weiss, PhD, CAAB, Senior
Director of Shelter Research and Development, and Shannon Gramann,
Manager of Shelter Research and Development, confirms what some
innovative shelters have discovered: waiving the adoption fee for adult
cats does not devalue the cats or the agency in the adopter’s mind.
However, as with most innovative programs, educating stakeholders
and implementing with a well-thought-out strategy are critical to
success. Below are the common elements of the strategies used by
agencies who have successfully implemented free cat promotions. You can
also read detailed descriptions of the promotions at each agency.
1. Talk to your staff, volunteers, and board about the program.
Ensure that everyone understands that:
- The shelter will “give away” adult cats not because they aren’t
valuable, but because they ARE wonderful animals who deserve loving
homes. It’s worth foregoing the adoption fee to place these animals in
- Only the adoption fee is waived: all other adoption policies
remain in effect. Adopters must meet the criteria that apply to all
other adoptions from your agency.
- Research and the experience of other agencies confirm that
waiving the adoption fee for adult cats does not devalue the cats,
compromise their care, or ruin the credibility of the adopting agency.
2. Plan the details of your promotion.
- Determine the cutoff age for cats included in the promotion.
- If the promotion is for a limited time, decide when to offer it and for how long.
- Prepare to make a splash. Give yourself enough lead time to
plan a “launch,” prepare press releases, communicate with the media,
decorate cages, and prepare your cats (see below).
3. Prepare your adoptable adult cats.
- Ensure that the cats you want to include in the promotion are ready
to go: spayed or neutered, microchipped, etc. Sending those great cats
home with their adopters on the same day helps sustain the enthusiasm
of both staff and the public.
- Ensure that you have enough adult cats on your adoption floor to meet the demand while still making good cat/adopter matches.
4. Make it easy to identify the qualifying cats.
- Avoid confusion and disappointments by making sure that adopters
can immediately identify cats who are included in the promotion.
- Big, bright stickers on cage cards and colored temporary collars on cats in multi-cat areas have worked for other agencies.
5. Get your story straight.
- Be ready to explain why you are running the promotion, how your
adoption process works, and how to identify the cats who qualify for
the waived fee.
- Be ready to talk about the many advantages of living with adult cats.
- Be ready to talk about why a free cat from your shelter is a
much better deal for both adopter and cat than a free cat from a
6. Promote your promotion.
- Launching a free cat promotion is a great opportunity to showcase
your agency and to get the word out about your community’s homeless
- Be sure to build in time to alert and educate the media so that your promotion gets noticed.
- Putting together a fun, visual marketing campaign for your
free cat promotion can only help increase the attention you get from
- Check out the marketing ideas other agencies have used for their free cat promotions.