Check any shelter and chances are you’ll find one-star online reviews that complain, “Do not even try to bring in stray litters or adopt here. They will charge you!”
Fee-charging is a constant source of conflict and it’s down to a misconception. Shelters are not taxpayer-funded public services. They are non-profit making charity organisations run by a handful of staff and a tonne of volunteers.
“A shelter is operated by animal lovers who care for the lost and the abandoned, ” Paws animal welfare society manager Edward Lim explains. “We get our funds from the general public, people who drop by or who hear of our work. Also, we try and recruit corporate sponsors.”
Still, when you drop by and offer to take a dog off their hands, being charged can be a shock. So, what exactly are you getting for your money?
When you find a dog and hand it over to the shelter staff, their first act is to ask the vet to examine the dog.
“We have limited resources, ” Lilly Leng from SPCA Penang shares. “This means we can’t take in any dog that has mange or other serious health issues. We just don’t have the space.
“If the dog has a communicable disease, then we have to put it down immediately. We have to think of the other dogs in the shelter.”
If the dog makes it past this test, they are bathed, dewormed and deflead. Then they are quarantined for a week, just in case there’s a hidden health issue. They are given two meals a day. At the end of the week, should all be well, they are given their first vaccination.
Shelters buy supplies in bulk and, as they are also non-profit associations, they get discounts on drugs and veterinary professional services, which allows them to cut costs. However, prices are still eye-watering.
If you go commercial as a member of the general public, deworming and anti-flea meds cost around RM40 and puppy vaccinations come to a total of about RM200. In addition, neutering costs around RM250 to RM350 depending on the dog’s sex, size and whether you have it stay overnight. Ballpark to get set up is therefore around RM500 to RM650.
Depending on the deal, shelters get a nice discount. However, strays and surrenders tend to be in poor shape. Typically, it involves extra bathing, tick removal, dressing of various cuts and scrapes, and batches of vitamins and food supplements. These extras bump costs right back up.
“Our biggest costs are vet fees and medicines, ” Lim shares. “The second biggest cost is food. We feed the dogs twice a day and our food bill comes to about RM8,000 a month.”
“We feed twice a day as well, and we calculate food and health supplements for a single dog come to about RM2,000 a year, ” Leng says.
Shelters work with a team as they work on a large scale. But independent rescuers also play an important role.
Siew Yen, owner of Furrenz Pets and an independent rescuer in Petaling Jaya, has rescued and rehomed hundreds of dogs since she started in 2006.
“I keep a maximum of five rescues at any one time and I need to make sure I earn enough to fund them, ” Siew Yen says. “I buy in bulk which helps cut some bills.”
She estimates it takes RM400 to prepare a dog for adoption, and about RM1,000 a month to pay for food.
“I pick my cases carefully but sometimes there’s a big health issue that needs fixing, ” she points out. “Then I look at my network for donations. Luckily, they’ve been generous.”
Improving the odds
Shelters work hard to make sure dogs have at least social skills and are in good physical health but there is also a lot of hard work that’s not as visible.
“The animals we deal with are traumatised, ” Lim explains. “They’re frightened and upset and sometimes they don’t trust people very much. We work with them and they respond but it doesn’t happen overnight.”
As shelters are non-profit making and dogs need a lot of looking after, volunteers are the lifeblood of the bigger organisations.
“We have university students who come in to help on weekdays and adult volunteers who come on weekends, ” Lim says. “They clean the shelter, groom, walk the dogs and play with the animals. The dogs really look forward to it.”
Socialising the dog before adoption is vital for success. While it is possible for nervous dogs to find gentle homes, it is easier to home a pet who is comfortable socially. However, the longer it takes to help a pet recover, the more the expenses tot up in terms of food, shelter, baths, flea medication and more.
Furthermore, the work is mentally taxing. All shelters recruit volunteers to help walk the dogs and maintain their social skills, but the activity involves some surprising attitudes that help leverage long-term success.
“I have learned to be emotionally detached because the dog will be leaving me, ” Siew Yen says. “Also, I make sure they aren’t too attached to me because it wouldn’t be good for the dog. I maintain a distance and when I find their forever family, I don’t visit. I get photos so I know they’re OK but I leave them alone so they can bond with the new owner.”
Shelters are aware of the dangers, so they prep for them.
“We have monthly induction classes, ” Lily Leng explains. “It’s not just about briefing volunteers on what dogs need to learn before they are adopted out; it’s also important that they don’t become too fond of particular dogs. Because in the end, we’re hoping to find them a forever home.”
Cost of finding homes
Finding homes for the endless stream of dogs is a job all by itself. While it’s easy to set up Facebook, Instagram and other social media pages, creating content that’s appealing takes manpower, skill and time. Also, when the public comments and asks questions, they must be dealt with or the rescuers are deemed arrogant or uncaring.
As such, building engagement so that dogs can be homed also translates into spending less time looking after the dogs. And when engagement centres on complaints that animals come with adoption fees or that the volunteers can’t rush out to look for a dog someone saw on the motorway, it’s understandable that tempers flare.
Actual adoption fee rates
So, after all that, do you know what adoption fees run at? For Paws Selangor, the rates are RM80 for an adult mongrel and RM110 for a puppy. For a mixed breed, it’s RM180. For a pedigree, it’s RM280 and up.
For SPCA Penang, it’s RM200 to RM300 for a neutered adult mongrel, RM150 for male puppies and RM300 for female puppies, of which RM200 is refundable once you spay her. Pedigree dogs start at RM300.
Siew Yen’s adoption fees depend on the dog but, as she points out, she counts actual vet bills but not food, shelter or other care.
Thinking it over, do you think adoption fees and surrender fees make sense? And what would you be willing to pay for the doggy in the window?
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