How to Find Homes for ‘Less Adoptable’ Animals

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

It’s not uncommon to hear animals, in the field of animal rescue, referred to as ‘less adoptable.’


Some examples of less adoptable animals can include tripawds, Pitbulls, or senior pets etc.


But the truth is that there’s no such thing as an animal who’s 'less adoptable.'


Although the belief that it is difficult to secure some animals with a forever home may be common, this is simply not the truth.


The truth is that animal rescues simply need to equip themselves with the tools needed to secure each and every animal with a forever home.


This often involves making use of stronger marketing plans to target adopters with unique resources or skills.

A strong marketing plan would give your animal rescue the right strategy to help your animal rescue attract specific types of adopters.


This does not require any more effort then what your adoption team is already doing.


However, what it does require is a marketing professional who is familiar with the field of animal rescue to develop a marketing plan designed to assist animals with increased barriers to adoption.


Your animal rescue should have at least one marketing professional to help your adoption team develop a marketing plan in order to help your animal rescue lower its average length of stay.


It’s time for animal rescues to stop using the term ‘less adoptable.’


When animal rescues refer to animals as ‘less adoptable’ what they’re really saying is that the animal has characteristics that require a little more expertise on how to market that animal to the right person.


Animal rescues who decide not to put in the effort to develop that expertise usually have trouble maintaining low lengths of stay (LOS) for animals with those characteristics.


This doesn’t mean that the animals are ‘less adoptable.’


All animals are adoptable if your animal rescue can get the animal in front of the right adopter.


That’s your animal rescue’s job, isn’t it?


If you fail to do your job, then who’s fault is that? Not the animal’s, that’s for sure.


Referring to animals as ‘less adoptable’ places the blame on the animals when really the blame is on the animal rescue that allows these animals to endure overwhelmingly long lengths of stay.


What types of characteristics make animals ‘less adoptable?’


The truth is, there are no characteristics that make animals ‘less adoptable!’


Instead, here are some characteristics that may require an animal rescue to find an adopter with a special skill set:

  1. Species

  2. Colour

  3. Age

  4. Breed

  5. Size

  6. Medical Concerns

  7. Behavioural Concerns


However, the presence of each of these characteristics alone does not necessarily mean that the characteristic will cause difficulty for the adoption counsellor when they are trying to secure a forever home for the animal.


Whether or not these characteristics are seen as barriers to the adoption process will depend on the mentality of the person who is adopting the animal.


There will be instances where a characteristic creates a barrier to adoption in one community but not in another.


That should be expected. Communities can differ drastically from one another.

How can your animal rescue learn which characteristics will make animals ‘less adoptive’ in their communities?


Conducting research is the only way to determine which characteristics will make animals in your community ‘less adoptive.’


Researchers across the globe have spent years trying to determine which characteristics make animals in their communities ‘less adoptable.’


A recent study from the University of Guelph stated “There are several risk factors that can positively or negatively affect the LOS. of shelter cats… Traits that have been previously studied include; breed, coat colour, coat pattern (Brown and Morgan, 2014), source/entry type (Dybdall and Strasser, 2014) (and) age (Weiss et al., 2012, Zito et al., 2015).”


The study listed breed, colour and age as characteristics that may impact an animal’s average length of stay.


Through research, your animal rescue can identify other characteristics that have been traditionally known to increase an animal’s average length of stay (LOS).


As a next step, your animal rescue will need to then create some sort of a survey or poll to gather information on which characteristics are a cause of concern for your animal rescue’s community.


This can be as complex or as detailed as your adoption questionnaire sent via a direct mailing campaign but this can also be as simple as polling your animal rescue’s community using tools like Instagram polls or Survey Monkey.


Here are two of the main characteristics that are commonly viewed as making animals ‘less adoptable:

1. Age


Age has traditionally been a cause of concern among prospective adopters.


This is most likely the result of preconceptions the prospective adopters may have surrounding senior pets.


Many myths prevent prospective adopters from adopting senior pets.

When it comes to senior pets, most prospective adopters are worried about expensive veterinary bills, but the truth is animals can require veterinary care at any stage of life.

The University of Guelph stated that “Brown and Morgan (2014) found that younger cats were adopted sooner than older cats, therefore it was hypothesized that younger cats would have a shorter LOS than adult cats.”

This phenomenon is not restricted to cats. Puppies are often adopted sooner than adult dogs.


A study inquiring into the length of stay of dogs in Czech shelters found that “Young abandoned dogs up to the age of one year had the shortest length of stay (median 19 days), whereas older dogs had the longest length of stay, i.e. dogs in the age range of 7–9 years (median 53.5 days) as well as dogs older than 9 years (median 54 days)."


2. Breed


Without a DNA test, it’s nearly impossible to accurately identify an animal’s breed.

In most instances an animal’s ‘breed’ is decided at an animal shelter based on either:

  • Information provided by the animal’s previous owner

  • A staff member or volunteers opinion based on the dog’s appearance

A recent study found that an animal’s breed has the potential to influence a prospective adopter’s perception and decision-making process.

The study found that being labelled a Pitbull drastically decreased an animal’s chances of being adopted and even when a dog was not a Pitbull and was wrongfully labelled as a Pitbull, the animal’s chances of adoption drastically declined.

The study went on to suggest that animal shelters and animal rescues abandon the practice of labelling animals based on their breeds.

Makes perfect sense!

Animal rescue professionals know that the myths associated with certain breeds have the power to influence the public’s perception of individual animals who happen to belong to that breed.

Pitbulls are one of the most victimized dog breeds when it comes to discrimination based solely on breed.

The myths surrounding Pitbulls have influenced the public’s perception of the breed so much so that some provinces and states have implemented Breed Specific Legislation.

Some provinces like Ontario have banned Pitbulls from the entire province!

Animal rescues need to stand up for Pitbulls by committing to eliminating the stigma surrounding their breed.


Here’s what animal rescues can do to help ‘less adoptable’ animals get adopted!

The very first thing your animal rescue can do is research to determine which characteristics are making the animal ‘less adoptable.’

Your animal rescue can begin strategizing ways to increase an animal’s chances of adoption, once your animal rescue can pinpoint which characteristics make the animal ‘less adoptable’ in your community.


Here are the steps you can take to increase the likelihood of an animal being adopted in a shorter length of stay:

  • Researching the animal’s barriers to adoption

  • Educating your animal rescue’s workers and volunteers

  • Developing a marketing plan

  • Educating prospective adopters

Research the Animal’s Barriers to Adoption. The Tompkins County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found that “Age, sex, breed designation, coat colour, coat shade, and coat pattern were all found to significantly influence the LOS of cats at the TCSPCA.

Studies about other communities have found that colour has absolutely no influence on pet adoptions.

No two communities will have the same issues.

That’s why research is so important.

How will your animal rescue know if the colour of an animal has an impact on the likelihood of an animal in your community being adopted?

The only way to know is by doing the necessary research to find out.


Your animal rescue’s entire adoption policy should be based on research conducted on your community.

1. Educate your animal rescue’s workers and volunteers.

You’ll need to educate your animal rescue’s workers and volunteers on each of the characteristics you’ve identified as likely to increase an animal’s length of stay.


However, this education should not take place until your animal rescue’s policymakers have thoroughly analyzed how each characteristic increases an animal’s length of stay.


Your animal rescue will need to make sure your adoption team receives the education they need to educate members of your community on how to care for animals in need.


Your animal rescue’s adoption team will also need to be educated on some of the more common medical and behavioural concerns in your community.


Educating your adoption team is as simple as investing in their training programs.


Animal rescue workers and volunteers are amazing people who want to save animals.


They deserve to be properly trained on how to do that!


2. Develop a marketing plan to increase the likelihood of an animal with barriers being adopted.

Every single department in your animal rescue should have a marketing plan and what their role in the marketing process entails.

A Marketing plan is essential for connecting your animal rescue’s community initiatives with community members who need to be connected to your services.

For example, if your animal rescue has a pet food bank to help pets living in low-income households, then you’ll need a marketing plan to let members of your community know about the pet food bank.

If your animal rescue has an adoption program, then members of your community will need to know that your animal rescue has animals available for adoption.

If you don’t have a marketing plan to market the program, how will the community know?

Your adoption department’s marketing plan should take into consideration the need to be more aggressive when it comes to marketing animals with the characteristics that result in longer stays for certain animals in your community.

Educate Prospective Adopters on Each ‘Barrier.’


Your adoption team will need to be mindful of any misconceptions that prospective adopters may have towards animals with certain types of characteristics.


For example, if a prospective adopter appears to be hesitant to adopt a dog that resembles a Pitbull, your adoption team will need to respond by educating the community member on what is fact vs fiction when it comes to Pitbulls.

If a prospective adopter is fearful of adopting a cat with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), then your adoption team will need to respond by educating the community member on what is fact vs fiction when it comes to cats with FIV.


Any education that adopters or prospective adopters receive, will be passed onto other members of your community.


Over time, this will result in your community becoming a more educated and humane community.

Concluding Thoughts.

All animals are adoptable!


Certain characteristics may make animals more likely to experience longer lengths of stay (LOS).


Your animal rescue won’t be able to pinpoint exactly which characteristics will result in longer lengths of stay in your animal rescue’s care unless you do the research first.


Your animal rescue will need to develop a more aggressive marketing plan to shorten the animal’s average lengths of stay.


Your animal rescue will need to educate your adoption team on how to educate adopters and prospective adopters on facts vs fiction.


By taking these steps, we assure you that if they are done correctly, your adoption team can do right by animals with difficult characteristics.


They can do so by making them more likely to be adopted and lowering their lengths of stay… and in some instances also lower their risk of euthanasia.


Be sure to follow Rescue Corner for more information on how to help animals in your community.

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