How to Lower Your Failed Pet Adoption Rate

Updated: Feb 17

The ultimate goal of any animal rescue is to find animals safe, loving, forever homes.


Adoption teams everywhere are doing their best to help their organizations reach this commendable goal.


When we say 'forever home' what we're really saying is that we want animals to go to happy homes where they can hopefully live happy lives - for the rest of their lives.


Unfortunately, not every forever home turns out to be forever.



What are Failed Pet Adoptions?


Failed adoptions are adoptions that result in an animal who was adopted from an animal rescue being returned to a similar organization.


Failed adoptions are bad experiences for everyone involved - especially the animals.


Imagine how confusing and stressful the re-homing experience must be for them.

Here's why failed pet adoptions are a bad thing.


Failed pet adoptions increase an animal's chances of developing behavioural concerns.


Animals, like us, have feelings. Imagine being promised a happy ever after, only to be returned to an animal shelter or rescue. It’s confusing, to say the least.


Changing families and homes too often causes animals a lot of unnecessary emotional stress. Some animals may even go on to develop behavioural concerns as a result of the stress.


In many regions, those same behavioural concerns can decrease the animal's chance of making it out of a shelter alive.


Failed pet adoptions increase the odds of an animal losing their life.


Unfortunately, not every shelter is a no-kill shelter.


Shelters that do not operate under a no-kill mandate might choose to 'euthanize' the returned animal or another animal in their shelter due to a lack of resources.


According to the ASPCA, each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats).


There are negative effects for everyone involved!


Failed pet adoptions cause animals unnecessary emotional stress


It takes a lot to say goodbye to an animal you were once ready to embrace the world with. A recent story shows the emotional turmoil adopters go through when a dog adoption doesn’t work out.


The five-year-old black Labrador Retriever became a vehicle of guilt and anguish as well as a source of grinding tension between two deeply committed dog people.


“Our hearts were full of hope and happiness when we welcomed Paolo into our lives. Our souls were wracked with sorrow and shame when we gave him up… We soon realized that what we had adopted was not a dog, but an 85-pound weapon of mass destruction.” Source

Failed pet adopters may grow fearful of adopting again.


Sometimes love isn’t enough. It can be heart wrecking, even traumatic, for animal lovers to realize this harsh reality.


Failed adoptions can make animal lovers feel like failures. That type of emotional experience can prevent them from ever trying to adopt again.


Failed pet adoptions are a waste of your resources.


Every failed adoption results in an additional animal under your animal rescue's care.


We all know there is a cost associated with caring for animals and in the case of a failed adoption, all of this cost is going to fall on your organization.


Do you realize that we're now talking about funding? Funding is at the core of your animal rescue's ability to achieve its mission. This is why failed adoptions aren't just an "adoption issue."


Failed adoptions are an issue that affects your organization as a whole.


There are endless effects of failed pet adoptions.


Failed pet adoptions can cost you future adopters.


Failed adoptions make people angry and angry people usually need somewhere to direct their anger. Your animal rescue may end up being the target of that anger.

If some of this anger makes its way into a Facebook or Google review then your organization could be in big trouble.

Future adopters will read those reviews and those reviews might just be the deciding factor as to whether they adopt from your team or go to a breeder.

Here's how to decrease your failed adoption rate.


Avoid finalizing pet adoptions prematurely.


If you'd like to decrease your failed adoption rate then your adoption team needs to avoid finalizing pet adoptions prematurely.


Your adoption team should not be finalizing any adoptions until after you've received enough information on the animal's medical or behavioural conditions.


The reason why is pretty self explanatory.


Your animal rescue is responsible for educating prospective adopters on the companion animal they've chosen before the adoption takes place not after.


There's no way your adoption counsellors can educate adopters on the type of care the animal needs if they themselves are unaware of it.

Prospective adopters will know which medical or behavioural concerns they're equipped to handle and which ones they're not.

But they can't exercise their ability to make an informed decision if your adoption team fails to lets them know what medical or behavioural concerns an animal is suffering from.


We know it can be difficult to track down an animal’s life story but you should at the very least be taking all animals to see a veterinarian before re-homing them.

Your foster parents and volunteers should also be getting to know each animal to the best of their abilities before re-homing them.


This will help your organization gather valuable information for prospective adopters.

These two steps cannot be avoided without consequences for your animal rescue.

Each year we hear about at least one horror story on the news where an animal rescue unknowingly sends an aggressive dog home to an unsuspecting family, resulting in injury - simply because the rescue themselves did not know the dog was aggressive.

Your organization has a responsibility to keep both animals and people safe and when you fail - bad things happen.

Your animal rescue needs to use sound tactics to screen prospective adopters.

Screening prospective pet adopters is hard work. We know.

But we also know there are a lot of tools you can use to be effective at screening prospective adopters.

You can start by using a questionnaire designed to gather the information you need to know about prospective adopters.

It is crucial to use questionnaires that not only ask the right questions - but also ask them the right way.

It is equally as important for your animal rescue to utilize interview forms that will help adoption counsellors gather the information they need to know about prospective adopters.

Your adoption counsellors are your next line of defence. They need to be trained on a series of interview tactics.

These interview tactics will improve any adoption counsellor's ability to screen prospective adopters.

Finally, don't be afraid to use any additional screening techniques!


We're not saying you need to do a home visit to screen every single prospective adopter but even a screening technique as simple as asking someone for government-issued photo ID and proof of address can go a long way in keeping animals safe.

If the animal you're re-homing requires some sort of an enclosure, then ask to see a photo of the animal's enclosure set up and ready to go prior to finalizing their adoption.

Your adoption team needs to spend time educating the adopters.

Educating prospective adopters should be one of the main goals of your adoption interviews.

Your adoption counsellors are in the perfect position to educate prospective adopters on how to care for animals.


Educating prospective adopters on medical information can be tricky. That's why your adoption team should be using medical disclosures to discuss any issues pertaining to an animal's health.


If you're new to the field of animal rescue and need additional information on how to use medical disclosures you can find it here.

It is also important for your animal rescue to use behavioural disclosures to discuss any issues relevant to the animal's behaviour.

These disclosures will help prospective adopters decide whether they have the skill level needed to care for the animal they are interviewing for.

Even if a prospective adopter is not the right fit for one animal, they may still be the perfect fit for another.

That same logic applies to our furry friends, too.

Your adoption team needs to set realistic expectations.

Your adoption team needs to set adopters up to have realistic expectations post-adoption.

Sometimes companion animals don't settle into their new homes right away and not every animal wants to be hugged, kissed or snuggled.

Many theories circulate online. The last one we heard was "It takes 3 days, 3 weeks..." and we don't even remember the rest. We're sure you can tell that we didn't really buy into it.

The truth is, nobody knows how long it will take for a companion animal to settle in.


The time it takes to settle in will depend entirely on the animal, the family and the surroundings to which we are asking the animal to settle into.

Prospective adopters need to know this information. If not, they might worry that they're doing something wrong or even worse, grow frustrated with the companion animal.

Your animal rescue needs to provide post-adoption support.

Your new adopters want to be successful at providing their recently adopted pet with a forever home. They simply need your help to do it.

This is one of the stages where your new adopters need you the most.

Providing post-adoption support to new adopters has the power to drastically impact your animal rescue's failed adoption rate.

A lot of animal shelters and even animal rescues skip this crucial stage arguing that they simply do not have the resources to keep in touch post-adoption.

We don't actually believe that that's true because we know that every animal rescue is 100% capable of accessing the resources they need to provide post-adoption support.


If your animal rescue does not feel you have the resources to provide post-adoption support then we're more than happy to show you how to design an engaging and effective post-adoption support program.

Always Remember!

Your organization's failed adoption rate will give you the ability to identify your adoption department's strengths and weaknesses.

If your organization has a failed adoption rate above 4% then you need to take the steps to learn how to design an adoption program that will reduce your failed adoption rate.

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