Partnering To Make Off-Site Adoptions a Success

Partnering To Make Off-Site Adoptions a Success!
Three unique approaches

For some shelters, off-site adoption events are one of the best ways to promote their valuable services and their available animals. For other groups, simply hearing the words “off-site” conjures up feelings of trepidation — How many volunteers will it require? Which animals will be appropriate to bring? How are adoptions actually facilitated outside the shelter? And ultimately, will adoptions take place on public impulse?

A 2002 issue of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science details interesting findings completed by the market research firm Bardsley & Neidhart. Specific to issues surrounding off-site adoptions, the study discovered that retention rates for animals adopted through off-site venues were actually no different from those of animals adopted from shelters. This is a good indication that off-site adoption events are worth exploring.

American Humane has learned of the unique off-site events of three organizations that illustrate how partnerships are making the most of this exciting opportunity. These events are profiled here and may inspire your agency to think of new ways to get involved with your community.

Take it to the zoo

Location, location, location. Hosting an off-site adoption event in a popular, high-traffic venue can increase your chances for success considerably. In spring 1993, the Michigan Humane Society and the Detroit Zoo partnered to create “Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo” — an extraordinary program that’s said to be the largest off-site adoption affair in the nation. In the past 11 years, the event has helped find homes for more than 8,000 animals.

The program has proven to be so popular that, in 2001, a fall “Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo” event was added. Now, twice a year, Michigan Humane and up to 30 Michigan animal agencies bring adoptable pets to massive tents in the zoo’s parking lot in hopes of finding them new homes. The latest event on September 27 and 28, 2003, boasted approximately 13,000 visitors and found new homes for 827 dogs, cats, and rabbits.

One reason behind the success of this remarkable program is the strong relationship between Michigan Humane and the Detroit Zoo. A goal of each organization is to ensure increased numbers of pets are adopted at each event. Another reason for the success is the dedication of local sponsors. Michigan Humane secures several media sponsors that are critical in publicizing the event and encouraging a steady stream of potential adopters throughout the zoo weekend. In fact, last fall lines of folks waiting to “meet their new best friend” lined up outside the Detroit Zoo, waiting anxiously for the event to begin.

An event of this scale requires intense planning and committed resources. Organization, communication, and coordination are the ingredients for success, and they’re the tools that can be applied to any off-site adoption plan, no matter the size or scope. For more information on “Meet Your New Best Friend at the Zoo” or how you can plan a similar event in your area, contact Nancy Gunnigle at Michigan Humane at

Before planning an off-site adoption event . . .

Whether you’re facilitating adoptions onsite or off-site, all your agency’s standard policies and procedures need to be enforced. For off-site adoptions, this includes everything from bringing adequate cleaning supplies to the event, to carrying out the actual adoption process. In addition, for off-site adoptions, it’s a good idea to keep the following points in mind:

  • Dogs considered for the event should be temperament tested for possible aggression. American Humane’s SAFER test is available by visiting or calling (800) 227-4645.
  • All animals should be kept in kennels when not visiting with potential adopters.
  • Unsupervised contact with animals by visitors (even fingers through kennel doors) should not be allowed.
  • Animals need ready access to fresh water at all times; if you’re bringing young animals, provide food as well.
  • Take precautions to protect pets from the elements if the adoption event will be held outside – no matter the season.
  • Implement some type of perimeter containment, in case an animal gets loose.
  • Arrange for enough staff or volunteers to safely manage the number of animals you’ll be showcasing.
  • Let the animals play – provide squeaky toys or stuffed animals for dogs and plenty of cat toys for felines.
  • Minimize stress on the animals by monitoring their physical and emotional comfort level constantly.
  • Promote your agency’s presence at the off-site event well in advance to help curtail “impulse” adoptions.

Think “small”

Developing a partnership with a local retailer can go the distance in making sure an off-site adoption project achieves results. The Minnesota House Rabbit Society (MN HRS) and two nearby PETCO stores developed a unique pilot program that makes big strides for homeless rabbits in the Twin Cities region.

PETCO executives met with representatives from the National HRS and suggested hosting community off-site adoption events for homeless rabbits, and HRS offered the chance to its Minnesota chapter. The MN HRS began negotiating the details with PETCO management and soon, an off-site adoption structure was in place for two Minnesota PETCO stores. The program officially began in early 2003 and is now integrated fully into the Minnesota PETCO stores’ operation, as well as into MN HRS’s community outreach and volunteer programs.

For the program to be a success, both PETCO and MN HRS put forth a big effort. PETCO employees and MN HRS volunteers monitor the large, comfortable rabbit enclosures and provide litter, toys, and high-quality feed for the rabbits — all direct recommendations of MN HSR.

The rabbits chosen for this special venue are carefully screened by MN HRS, and only those that are believed would do well in a retail environment are brought to the stores. Adopters at PETCO meet the same criteria as other MN HRS adopters. The process begins in-store, when PETCO associates give potential adopters applications and information provided by MN HRS. From there, phone interviews are conducted, and finally, MN HRS representatives meet qualified adopters at the PETCO location to complete the adoption.

Another benefit of this partnership is a grant from the PETCO Foundation, which makes it possible for all rabbits adopted through the program to be spayed or neutered.

PETCO is currently exploring opportunities to work with other rabbit welfare groups in additional states, using their partnership with MN HRS as a successful template. And to the benefit of MN HRS, they now have a partnership with local retailers that gives them a forum for community outreach and off-site adoptions that, before this time, wasn’t possible. MN HRS is excited that this type of program can ultimately expand to more stores in their area and perhaps to PETCO stores across the nation. For more information, please visit

Make a SMART partnership

Hundreds of organizations like yours work with local PETsMART stores to promote their available animals. Some agencies take the partnership a step further to take advantage of the pet-loving audience that frequents PETsMART. The Connecticut Humane Society partners with several PETsMART stores in their area — one of which is even considered an actual branch of their organization.

Since March 2003, over 430 animals have found new homes from one Connecticut PETsMART store. The secret to such amazing success may lie in the constant availability of the society’s animals — and of Connecticut Humane representatives. Each day, a representative is available from 11 am to 6 pm to answer questions from potential adopters and to actually facilitate the adoption process. Also, Connecticut Humane’s mobile adoption unit frequents the parking lots of PETsMART partners, serving as an eye-catching way to increase community visibility and promote adoptions.

The PETsMART in O’Fallon, Illinois, also goes above and beyond to help homeless animals. This store currently partners with six local groups, increasing awareness about everything from cats to retired racing greyhounds to ferrets. The Metro East Humane Society has been bringing adoptable pets to the O’Fallon PETsMART since the store opened in 1992. And several of the store’s associates have even adopted pets themselves, adding to the camaraderie that makes the partnership so special.

For more information on becoming involved in PETsMART’s in-store adoption program, visit If you’re already a PETsMART adoption partner, try scheduling volunteers to staff the store during the busiest times of the week — Friday evenings, all day Saturday, and all day Sunday. Also, if you have a mobile adoption unit, utilize it as much as you can while at the store.

The payoff

Don’t get discouraged if adoptions are lower than you would expect after taking up an off-site adoption program. By consistently having a presence in your community, you’re achieving a larger goal of community awareness. Someday, when those customers are ready to open their hearts and homes to an adoptable pet, they’ll likely think of your agency first.

Courtney DeRosier was previously the director of marketing for American Humane™.

Reprinted from Protecting Animals, Winter 2004,Vol. 21, No.2, with permission from American Humane™, 63 Inverness Drive East, Englewood, CO 80112-5117

Courtesy of

63 Inverness Drive East

Englewood, CO 80112-5117