The Economics of Rescue

Rescues are sometimes accused of "profiteering" because of the adoption fees that we charge. This article attempts to provide our readers with a look at the financial costs of rescue work and gives some hard numbers for your review.

Our highest adoption fee is for a puppy and is $300. For an adult dog, the adoption fee ranges from $100 - $300 depending on a variety of factors, including age. We are not breed-specific, but we tend to specialize in large/giant breed dogs (Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherd, etc), so for the purposes of this exercise, let's assume our rescued dog weighs at least 80 pounds when he/she is old enough for spay/neuter surgery.

When we rescue a dog, we have a number of one-time expenses just to be able to safely take the dog into our existing pack and get them ready to be adopted. The exact expenses vary depending on factors such as the age, weight, and gender of the dog, and ALSO based on the location of the shelter and/or foster home. In some cases, we may use low-cost clinics, but in most cases, we prefer to use a full-service veterinarian. In many cases, we don't have very many options, so we use the veterinarian that is available in that area.

One-time veterinary expenses:

  • Spay/neuter $105 - $355
    The cost is usually a little bit higher for females than for males, and it is always more expensive to sterilize a dog who weighs more than 80 lbs. Certain cases run significantly higher because of complicating circumstances related to the dog's condition.
  • Vaccinations $56 - $159
    Adults don't need as many vaccinations as puppies, so the cost is lower. Puppies are given a full series of vaccinations for distemper/parvo/leptospirosis/kennel cough and rabies.
  • Microchip $25 - $65
  • Heartworm test $20 - $45
  • Deworming $15
    Every dog is given dewormer on intake unless we receive a record showing it has been done already.

If we use the LOW end of each range (which doesn't cover the cost of the full puppy series of vaccinations), we have one-time up-front veterinary expenses of $221 for the average dog rescued. That doesn't take into consideration the MANY dogs that come to us sick from disease they've picked up in the shelter, or injuries they received while running loose as strays, or at the hands of their previous "owners", who may have been abusive. Our veterinary bills for sick dogs could be the subject of an entirely different article. Kennel cough, ear infections, skin infections, and hot spots are just a few of the "ordinary" problems that shelter dogs often present.  Orthopedic surgeries, dental work, and eye surgeries are also fairly common, and are significantly more expensive. Suffice it to say that in some years, we have spent several THOUSAND dollars on unexpected veterinary expenses.

Remember too, that these expenses are based on a weight of 80 pounds. Some of these expenses will be higher for dogs that weigh considerably more than 80 pounds. Consider also that some of our foster homes are not in the DFW area, and it's not reasonable to ask them to drive several hours round-trip to bring their foster dog here to take advantage of the low-cost clinics or the full-service veterinary clinics who provide a rescue discount.

In addition to veterinary expenses, we have a few more one-time expenses as follows:

  • Collar $6 - $10
  • Leash and Harness $9 (leash only) - $40 (harness)
    Dogs who are being transported long distances sometimes need a harness for safe travel.
  • ID Tag $3
    We buy tags in bulk, so we actually spent a few hundred dollars up-front.

On the low end, that's a total of $18. Add that to the $221, and we're up to $239 in up-front expenses.  So we've already spent over 79% of the highest adoption fee we charge for adults, and we're just getting started. What about the dogs whose adoption fee is lower? We're losing money from the beginning with those dogs -- seniors, whose adoption fee is only $100; "pets" who are not livestock-safe, whose adoption fee is $200. We're starting out in the red on dogs in these categories.

Now comes the ongoing, monthly expense of keeping and caring for a rescue dog.

Monthly expenses:

  • Heartworm prevention $5 - $9
    We shop around to get the best price we can, but this is an expensive necessity.
  • Flea prevention $8 - $18
    We alternate among topicals, chewables, and flea collars. We're not including the money we spend on treatment for our yard and home, which is critical in trying to keep the flea problem at bay.
  • Food $32

Food cost is based on Diamond Naturals Chicken & Rice, which is a good quality dog food, free of wheat/corn/soy (which is important for Great Pyrenees, as they can often have allergies to the stuff). We usually buy Diamond Naturals from the nearest Tractor Supply store (about 25 miles from us), where the current price of a 40-pound bag is $34.99.

40 pounds = 130 cups/bag. This comes to $0.269/cup.

4 cups per day per dog = $0.269 X 4 cups/day = $1.076/day X 30 days = $32.28/month

So, our monthly expenses for a rescue dog will be at least $45. It can be more expensive for puppies and larger dogs, who eat more. Our puppies eat AT LEAST 6 cups of dog food each day, which is the same amount we feed to some of our larger Great Pyrenees (120 lbs). And this figure doesn't include the cost of treats and toys. We give our dogs a variety of milkbone-type treats as well as chew treats. We buy toys and Kongs and antlers in large quantities.

We also buy dog beds and blankets on a recurring basis. And we've invested in crates and kennels and pet carriers, plus training collars & leashes and stainless steel bowls for food and water. Then there's the cost of grooming -- we usually do this ourselves because of the high cost of taking a big dog to a groomer. So we have spent MANY dollars on rakes, combs, brushes, electric shears, grooming scissors, shampoos & conditioners. None of these expenses are included in our calculation.

If we can adopt out a rescue dog in 1 month, our total monetary investment in the average dog will be $239 + $45 = $284.  YAY! We made $16 on a rescue dog if his adoption fee was $300!  If it takes 2 months to find an adopter, our total monetary investment in the dog will be $239 + $90 = $329.  OOPS!  We just went into the red. Just two months of fostering a dog, and we're already losing money. For every day, week, month we keep a dog past two months, we go further in the financial hole. The reality is, there are more dogs in rescue than there are people waiting to adopt them. We almost always have a few dogs who have been with us for more than a year.  For most of these dogs, we will end up with several hundred dollars tied up in each one. And yet the adoption fee will remain the same.

OCCASIONALLY we get lucky, and we take in a dog who has already been spayed or neutered. Maybe even has had vaccinations. But there is ALWAYS some expense -- microchip, deworming, heartworm test -- SOMETHING. Plus of course the regular monthly expenses. In the past year, the lowest cost dog we took in had an up-front cost of only $52 in veterinary expenses because he had already been neutered. But he was here in foster with us for 4.5 months. That doesn't really seem like such a long time, does it? So do the math -- sorry I keep repeating that, but that IS the whole purpose of this exercise. $45 X 4.5 months = $202 + $52 veterinary cost for a total expense of $254.  His adoption fee was $250.  Going through our records for this exercise, the next lowest up-front expense we found was for another dog who came to us already spayed. The cost to update her vaccinations, get her microchipped, and heartworm tested was $87. She was here for just under 1.5 months -- we'll round DOWN the monthly cost since it was just under a month and a half -- $67. Plus $87 vet costs for a total of $154. She was less than a year old, so her adoption fee was $300, meaning we had a "profit" of $146. YAY! But that amount doesn't go very far to offset the expense of those fosters who have been here for months and months. And it doesn't do much to help pay the vet bills for sick dogs we've rescued. One outbreak of parvo virus cost us more than $3,000 in veterinary bills, including hospitalization for two puppies (who survived), and cremation for two puppies who succumbed in spite of treatment.

So here's a short recap -- with a top adoption fee of $300, unless we can adopt that dog out in less than 2 months, we are most likely LOSING MONEY!

Of course, if you choose NOT to be responsible in the care you provide, maybe you can find a way to profit. Skip the wormer and flea prevention meds maybe, or buy a cheap brand of dog food. You might save a little, but you will be doing the dog a real disservice.

These are the numbers, and they present the best case scenario, not taking into consideration the dogs whose veterinary needs are greater than the average dog, or the dogs who come from such abusive situations that they need months in rescue before they can even be considered as viable candidates for adoption. Legitimate rescue is not a "business" where there are profits to be made. Anyone who thinks otherwise is ill-informed at best, malicious at worst.

If you have any questions about us or the work we do, please let us know. We try to be as open and transparent in our operation as humanly possible.  Thank you for your support! WE thank you, and the dogs we've rescued thank you as well.


NOTE: Numbers updated as of 3/18/2019.