Free adoptions: Much better than televised killing

Valerie Hayes
Animal Services of Mesilla Valley will do free pit bull adoptions in October

Animal Services of Mesilla Valley will do free pit bull adoptions in October

The first post I wrote on this blog was about the televised killing of a dog by a “shelter” in New Mexico, a depraved publicity stunt that echoed a depraved publicity stunt by a “shelter” in California twenty years previously–the one which was recounted in the opening paragraphs of Redemption.

Many people were outraged by Dr. Beth Vesco-Mock’s televised killing of the golden-haired dog (which was apparently the second such stunt for her) and her blaming of the public:

“I’m sure the public is tired of hearing this problem but unfortunately, it is a community problem – it is not a shelter problem, Vesco-Mock said.

It also came out that she’d briefly directed a Georgia shelter, but was fired after a dog was left in a hot animal control vehicle and died.

At the time of the televised killing the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley had a 70% kill rate–significantly higher than the national average of about 50%.  Appalling, when you consider that we have known how to achieve 90+% save rates for over 10 years.

The Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley and Dr. Beth Vesco-Mock are in the news again today, this time for doing a free pit bull adoption event for the month of October.  According to the news article, the shelter will still use its usual screening procedures, the only difference being that there will be no charge to adopt pit bulls.  In addition, the dogs will be neutered already.

Now, I have a natural tendency to be skeptical, and I don’t think that this shelter director suddenly turned into adoption promo queen Bonney Brown, but, could this be progress?  Is she really going to do it and do it right?  I sure hope so.  The fifty-six pit bulls currently at the facility, the other dogs, and the cats and other animals, are depending on progress.

A couple of things are pretty clear to me, based on comments I’ve seen about this article on the article itself, and on Facebook:

  1. A lot of people don’t read past the headline of an article, and
  2. A lot of people have misconceptions about what free and reduced-price adoption promotions are all about.
The response so far has been overwhelmingly negative, with people assuming that this event will lead to animals just being given away willy-nilly to anyone who shows up, that it will be a terrible disaster for the dogs, when the article clearly states that adopters will be screened and dogs neutered prior to adoption.  Actually, the evidence is that the presence or absence of an adoption fee has NO influence on the quality of the adoption.  Even the ASPCA, which has a long history of fighting No Kill reforms, acknowledges that peer-reviewed research indicates that free cats are just as valued by their families as those who came with a price tag attached.
Now, these are pit bulls, not pussycats we’re talking about, so every rumor has to be bigger, louder and more vicious.  The rumors are essentially the same, though, recycled over the years.  It used to be taboo to adopt out black cats around Halloween or to adopt out any pets around the holidays.  Thanks to many successful adoption programs, those notions which were once so pervasive have fallen by the wayside.  If your screening process is sound January through September, then it will still work just fine October through December.  If it isn’t, adoption fees won’t make it so.  In the past few years, we’ve seen many clever adoption promotions, mostly involving greatly reduced adoption fees.
As Christie Keith put it:
Free pet adoptions are not aimed at people who otherwise couldn’t afford a pet, and that’s not primarily who they attract. Just as Nordstrom holds special sales only for its best and, presumably, wealthiest customers, just as car dealers and appliance stores and luxury hotels have special promotions, shelters and rescue groups who do free adoptions know that the “free” part is a marketing strategy, not a hand-out.

Free and special price promotions are designed to be attention grabbers. They also serve to focus people on pet adoption not in a “someday when I get around to it” kind of way, but in a “better go this weekend because it’s exciting, fun, and I’ll save money!” kind of way.

And just as wealthy people look forward to the Nordstrom annual sale because it’s an event, because it makes them feel special, and because they enjoy the idea of saving money, pet adopters respond the exact same way.

These days, people like to brag about having a rescued pet.  Adopting a pet is a good deed and becomes a positive part of someone’s identity, and adoption promotions make more people into adopters of rescued pets because they combine a good deed with saving a few bucks.

I doubt that most of the people who are so upset at the prospect of pit bulls being adopted out for free know that the last time this facility made headlines, it was for killing a dog on television.  I doubt that most know that at that time, its kill rate was 70%.  And wherever kill rates are high, they are generally even worse for dogs labeled ‘pit bulls’.

Shelter killing creates a toxic climate of fear, leading to a willingness to believe the worst about people, and the long tradition of blaming the public means that the people whose support is essential to saving lives–”the public”, is, after all, your pool of potential adopters–is viewed with suspicion rather than courted.  Innovation is suspect.

Is this shelter director committed to making this event a success?  I don’t know.  I sure hope that she is.  What I do know is that the animals deserve a successful adoption event, and many more in the future.  Animal advocates should do what they can to make this event a success, because we need to leave the bad old days behind.

If you were a pit bull, which would you choose: 15 minutes of fame for getting killed on the evening news or 15 years of life with a family who adopted you for free?



8 Responses to “Free adoptions: Much better than televised killing”

  • Joni Solis Says:

    I think low priced and free adoption events are done because it gets the shelter or rescue in the news. Getting media attention helps get the public’s attention and get people to notice and consider shelter pets. I wish for a day when all shelters and rescue groups consider it super important to get their adoption events in the news — free or discount fees is just one way to get this important media attention.

    • Valerie Hayes Says:

      Good point! It drives me nuts that so many people immediately jump to the conclusion that there will be no adoption screening just because there will be no fee. Obviously, A LOT more publicity and education is needed in that area!

  • Sue Patterson Says:

    I live in Las Cruces. I have been involved in activism and advocacy for 11 years. Neither of you live here, so I don’t think you have all the facts. Nor do you understand the attitude about pets in a community that’s 50 miles from Mexico. Until you live with our problems; until you live thru 6 shelter directors like the rest of us, you should think twice before criticizing our director. She has brought the euthanasia rate down as much as anyone could possibly have done. Come down here and HELP US. Until you do, keep your mouths shut.

    • Valerie Hayes Says:

      What!? Please re-read the article. In it I am expressing support for her decision to do an adoption promotion. She has given advocates some very good reasons to be critical of her, however, and I outlined those in the post. What facts am I missing? It appears that you simply dislike some of the facts that I have presented. You claim that she has gotten the kill rate down. What was the kill rate at the “shelter” before she started? What is the kill rate now? Please post the numbers here and send me any supporting documents that you have. You have help available right at home in the form of New Mexico Pets Alive!: I highly recommend that you take advantage of that resource, and also and

      I am well aware of the problems faced by “shelters”, most of which stem from the attitude of their directors. To see where I am coming from on this, please read “I was there”.

      Do not ever tell me or anyone else to “keep your mouths shut”. Is it extremely rude. Progress never happens when people fail to speak their minds.

  • Roberta Says:

    Civil conversation can change the world – for people and pets. This sounds like a wonderful opportunity for these dogs. Well-written post.

  • Lindsay Says:

    Thanks for writing this post. I will always be in favor of adoption discounts, even free adoptions. Other shelters around the country are also offering discounts on pitbulls this month, and as long as they are still screening adopters (within reason), I think it’s a wonderful idea.

    We need to get these dogs into homes! Not keep them in shelters for weeks or months. Or worse.

  • Treats on the Internets « YesBiscuit! Says:

    [...] the dogs in its walk-in freezer, in a Piggly Wiggly dumpster, or being killed on live television (which this same shelter also does) rather than being given away for [...]

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