June 30, 2016

Audience: Executive Leadership, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Organization: Maddie's Fund
Investigator(s): Amber Freiwald
Grant Amount: n/a
Project Type: Basic Research
Project Status: Research Complete

Project Summary

: In this survey, we examined the extent to which various organizations allow or encourage the involvement of their foster caregivers in the adoption process. Eighty-one percent strongly agreed or agreed that programs empowering foster caregivers to find homes for their foster animals are effective in increasing capacity and/or organizational resources, yet only 65% reportedly allowed foster caregivers to be highly involved in the adoption process.


To identify practices that were successful in shortening length of stay, or prevented the pets from entering the shelter entirely, specifically, the degree to which foster caregivers are allowed to take part in the adoption process at their shelters or rescues.


Data was collected from a convenience sample survey distributed via the Maddie's Fund list serve. The survey covered three scenarios, the first of which is discussed in this report. It sought out respondents who were administrators, staff members and volunteers of U.S. animal shelters, rescue organizations or municipal animal services, with the request that the survey be completed by only one respondent from each organization. Survey submissions represented a diverse group of organizations that varied both structurally and geographically. These results were not analyzed for statistical significance.


Extent foster caregivers are allowed to be involved in the adoption process

  • 65% reported to allow foster caregivers to be "highly involved" or "involved" in their organization's adoption process. Similarly, 65% reported that caregivers and the organization work in a joint adoption process, but the organization makes all final decisions. Fifteen percent said foster caregivers are given complete control over adoption process with support; and 13% said foster caregivers are not involved in the adoption process at all.
    - Of cat-only organizations surveyed, only 37% permit caregivers to be "highly involved" their foster cat's adoption, compared to 48% at dog-only organizations.
    - Results suggest that large organizations (5,000+ dog or cat intake annually) may be more likely (53%) to allow caregivers to be "highly involved" in the adoption process; mid-size organizations (1,000 to 4,999 dog or cat intake annually) were least likely (29%) to allow foster caregivers to be "highly involved" in the adoption process.
  • 94% reported that foster caregivers are allowed to care for the pet until he/she is adopted; 97% allow them find potential adopters; fewer, 84% allow foster caregivers to meet with potential adopters; only 30% allow foster caregivers to approve adoption applications; and 21% give clearance for foster caregivers to finalize adoptions.

Foster caregiver chosen level of involvement

  • In organizations that permit at least some foster caregiver involvement in the adoption process, only 39% of the cat-only groups say their caregivers "frequently" or "very frequently" choose to be involved, while that number was 80% for dog-only organizations surveyed (51% overall).

Return to shelter for adoption

  • Of cat-only organizations (with a physical facility), 70% reported that foster cats are "always" or "almost always" physically returned to the organization for the cat adoption process (compared to 41% of dog-only organizations).

Belief statements

  • Only 23% "strongly agree" or "agree" that foster caregivers should be given complete control over the adoption process from start to finish, with organization support.
  • 76% "strongly agree" or "agree" that their organization struggles to find enough homes for animals who are available for adoption.
  • 59% "strongly agree" or "agree" that their organization is effective in encouraging foster caregivers to find homes for their foster animals.
  • 81% "strongly agreed" or "agreed" that programs empowering caregivers to find homes for their foster animals are effective in increasing capacity and organizational resources.


The following recommendations reflect areas that deserve further study, and may result in a more productive organization-caregiver relationship, decreased length of stay in the shelter environment, and increased adoption rates: 1) allow and encourage foster caregivers to be actively involved in promoting the foster pets in their care for adoption, 2) give foster caregivers a strong voice in adoption decisions, and 3) reconsider requirements that pets be returned to the shelter for purposes of adoption, and instead allow them to be placed through the foster home and/or at adoption events.