In light of COVID-19, we have decided to postpone our Open Arms Pet Adoption Challenge. Please continue to focus on yourselves and the safety of the people and pets in your community. In the meantime, we are here to support you and we will reschedule the challenge in the near future.

Looking to try something new, increase adoptions AND win grant money?

We welcome you to participate in the Open Arms Pet Adoption Challenge! This challenge is all about opening our hearts to open adoptions. We’re encouraging animal shelters and rescue organizations to pilot a more open approach to adoptions for one month and have a chance at part of $55,000 in grants being awarded.

We know that "open adoptions” can be a loaded term. We totally get that. We understand the thought process behind home-visits, veterinary care requirements and dogs meeting face-to-face. However, we believe, at their core, humans are good. They’re also a necessary part of the solution to the problem we’re all trying to solve.

Plus, research shows that those who adopt through conversation-based adoptions provide similar high-quality care and are just as likely to be highly bonded to their pet as those who adopt through policy-based adoptions.

So, instead of looking for reasons to say "no,” what if we come from a place of "YES!”?

We’ll also be providing plenty of resources to help you get started, including a handful of live huddles throughout the month of April. So, whether you consider your adoption process fairly open already aside from one or two requirements, or not open at all, you can see what tried and true improvements will help save more lives.

An open adoption process is welcoming, affirming and easy for all involved. Not to mention, it saves a ton of time! Ready to give it a try?

To be considered to PARTICIPATE in this Challenge, your organization must:

  • Be a U.S.-based government animal shelter or 501c3 shelter or rescue organization that performs adoptions of dogs and/or cats and has not implemented open adoptions.
  • Be an active participant in Shelter Animals Count. (If you are awarded a grant prize from this Challenge, you agree to join the Maddie’s Fund Coalition in Shelter Animals Count.)
  • Be current on all grant reporting for any prior Maddie's Fund grants.
  • Register for the Challenge by submitting a complete application through the Maddie's Fund Grants Portal. You will be notified by our team by Tuesday, March 31, 2020 if you meet the eligibility requirements to participate in the Challenge.

To be considered for an AWARD from this Challenge, your organization must:

  • Meet the requirements above.
  • Complete the project completion report (due June 12, 2020, 5pm PT). Find a sample of the project completion report. Please note, this sample is provided for reference only and questions are subject to change.

Additionally, if you are selected as an award winner from this Challenge, there’s a final report due September 18, 2020. Find a sample of the final report. Please note, this sample is provided for reference only and questions are subject to change.

Research & Resources

  • HSUS - Adopters Welcome
    Your one-stop "how-to” guide for implementing all things related to open adoptions!
  • Study: Do Policy Based Adoptions Increase the Care a Pet Receives? An Exploration of a Shift to Conversation Based Adoptions at One Shelter
    This important finding indicates that those that adopt through conversation-based adoptions (policy-free) provide similar high quality care and are just as likely to be highly bonded to their pet as those that adopt through policy based adoptions.
  • HSUS: Research cited in Adopters Welcome
  • Maddie’s Fund blog post: Why shelters and rescue groups need to unstop the customer service bottleneck to save more lives

    "We made big progress when we began to encourage organizations to welcome people who are considering adopting, to make them feel appreciated rather than grilled and to work to create more good homes through a positive and educational atmosphere,” said Robin Starr, CEO of Virginia’s Richmond SPCA. "Over the last decade or so, it is clear that this approach has taken hold at many organizations to the great benefit of animals in need of homes.”
  • ASPCA: Dakin Humane Society's Progressive Adoption Programs
    - The Dakin Humane Society opened in 1995 with a mission to offer an open adoption program that emphasizes "understanding and respect" for its human customers.
    - In the last three years, Dakin's Springfield site has significantly increased adoption numbers and has built a strong relationship with the community. Meanwhile, its rural shelter continues with a record of very strong adoption rates.
    - Harris says Dakin's policies are based on one simple truth: "If we aren't able to help humans, we won't be able to help animals." The shelter staff has used this philosophy to create successful programs at both the rural and urban shelters.
  • ASPCA PRO Webinar: Conversational Adoption Counseling
    By the end of this webinar, you can develop an understanding about:
    - Establishing trust between yourself and the potential adopter
    - Exchanging important information
    - Determining whether the home is qualified for the animal in question
    - Creating an experience that is enjoyable for the adopter, resulting in positive word of mouth and longtime support

Join the the Open Arms Pet Adoption group on Maddie’s® Pet Forum!

Here you will connect with other challenge participants and share your success stories, tips and brainstorm. The end goal is to have as many pets find loving homes as possible, so let’s help each other out! Join now!


Please feel free to share the Open Arms Pet Adoption Challenge through your organization's communication channels. To save, right-click the image and 'save image as' to your computer. Please use the hashtag #openarmsTTM (Thanks To Maddie) in your communications!

Grant Recognition

Those organizations that are awarded a grant through this Challenge will be asked to honor Maddie, the little dog who inspired a movement, through their social media and donor recognition about this grant on their website, donor wall, annual report, newsletter or other promotional materials or marketing communications, as appropriate. Learn more.