September 25, 2019

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

Organization: Texas Tech University
Investigator(s): Alexandra Protopopova
Grant Amount: $24,997.00
Project Type: Basic Research
Project Status: Research Complete

Project Summary

This study assessed which variables are most important in adopting a dog at off-site adoption events. Data showed that crating dogs, free adoption, and incentivizing volunteers resulted in better adoption outcomes for dogs displayed at adoption events.


To generate a best-practices model for conducting off-site adoption events in order to maximize visitor interest in the animals and, ultimately, maximize adoptions during these events. In a sequence of studies, this research aimed to: identify the current typical procedures and methods utilized during adoption events across the nation, and experimentally assess the effects of the identified variables on adoption likelihood.


In the first part of the study, variables were identified via an online survey distributed through the Maddie's Fund email list. A total of 737 staff responded to the survey. In the second part of the study those variables were examined by conducting 10 experimental adoption events, with 25 dogs available. The effect of the following was investigated: crate vs. leash vs. x-pen; single vs. cluster vs. stacked crates; displayed cost of adoption; presence vs. absence of a volunteer; and monetarily incentivized volunteer vs. traditional volunteer support. Overall, 700 visitors came to the events, 245 answered the exit survey, and 149 allowed us to live-code their behavior while they attend the event.


Part One: Survey

  • Most conducted adoption events weekly and in chain pet stores (followed by locally owned stores).
  • Approximately 80% reported bringing 10 or fewer dogs/cats, with both species commonly brought from one source. Adult dogs and kittens are the most represented in adoption events.
  • Dogs are typically housed in crates and on a leash; cats are equally housed communally and singly.
  • Volunteers were equally reported as staff to be in charge of running adoption events, with volunteers most often being the point of contact for visitors.
  • When asked to describe how volunteers are trained, most staff reported focusing on safety and policy rather than consumer behavior or marketing approaches. Staff reported varied techniques of volunteers in talking with adopters; two modes of communication were found: (1) focused on adoption counseling and (2) focused on adoption marketing.

Part Two: Experimental Adoption Events

  • On average, visitors spent 28.8 min at the event and 29.7 seconds per dog. Visitors visited the same dog 0.63 times, showed affiliation to 40%, asked about 12% of the dogs, took 4% of the dogs for a meet-and-greet, and submitted an adoption application for 1% of the dogs.
  • Dog crating resulted in the highest requests for a meet-and greet.
  • Various housing models (single vs. cluster vs. stacked crates) did not affect human behavior.
  • Dogs with no adoption fee ("free") evoked the most requests for a meet-and greet.
  • The presence of a volunteer resulted in the highest frequency of "asking about the dog" and lowest number of visits with the dog (note: frequency of visits was negatively correlated with adoption).
  • Incentivizing volunteers resulted in lower "affiliation" and frequency of visits with the dog (note: affiliation and frequency of visits were negatively correlated with adoption).
  • 32% of adoption applications were placed without conducting a meet-and-greet.
  • There was no difference in adoption applications when the dog was taken for a walk or was restrained on a leash next to a seated visitor.
  • 45% of visitors did not have an intention to adopt, 41% of visitors indicated "maybe", and only 14% indicated a desire to adopt. Unfortunately, 43% of those that indicated a desire to adopt left without adopting, indicating a missed opportunity.
  • Reasons for non-adoption included not finding the right dog (wrong size, wrong fit for family/ lifestyle, wrong breed, etc.) and no interest in taking a dog home that day.


Data showed that crating dogs, free adoption, and incentivizing volunteers resulted in better adoption outcomes for dogs displayed at adoption events. Visitors behave very similarly to how they behave in brick-and-mortar shelters (when compared to published studies on human behavior in shelters). Many adopt without conducting a meet-and-greet and the location of the meet-and-greet does not seem to matter. Many visitors never intend to adopt when they visit an adoption event, questioning the cost-effectiveness of bringing dogs to events. These data generate more questions than answers and thus will stimulate a future line of research on adoption events.