A Top Animal Grantmaker Aims for a Breakthrough on Shelter Adoptions

It’s happened to all of us. Late night; you can’t sleep. You turn on the TV hoping to catch some late night laughs but suddenly you hear it—the first few bars of slow, sad piano start to creep in and you know: Get the tissues ready—Sarah McLachlan is about to about to make you cry.

Jokes aside, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is one of the most recognized names in animal welfare—and not just because of their uber-depressing commercials (even McLachlan admits she has to change the channel). An institution of national importance among modern animal welfare advocates, the ASPCA was founded nearly 150 years ago on the belief that animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment and should be protected by law. It was the first humane society established in North America at the time, and to this day ASPCA remains one of the largest in the world. Headquartered in New York City, ASPCA’s animal advocacy work extends across each of the 50 states through a wide network of local chapters and partners carrying out its mission.

As the nation’s second-largest animal welfare grantmaker, ASPCA has granted over $35 million through cash grants, sponsorships and training to nearly 1,600 animal shelters, rescue groups, sanctuaries, and other animal welfare organizations in the past two years alone. With assets totaling over $100 million and a donor base over two million strong, this well-funded organization gives out hundreds, sometimes thousands, of grants each year.

Recently, in an effort to shine a spotlight on the millions of shelter animals in need of loving homes, ASPCA granted more than $250,000 to nearly 100 animal welfare organizations in 40 different states to help them launch local Adoption Ambassadors programs. From ASPCA:

The Adoption Ambassadors program, originally developed at the Louisiana SPCA, empowers those who foster animals to become adoption counselors on behalf of their local shelters. Once they complete program orientations at participating shelters, Ambassadors take home adoptable dogs or cats and pledge to help those animals find safe and loving homes through word of mouth, social media posts and emails to friends and family, or by hitting the streets with their foster pets. Ambassadors can even process adoptions themselves, returning adoption application/surveys and any applicable fees to the shelter.

It’s an interesting route, and one that many animal welfare funders often overlook. With so much attention focused on direct shelter-to-home adoption, animal fostering programs don’t always get the love they deserve. Beyond an opportunity to “test drive” pet ownership (or to enjoy a few snuggles), foster programs are critical in making shelter pets adoptable in the first place. Each abandoned or surrendered animal comes with its own set of issues to work through, and some remain scarred for life. And caring for an animal with psychological, behavioral or medical issues requires a major investment of time, money and patience, which can be a major turn-off for potential pet owners—something ASPCA knows all too well.

Foster programs give companion animals an opportunity to heal and acclimate to home life, but they’re also one of the best ways to identify behavioral patterns that might determine what kind of environment that animal should or should not be adopted into—raising the likelihood that once an animal is adopted, that adoption will stick.

Moreover, fosters free up much-needed shelter space and resources. Given the staggering number of animals revolving in and out of shelters every year—over 7 million—this is welcome news for the two- and four-legged alike. 

Related: Save the Dogs: Inside a Foundation's Quest to Help Shelter Animals Find Homes

Shelters and rescue groups will typically cover medical costs for fosters, but that's about all. With this critical step in the adoption process coming into focus as a funding priority, the ASPCA will enable its grantees to subsidize foster care-related expenses, including food, litter, and other supplies. The funding will also go toward program marketing and the development of promotional branded swag to increase exposure. And while you may not think it, ASPCA knows marketing. Remember those gut-wrenching commercials that make you want to run off, leaving everything behind to build an animal sanctuary? They have generated over $30 million for ASPCA.

Appealing to people's emotions works. Particularly when it comes to animals. Foster programs are another side of the same coin. Although national rescue groups don't keep statistics on pet fostering, it's estimated that tens of thousands of families foster pets every year. And once you take an animal out of a shelter, it becomes infinitely harder to send them back. 

Shelter and rescue grants are just one of several program areas that ASPCA funds for animal welfare. Its anti-cruelty funding program prioritizes grants for costs associated with the prevention of and response to animal cruelty toward animals. It also provides emergency funding to animal welfare organizations and government agencies in communities impacted by natural and other disasters through an Emergency & Disaster Response Grants program.

Related: ASPCA: Grants for Animals and Wildlife