Every year in May, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners hears the county manager’s recommended budget, and then the Board of Commissioners takes input on that budget, makes changes to the manager’s proposal, and finally votes to adopt a new fiscal county budget that will take effect on July 1 of that year and run through June 30 of the next.

This year, Guilford County Manager Mike Halford’s proposed budget is packed with fee increases for everything from renting pickleball courts to planning inspections. No one likes fee increases, but one set of increases has made many people in the community extremely upset, with some calling the changes “short-sighted,” “downright cruel” and “penny-wise and pound foolish.”

 The proposed new fee structure in the 2024-2025 manager’s budget calls for increasing the adoption fees imposed on people taking animals home from the constantly overcrowded Guilford County animal shelter.

For instance, cat adoption fees triple: They increase from $25 to $75. The fee for adopting “senior cats” will quintuple, going from $10 to $50, and dog adoption fees are scheduled to cost $75 rather than the $50 it does now.

When the Rhino Times reported the proposed fee changes last week, animal lovers across the county were irate. Many commented on social media sites and in posts on the Rhino Times’ site.

One reader wrote, “Bastards! Just what we needed, an added impairment for rescuing a dog or cat from their shelter! The county should be paying US for that!”

“Another wrote, “Why can’t they pick on something else! THOSE POOR ANIMALS NEED HOMES!!!!!!”

Yet another stated, “Ridiculous. The process to keep these poor animals alive is already challenging enough. This means more animals will be put down because of not getting adopted. With a surplus like this the fees should be lowered.…Get these people out of office.”

To quote another Rhino reader, “Pet shelters are full and you are asking folks to pay more? The callousness! Why don’t you line up the pets and shoot them. Money grabbing thugs.”

When Halford was asked about the rationale behind the proposed fee increases, he stated that the fee increases – across all departments, not just Animal Services – reflect the rising costs the county is incurring for providing services.

There are increased medical costs and other costs for keeping animals in the shelter and the fee increases are an attempt by the county to recoup some of those costs. The attempt, he said, is to bring the fee structures of various county services more in line with their actual costs. Some have gotten out of balance over the years, he added.

With regard to all the fee increases, Halford argues that Guilford County’s fee structure has been falling behind other counties and that the fee increases proposed in the new budget bring Guilford County closer to those fees in similarly situated counties across the state.

For instance, while cat adoption prices in Guilford County are $25 right now, in Wake County they run from $93 to $98, and in Durham County, they are $95.

It should also be noted that, in Wake County, the fees for cat adoption and senior cat adoption are only $15.

While Halford seems to believe the fee increases will make the county money, many disagree with that assessment. The Guilford County animal shelter usually has to invest hundreds of dollars in food, housing and medical care for each animal it holds –  and common sense would seem to dictate that the county would save money if it made it easier rather than harder to get them out of the shelter.

If an animal is removed from the shelter, first of all, it is in a home where it is loved rather than in a cage in a big room filled with other barking dogs where it can undergo tremendous psychological damage, and, secondly, higher fees make it less likely that it will get adopted.

Guilford County Commissioner Alan Perdue, when asked about the adoption fee increase proposal, said that he has his doubts as to whether it is a wise move.

“I want to really look into that,” Perdue said.

He agreed that it was possible the fee increase might actually end up costing the county money and creating more overcrowding at the shelter.

The Best Friends animal sanctuary network – the largest and one of the most respected animal rescue networks in the country – has the motto “Save Them All” and the group runs and supports true no-kill shelters for animals – state that the matter is crystal clear.

One study, “Reduced Fee Adoptions: Why They Work,” concludes. “The jury is in. Reduced-fee and no-fee adoptions save lives. Lower adoption prices, it finds  help shelters and rescue groups:

  • Quickly find homes for more animals
  • Find homes faster for hard-to-place pets like senior pets, pets with special needs, etc.
  • Increase save rates at shelters with open-admissions
  • Attract new adopters and allow previous adopters to adopt additional pets at a lower cost.

Best Friends cites multiple studies.

Another animal rescue group, The Cat Adoption Team in Oregon found that reducing adoption fees led to more revenue, not less. The group’s executive director stated that, as a result of a 2013 adoption promotion – one where fees were greatly reduced for both adult cats and kittens – that organization “experienced an 89 percent increase in the number of cats and kittens adopted, compared with the previous year when no discounts were offered. Plus, total adoption revenue was up 63 percent. So, although the average revenue per cat was down, total revenue was up.”

Here’s another account of success by lowering adoption fees. “Consider what happened when Animal Outreach of Shelby County in Indiana lowered fees. Kerry Ann May, president of the organization, said, ‘Our cats were being adopted so darn quickly, we were able to pull cats from the municipal shelter more often. This resulted in a nearly 10-fold increase in pulls from the shelter in one year!’”