Adoption in a Box

Planning and Executing a Mega Adoption Event

Mega Adoption Events are large scale pet adoptions held over a 2 or 3 day period with the goal of finding homes for all of the available dogs and cats in a community’s collective shelter population (both open and limited admission shelters as well as private rescue organizations). The typical goal for a Mega Adoption will vary based on the number of animals in your community’s shelter population but 800-1,000 during a three (3) day event is achievable with planning and teamwork.


Essentials for Success:

  • Ensure there enough pets available, sterilized and medically ready for same day adoption at the event to reach the targeted goal.
  • Offer open and low cost adoptions (a flat rate such as $25 is encouraged to make marketing easier).
  • Participating groups must agree on the open adoption process (remove barriers such as vet references and home visits).
  • Adoption rewards for groups will help off-set costs to groups (ie, Petsmart Charities will often participate in sponsoring Mega Adoption events, providing $35 peradoption to each participating Pet Partner. Go to to learn more about becoming a Petsmart Charities Pet Partner and how to apply for adoption event grant opportunities.
  • Assistance with pre-adoption spay/neuter (can your shelter/rescue partner with a high volume spay/neuter clinic handle the increased surgery volume, can your existing medical staff increase their spay/neuter capacity to get all of the animals ready?).
  • Assistance with transportation of the animals to the event can be done by partnering with a disaster response team to move large numbers of animals to the venue with minimal trips.
  • Ensure there is ample temporary pre-event housing if needed (instead ofeuthanizing for space, partner with boarding facilities to house animals and free up resources at shelters for incoming animals).
  • Fostering of Mega pets is crucial (dramatically increase foster program and remove any barriers to allow citizens to foster animals for your shelter prior to the Mega event).
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Strong Lead Agency:

One group within the community (shelter, humane society, rescue organization or spay/neuter clinic) should serve as the lead agency to coordinate the event from start to finish. Tasks can be assigned to other participants, but one agency should oversee every aspect to ensure the event runs smoothly.


  • Contact local shelters and rescue groups to participate.
  • Primary participants should be the municipal shelter, which is put in the position of having to euthanize for space, and the surrounding shelters and rescues who support the municipal shelter by transferring animals from them.
  • Groups participating must agree on low cost, same day adoptions.
  • Goal is to adopt out all available animals.
  • Groups must abide by a “Code of Conduct,” which encourages cooperation and solidarity among the groups.

Appropriate Venue:

  • Choose a location that is well-known and easy to find.
  • There must be adequate space.
  • Is there outdoor space to walk dogs? Can it be fenced off for safety?
  • Does the venue provide tables and chairs or would that be an added expense?
  • Does the venue have ample parking and provide parking attendants and security?
  • Does the venue provide heating and air? What will the weather conditions be during the event?
  • Seek grants to cover these expenses through local businesses and private donors.

Marketing | Pre-Planning:

  • Set a budget
    • Goal is to reach the masses.
    • Marketing dollars needed to reach goal should be between $30-$50 per adopter. If your goal is 800 adoptions, the budget will be approx. $24,000- $40,000.
  • Plan 3 months or more in advance
  • Leverage business relationships to get extras (ie, do any of your board members or major donors have connections in the media industry?)
  • Who to meet: Ad Rep, Sales Manager and Promotional Director
    • Ask for news member staff contacts.
  • Use all types of media: TV, radio, newspaper, social media, local event and entertainment publications, outdoor advertising (digital/billboard)
    • Go for large audiences.
    • Ask the media how many people your schedule will reach in the 18-54 year old demographics.

Marketing | Campaign Tips:

  • Determine which schedules are the best use of your budget (ie., inexpensive 2 am slots are probably not going to reach your target audience).
  • Run a balanced campaign: TV, radio and newspaper.
  • Run ad campaigns at least 7-9 days in advance of event.
  • Place Facebook Ads
    • Link them to your Facebook page and/or website.
    • Post often on all forms of social media about the event.
  • Being creative is essential-branding and marketing ideas are appealing to sponsors.
  • Sell the event and benefits to all attendees (sponsors, adopters, participants).
  • Event provides access to 6,000-8,000 current or potential pet owners.
  • Event raises awareness on need to adopt pets and other pet services.
  • Partnership is beneficial for all involved to save more lives in the community.

Simple Print Ads:


Sample Digital/Online Ads:

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Volunteers – Key to Success:

Reach out to as many potential volunteers as possible

  • Civic groups
  • Large corporations and local businesses
  • Military
  • Colleges
  • Volunteer sites such as HandsOn or VolunteerMatch
  • Social media

Set firm expectations, roles and shifts

  • Minimum age requirements
    (for safety and liability reasons)
  • Descriptions of roles and expectations
  • Training (written documents and hands-on)

Volunteer Sample Shifts for a Friday-Sunday Mega Adoption Event

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  • Wednesday/Thursday before the event:
    • 10 people from 1pm to 4pm to help set up cages/tables (layout should be planned in advance and someone from lead agency should be on hand to coordinate the flow).
  • Friday/Saturday day of the event:
    • 30 people per shift (7am to Noon; 10am to 2pm; 2pm to 6pm) numbers needed per shift will vary depending on the number of animals, 30 people would be needed for 1,000 adoption weekend, less if there are less animals.
    • Early shift involves walking dogs, feeding animals, cleaning cages, preparing for opening of event.
    • Mid and afternoon shifts – walking dogs, assisting adopters in finding their new pet.
  • Friday/Saturday overnight:
    • 2 people spend the night to monitor pets for emergencies and/or crate escapes.
  • Sunday: 20 people per shift (7am to Noon; 10am to 2pm; 2pm to 6pm)
    • Early shift involves walking dogs, feeding animals, cleaning cages, preparing for opening of event.
    • Mid and afternoon shifts – walking dogs, assisting adopters in finding their new pet, packing up at end of event.
    • Fewer people are required on Sunday since the majority of the animals should already be adopted at this point.

Volunteer Sample Job Descriptions:

  • Dog Handlers: walk dogs, talk to potential adopters, make sure cages are clean and pets have water.
  • Cat Handlers: pet/brush cats, talk to potential adopters, make sure cages are clean and cats have food and water.
  • Greeters: Make sure all adopters check out at the designated booth before leaving with their new pet, answer general questions, collect donations, ensure adopters don’t bring their personal pets into the adoption areas (guide them to the “pet check” area to drop their pets off while they look around).
  • Overnight Safety Shifts: Ensure pet safety, contact event manager in case of emergency.

Event Preparation - Shelter Perspective:

  • Each shelter should have an up-to-date inventory of the animals in their care and know who is medically ready and available to attend the event.
  • Preparing dog/cat medical records – all animals should be spayed/neutered and up to date on vaccinations, deworming, flea prevention, heartworm testing for dogs, FIV/FELV testing for cats, microchip, etc.
  • Medical records need to be on site at the event to be given to new adopters.
  • Staffing for the event – each organization should schedule their staff accordingly to help with transport, care and adoption of the animals throughout the event.
  • Transportation – arrange logistics for getting the animals to the event (have Animal Control Officers or other staff scheduled to run animals from the shelter to the venue).
  • Adoption follow up – the key to having a low return rate is following up with adopters, providing guidance for new families and behavior/training assistance for issues that arise after the adoption. Partnering with a local low cost vet clinic is also helpful in deterring any returns to the shelter because of health scares (pets exhibiting medical issues after being adopted such as diarrhea, vomiting, upper respiratory infections, etc.)

Event Preparation – Host Agency:

  • Wednesday before the event – arrive for set up
    • Event coordinator should already have the layout designed based on the number of groups attending and how many animals they are planning to bring. Sponsorship space and check out area will already be determined prior to set up to assist with the flow.
    • Each organization provides volunteers and is responsible for assisting in setup and teardown of their own space.
    • Lead agency is responsible for overall set up, layout of groups/sponsors booths and logistics during the event and will coordinate with the volunteers to set up in a timely manner.
  • Thursday before the event
    • All cages should be set up and ready for arrival on this day.
    • Cats arrive on Thursday to settle in overnight before the event starts (this greatly reduces their stress level by the opening of the event).
    • Dogs arrive early on Friday morning.
  • Day of event
    • Transport starts arriving as early as 5am at the various shelters to start loading and moving dogs to the venue.
    • Volunteers located at the shelter start walking the dogs prior to loading them on the truck.
    • Volunteers at the venue walk the dogs again after unloading and prior to putting in a cage.
    • Volunteers on hand to clean cages as needed.
    • All dogs walked and cat cages cleaned prior to the doors opening to the public.
    • Daily morning briefings hosted by lead agency with all participating groups prior to doors opening for pep rally, housekeeping reminders, updates, etc.
    • Transport of animals from the participating shelters should continue throughout the day as cages become available.
    • Cages should be replenished as quickly as possible.
    • When groups have no additional animals to bring from their respective shelters, they should be encouraged to pull from the local municipal shelters participating at the event that are forced to euthanize animals for space.
    • When cages can no longer be filled, they should be broken down and moved out of sight to encourage potential adopters to easily view the animals that are still available for adoption. (tThis also helps make clean up faster and smoother at the end of the event)

Equipment and Staff Requirements:

  • Wire cages and cat condos – It can takes years to build up an inventory of cages so when you are starting out, apply for grants to purchase cages, borrow from local agencies such as a disaster response teams and ask all participating groups to bring their own cages.
  • Graphic Designer/Marketing Coordinator – marketing and design should be consistent throughout all media outlets, so having one person heading up this role is critical.
  • Event Management/Staff – lead agency should have team leaders in place at the event to coordinate the flow of animals, handle any issues or concerns that arise with either participating groups or potential adopters, track adoption statistics throughout the event, promote the event through social media frequently, interact with the media on site at the event, coordinate volunteers as well as handle any issues that arise regarding the animals such as medical needs, loose animals, dog fights or bite incidents.
  • Transport vehicles/drivers should be available throughout the event to assist shelters and rescues bring more animals to the event. Disaster response teams (ie, Florida DART can be hired to assist in hauling large quantities of dogs from the shelter to the venue at one time. These types of vehicles are able to move 50-85 dogs at one time.
  • Signage, donation jars, event decorations – lead agency should be responsible for this.
  • Shelter/rescue organizations are responsible for providing their own decorations and pet supplies for the animals in their space (bedding, bowls, litter boxes, litter, food, pet carriers, leashes, etc).
  • Volunteer t-shirts - lead agency should provide a brightly colored volunteer shirt to every volunteer to make them easily identifiable to participants and potential adopters. Lanyards should be provided to each group identifying who the lead contacts are for that group.

Mega Adoption Success:

  • Many pets adopted at Mega events are “hard to place” in shelters. Many have been in shelters for months waiting for a home.
  • Marketing and advertising draws in individuals and families who want to add a pet to their home, but weren’t aware of shelters and thought pet stores were their only option.
  • Most shelters go home empty handed and ready to tackle the new wave of animals that will soon be entering their shelters.
  • The event raises awareness in the community that there are wonderful animals waiting in shelters every day.
  • A Mega Event strengthens the bond among animal welfare groups.
  • Turning over the entire shelter population at once will decrease the overall incidence of infectious diseases.

Mega Adoption Myths:

  • Low cost adoption fees and same day/open adoptions attract poor quality adopters.
  • Low cost adoption fees and same day/open adoptions attract dog fighters looking for bait dogs (HSUS experts in the dog fighting field have dispelled this myth).
  • Animals in shelters are defective or otherwise bad (average citizens don’t understand that the reason pets enter shelters is usually a “people problem” and not the fault of the animal).
  • Return rates are high after these events because adopters don’t spend a lot of time with the animals before adopting.

All of these myths have been found to be false by the agencies who have hosted these successful adoption events around the country. Groups have found that many people who attend the event do so because they want to save a life, they don’t like going to shelters because they are too sad, they love the idea of having a variety of animals to choose from (“one stop shopping”) and they like the low cost all inclusive fee and easy adoption process.

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