Discuss as:

Animal sponsorship eases a shelter's burden

With tens of thousands of pets waiting for adoption, some animal shelters are taking a new approach to make adoption easier. NBC's John Yang reports.

By Laura Allenbaugh
NBC News

JOPLIN, Mo. -- When Denny Flowers looked at Lucy, it was love at first sight.

He found the 8-year-old Shih Tzu on the Joplin Humane Society Facebook page last year.  She had been abused, and she was nearly blind from head trauma. The medical costs associated with taking Lucy home meant she was often overlooked.

But those hurdles didn't sway Flowers.

"She curled up on my chest when I was holding her," he said.  "It was, 'Yep, we're going home.'"

She was so sick, the first night he had her Flowers didn't think she would make it.  But the money Flowers saved went straight to medical bills, and three months later she was sniffing her way around the yard with Flowers and his two teenage daughters doting on her.

"I was lucky to find her," said Flowers, who lives in Joplin, Mo.

Lucy made such an impression that he now sponsors a new animal each month with his coworkers, paying the $60 adoption fee so that new owners don't have to. Flowers is one of more than 400 sponsors who have agreed to fund a dog or cat living at the Joplin Humane Society in the three months since the program started.

Dani Reynolds at the Joplin Humane Society created the sponsorship program after last year's devastating tornadoes.

She posts pictures of the shelter's dogs and cats on the nonprofit's Facebook page. Followers of the site who can't take in a pet but want to help can sponsor an animal with a one-time $60 donation.  When a dog or cat is sponsored, their $60 adoption fee is paid by the sponsor, leaving the new owner with only a $10 fee to have the dog or cat microchipped.

"It just helps relieve that [financial] burden," said Reynolds.

Sponsorship programs have been on the rise across the nation, according to ASPCA Membership Vice President Steve Froehlich, especially as more shelters take to Facebook and Twitter to advertise their adoptable pets.

The process allows potential pet owners to take a second look at older or bigger dogs who are often overshadowed by puppies.

"If it's a sick animal, they don't have to pay the fee ahead of time so they can go straight to medical treatment," she said. "Or if it's a big dog, they can pay straight to make sure their fence is secure."

The Humane Society shelter in Joplin, Mo., has had sponsors as far away as California and England who want to help their animals find a home.

"That's where the people are and our job as shelter professionals is to get the message in front of as much people as possible and to find the most cost effective way of using resources to get that message out," said Froehlich.

Effective, he says, because it is the sponsor that becomes the advocate, posting pictures of the animal they're sponsoring and encouraging others to share the photo.

"[The sponsor] can become a talent agent a representative for the animal and they can take it on themselves to help promote that animals story and find a home for them," he said.

Each new sponsor has become a thrill for Reynolds, who said she never dreamed they'd see more than a dozen or so.  But with almost 300 dogs and more than 130 cats at the Joplin Humane Society, there is still a lot of work to be done. 

If you're interested in sponsoring an animal, click here to view the Joplin, Mo., animal sponsorship page.