IF YOU DON'T pay an adoption fee when you adopt a pet, does it change how much you "value" the animal as a member of your family?

It has long been a core belief in the community that people who didn't pay for a pet were more likely to "get rid of it" for pretty much any reason at all - or for no reason at all. In recent years, though, organizations - such as Maddie's Fund, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians and the No Kill Advocacy Center - have challenged those views and many others, working to increase the number of homeless animals placed in good homes by changing the way shelters do business.

One of the first things they looked at: The idea that adoption fees help pets find better homes. After Maddie's Fund experimented with paying the adoption fees for a relatively small adoption drive, the Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine tracked the people and the pets they adopted. They found that the overwhelming majority of the animals were still in their homes months later, most sleeping on the beds of the people who adopted them.

A few years ago, I would have been in the "people value what they pay for" camp. I ran a breed rescue for a couple of years, taking in and rehoming about 200 dogs in that time. You definitely can get burned out and cynical when dealing with people who are giving up pets. But the relatively few "bad eggs" in the pet-owner population seem to get concentrated into the "baskets" of rescuers and shelter workers. It's easy to start thinking that pretty much everyone is a pet-dumping jerk, even those who don't want to give up pets but have to, such as when someone loses their home.

There will always be some people who don't do right by their pets, but studies show that most people truly are doing the very best they can for the pets they consider family. Even if sometimes the "best" is finding another home.

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.