One of the biggest differences between inexpensive and expensive animal shelters is the amount of funding they receive from tax money and grants. Municipal animal shelters tend to be less expensive because they receive funding from the city or county, while private animal rescues tend to be more expensive because they rely primarily on donations.
Responsible animal shelters provide a great deal of care for each animal before it is available for adoption. This includes routine care, such as vaccinations and microchipping, as well as any emergency treatment the animal might need. Since many rescued animals were strays or come from neglectful homes, these expenses can be quite high. The adoption fee helps cover those costs. In some cases, it may also help subsidize the care of other animals in the shelter.
Many shelters also have variable pricing depending on the type of animals. This is often driven by demand. Highly adoptable animals, such as puppies and purebreds, are often more expensive. Cats are often less expensive than dogs. Some shelters may also charge more because they had to transport the animal from another area or because they include extras, such as collars and leashes.
In some cases, high adoption fees can be a warning sign. Some unethical breeders and puppy mills pretend to be rescues but are really selling puppies they bred for that purpose. Adopters should be wary of rescues that charge more than $250 as of 2015, according to The Nest.