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The Scary Truth About “Free to a Good Home” Dog Classifieds

Every responsible dog owner or pet parent knows that getting a dog is a life-long commitment. From the moment you open your heart and home to a loyal dog, you’re in it for the long haul, through sickness and health, ups and downs, good and bad, through snuggles on the couch to picking up the pieces of yet another pair of shredded shoes.

Responsible dog owners make decisions with their dog in mind. We don’t move to a new home without making sure the furkids are welcomed in the new community, we don’t spend frivolously without making sure the dog is cared for first, and, when times get tough, we’ll skip a meal so that the dog still gets his.

Unfortunately, not all dog owners are responsible. Close to 4 million dogs enter rescue shelters each year in the United States alone, with about 60% of these facing euthanasia. Shelters and animal rescues are busting at the seams as a direct result of irresponsible pet ownership.

Still, even responsible dog owners can sometimes find themselves searching for a good home for their beloved pet. Unexpected circumstances, illness, injury, death, economic collapse. Things happen.

Because our rescues and shelters are packed full, responsible pet owners have an increasingly tough time finding a good home for their pets and are turning to direct-to-consumer classified ads, like Craigslist or the local newspaper, thinking that they’re doing the right thing for their dog. Sometimes, a good samaritan finds a stray dog and, rather than call animal control and risk the dog being euthanized, will put up a classified ad to find a new home.

We visited Craigslist’s pet classified section and contacted several dog owners offering “free to a good home” dogs on the site with questions about their dogs, their reason for re-homing them, and their decision to use a classified ad for their precious dogs. Most advertisers ignored us, but a few responded. Here’s what we found:

A military family was deploying overseas and couldn’t take their pitbull-mix; a single mother was having another child and could no longer afford to care for her Catahoula-mix; another was re-homing his deceased father’s beloved Beagle. Though most of us would find ways to keep our dogs in each of these cases, none of them are particularly terrible reasons to re-home an animal.

All 3 were genuinely concerned for the well-being of their dogs and felt they were doing the right thing. All 3 listed their pets as “free to a good home” because they didn’t want to profit from a “sale” of their pet, but ultimately only wanted to find a loving home for the pets they cared for. All 3 respondents above claimed to have contacted shelters and/or rescue groups before using Craigslist but were denied any help due to overcrowding and felt they had no other options.

All 3 pulled or modified their ads when we explained what really happens to “free to a good home” pets.

So, what really happens to “free to a good home” dogs?

– Last year, Jeffrey Nally Jr. was charged with 29 counts of animal cruelty because of the massive number of dead animal found on his West Virginia property. Nally had obtained at least 29 animals through “free to a good home” Craigslist ads, just like the ones we responded to.

– Patricia Hervey of Texas, is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of animals at her Bexar County home. Hervey prowled Craigslist for “free” animals, claimed to run an animal shelter near San Antonio, took money from dog owners to use to re-home them, then shot and killed them, dumping their bodies in a lake behind her home.

– Dogfighting circles use free Craigslist dogs as “bait dogs” for training their own dogs to fight without risking injury, or they take in free dogs and train those to be fighters as well.

– Other groups, called “Bunchers” scour classifieds for free dogs, then sell them to laboratories for animal research and experimentation.

– And, sometimes, a free ad for re-homing a purebred, unaltered dog will result in the former family dog being picked up by a puppy mill breeder to spend the rest of her life as a caged, malnourished, unloved breeding machine.

The people looking specifically for “free to a good home” dogs will go to great lengths to appear legitimately interested in providing a perfect, loving home for the dog. They present themselves as well-to-do, responsible dog lovers. They often bring children along to meet the dog and owner to avoid suspicion. They will make up elaborate stories about previous pets, a perfect home and yard, and promise to provide a loving forever home to the helpless animal.

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271 Comments

271 Comments

  1. RenMan

    Apr 10, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    Yes, there are horror stories.

    But — just like with all the news — it’s the horror that sells, and the everyday successes go unnoticed.

    My Miss Penne was a Craigslist find.

    Posted as “free to a good home”, I snapped up the 7-yr-old Golden Retriever on July 5, 2010.

    She was a “horror story” for the way she was being disposed of — either someone adopted her or off to the pound and so what if she was put down.

    Her crime? Still being around after her “owners” had a new baby, so Miss Penne was just “too much trouble”. They tossed her out of the house and chained her in the yard. She made a habit of losing the chain, digging out of the yard and then going to the front door to beg to be let back in.

    If not for the compassion of the next-door neighbor who took pity and posted the ad and supplied the above details of her treatment, Miss Penne’s life might have been so much shorter.

    We had six years together before a perfect storm of illness (cancer in liver & heart, kidney failure, rapid onset collapsed lung, and congestive heart failure) made it time to carry out the final duty of all pet owners. She crossed the bridge on 3/30/16.

    She was a shedding machine.
    She was the best and most well-mannered/behaved dog I ever had.
    She was a lover.
    She was a Craigslist success story.
    She is sorely missed.

  2. CC pet parent

    Apr 7, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Although I appreciate “Mary Burns” concern for my pet, after several emails I think I should voice my opinion. My son and and I volunteer at SPCA shelters and I have been put in the situation to have to find a new home for a dog. As with any shelter or pet adoption facility, any pet owner who is looking for a loving home is responsible for the meet and greet and checking out of the new owner to be. Take the dog or other animal to the location, not only will you get a feel for the potential life of your pet, but the animal will as well. Bottom line is people are very irresponsible at times but shelters are not the answer either. Research your potential new owners.

  3. jmuhj

    Jan 18, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    Not a dog person AT ALL, but no living being should be regarded or treated as an object. I advocate for cats and this information applies equally to them — the nation’s and the world’s most beloved companions, with over 12 million more cats than dogs in domestic households alone, but very much at risk when unscrupulous, uncaring, and unbalanced people interact with them. Living beings are NOT objects. Whatever you wouldn’t do with a kid, don’t do with them, i.e. advertising them on free websites! If you cannot care for your cat, make sure you follow the guidelines in this article in order to ensure a loving home for him/her. (She) deserves no less.

  4. DT

    Jan 14, 2016 at 12:09 am

    It’s well known that Craigslist is the animal abuser’s playground – and they refuse to ban pet posts. They are responsible for the horrific fate of many animals placed into the wrong hands. Look up Kiya, aka Puppy Doe.

  5. Moon

    Jan 12, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    It really does not matter whether the pet is free or not .Many pets comes from shelter ect and still get treated in the the cruelty life, some more than once as repeats .some people rather give the pet away because they cant afford the cost of the shelter in detroit if you dont want your pet you sell it or give it away .because it cost alot more than $20.00 even if you found it and bought it into the shelter you still would have to pay that why the dog ect usually in up on the streets biting people so i disagree give it away but use good judgement.

  6. Kat C.

    Jan 10, 2016 at 9:07 am

    Cats, rabbits, rodents and birds are also tortured and slaughtered by sociopaths who find them on Craigslist–including dog fighters who use small, weak or old animals as bait. While I get that this is a blog for dog lovers, a reference to other animals would spare scores of innocent beings from torture. I hope everyone reading this will widen their circle of compassion. #AllAnimalsMatter

  7. sandy

    Jan 4, 2016 at 11:48 pm

    I send a short version of this to free pet ads ITS TRUE PLEASE DONT GIVE AWAY FREE DOGS.. MAYBE ASK YOUR FRIENDS OR DO LIKE IT SAYS ABOVE thank you for signpost this

  8. Nat

    Aug 27, 2015 at 8:54 am

    I am looking to rehome my Great Dane because she has food allergies that cost 260$ per month for now that I could no longer afford. compare to 120$ per month for normal food. if the new diet does not work it will increase at 130$ per week. I think my kids deserve food on table before a dog, so common sense about life commitment to a dog trought sickness and all, unfortunately pet insurance does not cover which I have in case of… honestly evrytime a dog is sick it cost 85$ for a vet visit than you need the medecine… dogs are costing more in Dr bills than human, of course i am in Canada but if I don’t have my “card” a visit to Dr cost 50$ and medecine they always find a “non brand” that cost cheaper which we don’t have with a vet. So I believe not much people could afford a dog… I will not rehome my dog to anyone without questionning as come worst I will give her to human society, no kill organisation… is there a choice tell me.

    • Margaret Anonymous

      Oct 14, 2015 at 1:43 pm

      Nat, what is your dog specifically “allergic” to?… FYI, Most commercial pet foods are TOTAL crap, despite the fancy labels and high price tags. Some contain the ground up, euthanized remains of other companion animals, collars, tags and all (“rendering” “protein”– listed on label as “protein”). Plus the diseased, cancerous parts of chicken, bovine and porcine, etc…filth that should be buried. This, plus GMO grains –and grains in general, ESPECIALLY CORN, is probably why our dogs and cats have “allergies”. Have you tried giving your dog a bowl of cooled off, human-grade, gluten-free oatmeal sprinkled with brewers yeast, for a week….this may clear up her “allergies”. Dogs don’t naturally eat grains like corn and wheat… this may be your dog’s issues (extremely common). Try V-DOG kibble for two weeks, I guarantee you’ll see a change. Not my company, I don’t own stock in it– I have found it’s the absolute BEST food and has kept my dogs extremely healthy, with unbelievably looooong, healthy, happy lives 🙂 and the sweetest breath, ever! Glad you will be very careful in re-homing your companion dog. Thanks for caring.

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