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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  1. Charging someone money for your dog ultimately prevents the ones who would hurt the beloved animal for either reselling to facilities, or abuse themself. 50 dollars is really not that much to pay, and it also keeps the bunchers off. What the hell is 50 dollars gonna do for someone? 1000 dollars, yes, that’s in it for the money , but 50, come on. It’s a safety precaution if anything. Besides that, people selling their dogs should really take time to make sure their beloved dog is still safe under new care instead of just dropping them off.

  2. Maybe the reason why these shelters and rescue organizations that adopt dogs out are bursting at the seams is because of the high adoption fees! Yes, there are horror stores about some of the dogs that have been given up for free, but I can’t help but wonder how many dogs there are that don’t get adopted because of the high relocation or adoption fees, but instead get put to sleep. What about the deaths of those dogs? I guarantee you there are more dogs being put to death by just the ASPCA than all the dogs out there that are being put to dead by those that take dogs that are free to a good home.

    Many dogs are killed every day, because there’s no shelters to send them to due to over crowding. I would love to know how many of the dogs that have been put to death by kill shelters, could have been adopted out to loving homes if their adoption fees would have been made more affordable.

    There have been too many rescue groups started and are still running just to make money. These adoption fees have created a large number of dogs, especially those that appear to be purebred, to be stolen every single day, only to be taken to another city or state to be put up for adoption. People who’ve lost their well behaved house trained dogs and found them at the ASPCA, many times have not been allowed to have them back; and all because of what the ASPCA could make on adopting those dogs out. I’ve read horror stories about that.

    These days only those that have plenty of money can have a dog. They can afford to buy them, give them up for adoption when they are no longer a cute little puppy for their kids, and then go buy another puppy; etc. There are a lot of people who don’t have that kind of money, and would love and give it a forever home. To me what a lot of the rescue groups are saying is equal to saying that only people who have plenty of money should be allowed to have any children. Many of them fee that the elderly that live on Social Security or the disabled that live on SSI shouldn’t be allowed a companion pet, because they don’t have plenty of money; when they may be the ones that need a companion the most. To me, it’s all about the haves and the have nots. There is power in money, and this whole thing has become all about the dollar bills. There’s got to be a better way! Many that could be adopted are dying every single day in the kill shelters.

    • Maybe reputable rescues and shelters have to charge a “high” adoption fee because they spay and neuter the animals they adopt out. They pay for parvo/distemper/rabies/etc shots. They do heart worm testing and micro-chipping. They are often confronted with expensive illnesses and injuries from past neglect and abuse. They feed and shelter the animals for however long it takes to find the right home for them. Somebody has to pay for all that and non-profit organizations don’t have unlimited funds. Between donations and an adoption fee to cover basic expenses, they try to stay afloat and continue to be able to rescue throw-away pets in need. It’s not that the rescues are out to get rich off of “selling” animals, but that stuff costs money. And it’s a sad fact that many people who think they want a dog or cat can’t afford the expense of owning one. THAT’S why rescues are in the “business” of making sure that only good, responsible owners adopt the animals they’ve invested all their time, money, and love into are charged such a “high” fee.

    • I think animals should e free and the REHOMING animal fee should be spent on the animal not giving to any human and if the animal is gotten from a shelter then the payment should be placed in to a fund and used for future medical things in the future with that animal and I believe that there needs to be a way to control these outraggiest wanna be legit dog breeders breeding purebred animals I don’t care if the animal is purebred or not it’s an animal and hold be lover and treated with the utmost attention I want a puppy of my own.

    • Those fees go towards keeping up the shelter and usually towards medicine, to save or shots for puppies, I know a lot of people who worked in the shelters and I am about to start, people who work at these shelters make minimum wage so it’s not like it’s going towards their paycheck. I’m just saying think twice before you say something you don’t know all the facts about =)

    • I run a licensed rescue. My adoption fees are anywhere from $75 to $125. I do not feel that is outrageous. And we spay and neuter, vaccinate, vet check, and we do home visits and have an application process. If someone cannot pay $125 for an already spayed and vaccinated dog…even up to $300, they have no business getting a dog…what happens when that dog breaks a bone? Gets sick? Vet bills are not cheap.

  3. not everyone looking for a free animal is bad. i am looking for a new addition to my loving family and can not really afford to spend alot right now due to spending 1,500 on a dog we had for 15 years. she was in heart failure and we did everything we could to save her. we had to put her to sleep on the 1st. i
    am good and loyal to my pets. i keep them til they die. and i didn’t pay for any of them.

    • We agree completely, Marie! I, too, have given homes to “free to a good home” dogs and treated them with love and care. This article is more of a warning to those that are rehoming a dog… Before giving a dog away for free, it’s so important to know where the dog is going. It isn’t hard – and any effort to make sure your dog will end up in a loving home is totally worth it.

    • Pure Breed Chihuahua Puppies Female and Male
      Age: 3 months ago 2 weeks
      Name: Danny and Nina
      Maturities Weight: 3 to 3.6 kg Current weight: 1.5 kg
      Size at maturity: Small
      Potential: Perfect Pet
      Temperament and Personality: Perfect temperament and get along
      children and other pets.
      Danny and Nina are well socialized, potty trained and gets very
      with children and other household pets. However, they are also angry
      when shouting.
      I am currently in Maryland and that is where Danny and Ninacome, I will give them up for adoption, because I just moved to a new area in Maryland, the research of art and the nature of culture and the occupying forces of my work does not allow me to serve Danny and Nina and show them all the loveand affesctios theydeserve, can you imagine that I can not spend more than 2hours with them each day? . I have a few questions for you and I will be very happy if you give me a good answers to my questions. This is to know if your home is the best place for my babies.
      .1) you accept to take good and proper care of Danny and Nina ?
      2) Do you have a nearby clinic that can take care of Danny and Nina
      when they are sick?
      3) Do you have children in your home that can take care of Danny and Nina when
      you are not at home?
      4) Do you have enough play area which allows them to play? ?
      5) If yes ,where are you located?
      6) Can i see the image of your home? ? ? ? that on picture, in which you stay? ?
      my primary concern is having someone who is able to give my lovelybabies forever loving home. If you have any questions, just let me know. Do not have a nice day and get
      back to me as soon as possible. Stay blessed

    • I have a beautiful lab/ border collie mix; I rescued him from a local pound and everything went well for about 3 weeks and then everything that was right went wrong.
      We have an old male chocolate lab 11 years old and a 3 year old female chocolate lab, thought the new boy would be a new playmate for our young girl as the old boy just wants to be left alone and sleep.
      The rescue center told us Shep was 6 months, not true the vet told us he was at least a year, having watched him, he is closer to 2 years, I would never have introduced a new dog into my family that old. So I am looking for a good home for him, ideally he needs a yard as he has a lot of energy and perfect with children and humans, just doesn’t like male dogs, very protective and a great house dog. I think maybe he belonged to a one person family. Cannot take him back to the pound!

    • Please help I am actually facing a problem with a pup that needs a home I don’t want to take him to the shelter and would love to keep him but can’t. I’m trying to get my own home but haven’t been able and we’ll no one wants to keep him for me till I do so I would just be really happy if I could find him a home! He’s super adorable and lovable and sweet. He is 6 months old pit/German shepard. I would like if we could keep in touch with the family or something because reading this article has been quite scary. Please if you know anyone contact me 6822306795

  4. My wife has shared with me too many sad stories about CL adoptions gone terribly wrong. However, there are many, many potential pet adopters out there that would be loving, responsible owners. Not everybody that needs to give up their pet is irresponsible either. It’s hard to find a win-win when people and pets are in such a situation. But I still wanted to try and helpl. I set up what I hope can be a national registry of pet adoptions – at least among individuals – to try and provide an informative tool and resource to help with the rehoming process. It’s purpose is to track the names of adopters and potentially surface patterns of excessive or suspicious adoption histories.

    It’s pretty new, and it’s definitely in its lifecycle phase of ‘gathering’. By that I mean it really needs to gather many more names to be as comprehensive as I hope it will become.

    Check it out at and send me your feedback.

  5. It’s rubbish! You do NOT have to pay for a dog if you are honest to re-home one and give him/her a loving home! To many ‘charities’ are charging too much. If they would REALLY be concerned to re-home these loving souls, they would consider people like us much more! My husband is disabled, we don’t have much money, but would give every single penny for another loving dog (as my Springer Spaniel died – aged 14 – last year) … I am not prepared to pay any fees (although I understand why they have to charge) … BUT: the question is: do you really want to re-home them to a loving home or rather make money? … :-(

    • Well Manuela and the rest of you very blinded people should see what these monsters really do to these innocent animals that didn’t ask to be here or kicked out to strangers just because they didn’t agree with your morning coffee !! LESSON…..TO BE HUMAN YOU HAVE TO HAVE HUMANITY..DONT GET A PET UNLESS YOU ARE GOING TO KEEP THEM FOR THEIR LIFE TIME !!! VERY SIMPLE…..OOOOOO….SORRY..IM PREGNANT AGAIN AND ALL OF A SUDDEN CANT KEEP MY CAT OF 7 YEARS….. GOT A NEW JOB SO GOT TO GET RID OF MY DOG BECAUSE ??????? FREAKING MORONS !

    • I run a licensed rescue. And I charge fees. And I am always IN THE HOLE. My adoption fees hardly ever cover the expenses I have due to people giving away animals to free homes…these animals come to us emaciated and near death. Their vet bills are astronomical. It amazes me that people think we are out to make money. I teach full time, have a family and still spend 20 hours a week rescuing and adopting and transporting and crying and being heart broken…Gosh, why am I not living in a mansion and driving a Rolls? Oh, wait. Because reputable rescues are not in it to make money…we are broke, actually. We are in it because we love animals. And we think they deserve a great life.

  6. This article would be very poignant and useful, if it was either poignant or useful.

    Stating a statistically negligible potential harm as prima facie evidence “Free to Home” pet ads should not exist is irresponsible.

    I love my pets. In fact, my Sphynx cat is sitting on my lap right now.

    This article and its argument paint with a cartoonishly large broad brush while indicting anyone who would possibly think a private animal transfer is acceptable.

    No one is arguing bad actors do not exist within the community, and it is unlikely animals can be kept out of their hands. This is a genuinely sad fact among the community which loves animals, and I am certainly one of those folk.

    The quaint concept that everything can be solved by mandated bureaucracy, and everything which occurs outside such bureaucracy is inherently wrong, is folly.

    The number of animals which experience private transfer from loving home to loving home, over the course of a year, is likely staggering.

    While this article certainly has good intentions, it is at best an invalid application of statistical sampling and at worst possibly harmful to animals in communities without strong shelter infrastructure.

    People who love their pets but must release them certainly want the very best for them. There are also people who own pets and do not love them, and approach their transition elsewhere with little concern. Having lived on a cul de sac for a number of years, I am well aware of just how many people have little concern for the lives of animals they decide to discard.

    Hundreds of communities throughout the nation do not enjoy a strong shelter community for local animals, and organizations in communities with such services are often overwhelmed.

    I can appreciate the love of animals expressed in this article, however inadequately it presents solutions to a problem which does not exist in millions of instances annually.

  7. I had a wolf-hybrid for 15 1/2 yrs. I kept all the vet bills (did not keep all the food bills). When he passed: vet bills came to over $17,000.00! I’ll bet there are people who don’t spend that much $$$ on their kids. Serious animal lovers, don’t get an animal and then throw it away, give it away, or even consider selling it. The animal is like a child, they are as much a part of you and your family as your own children. If my wolf-hybrid was not welcome, neither was I. The huskys that I now have are the same way. The fact is…… we all have circumstances in our lives; however, there are just some things that we DON’T DO PERIOD. Commitment to family members is a FOREVER THING. Animals.. like children…come from God and we are charged with their care whether we own them or not. Report abuse, don’t allow cruelty, be their voice!

  8. Wow, this piece certainly deserves the label “Hyperbolic.” Not everyone responding to a “free to a good home” ad is an animal abuser, has ulterior motives or a hidden agenda. My very good neighbors responded to such an ad for a miniature dachshund on Craigslist 2 years ago. The ad stated that the owners had gotten the puppy before they found out they were expecting their first baby, which was a surprise, and then had an even bigger surprise when it turned out to be twins. They were just too overwhelmed taking care of two new babies to be good pet parents and, unfortunately, “Peanut’s” loud random barking (dachshunds are known to be very loud and prolific barkers) were creating problems with waking the twins up frequently throughout the day and sometimes at night. This couple were not expecting to have a baby, let alone two babies, when they got their doxie and therefore should not be considered irresponsible or careless pet owners, and anyone who has had a doxie and knows what it takes to care for newborns will understand what they were dealing with. They were far too overwhelmed with their newborn twins to go see my neighbor’s home or even to check references, they just had to rely on their gut feelings about my neighbors when they came to see Peanut. Peanut now lives with my neighbors and their other doxie and he is happy, spunky and complete adored by his new pet parents, and pure delight to all. I personally know of 2 other situations in which “free to a good home” pets ended up with very good homes when their previous owners had to give them up. I’m not saying there is nothing of merit in this article, I am sure there is. I am sure there are those out there that would commit the atrocious acts that are outlined in this piece, however, this article makes it sound as though any and every individual who responds to a”free to a good home” ad are diabolical, deceiving abusers out to harm these pets, and that is simple BULL. With this kind of hyper dramatic writing, no wonder most people on Craigslist never bothered to respond. They can tell a soap box dancer when they see (or hear from) one.

    • I agree with this sentiment almost down to the last word.

      I think there are people of all sorts out there and that the overwhelming majority probably have good intentions all around. I feel horrible for these people to be contacted by someone who is willing to feed them full of worst case scenario horror stories as though giving away a beloved pet isn’t bad enough in the first place.

      I think it’s up to an individual who cannot care for a pet to do their best to safeguard an animals best interest by finding a good alternative when they can no longer provide a good level of care – I just continuously fail to see how whipping out cash for an animal is a black and white answer to the problem.

      There are no black and white answers in this – we can only do our best. Psychopaths have access to cash too, and anyone intent on hurting an animal isn’t going to let a $25 fee get in the way of that.

      How about developing a relationship with the prospective adopter before giving away your pet? How about developing a friendship, instead of relying on money? Giving up a pet would be like giving up a child – there is no reason why one couldn’t have a friendship surrounding a common bond to an animal, other then that we’re simply lazy.

    • I didn’t see anyone there where they said EVERYONE looking for a free animal is bad. But is it not worth taking that extra measure to protect those that are not so lucky? Any good, responsible pet owner see’s that.


  9. When we had to give up a stray we found because she did not get along with our dog; we contacted rescue organization and got their forms. We used their guidelines and had the people pay for the spaying, then we checked up on the dog later. All seemed to be as claimed.

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  12. Screw shelters, I know many, including myself who got legitimate free pets on CL. It’s not in the shelters business interests to endorse free pets, they are only in it for the money. I will pick a free ad over some bs adoption nonsense. Shelters do more harm than good. I could tell you horror stories about what goes on behind shelter doors. If your going to pay money then buy from a breeder. Shelters flag free ads, so I flag shelter ads, it’s only fair.

    • You are an idiot. I have no words for your type of uneducated ignorance, the reason shelters are so full is because people like you are so uneducated you contribute to the unethical treatment of animals through uour careless actions.. I dont support high kill shelters but if losers like you wouldnt be so careless there wouldnt be so many animals abandoned and homeless. This article is on point and if you are so ignorant to even understand who is really to blame for such a horrible reality, (irresponsonsible pet owners who neglect animals and pass them around online like they are worthless) then you shouldnt have the priviledge of owning a pet. Judging by your comment that you have acquired “DOGS” ON CL” unless you still have all those dogs and intend on keepinh them for life… You are the a major part of the problem, not the rescues who work tirelessly to save them. Shelters are in it for the money? If they made such great money asshole they wouldn’t be forced to euthanize millions of animals a year. There are also thousands of no kill shelters who are strictly non profit and run by volunteers who dedicate there time, money and love to save the animals people like you pass around online. Screw you and anyone who is that uneducated they would post such an ignorant small minded comment to an article that is merely educating people on the real dangers of giving away animals for free online. Truth hurts…at the end of the day if you support this behavior you dont deserve the priviledge of owning an animal.

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