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

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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. 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.