How to Avoid Dog Predators in “Free to Good Home” Ads

It’s one of the most gut-wrenching decisions you may ever make: surrendering your dog. There are a number of reasons you may have to give up your beloved pet:

  • Your new landlord doesn’t allow pets
  • Your dog has a litter of puppies you can’t keep
  • You can’t afford to provide the care your dog needs

So you list your dog or dogs in a classified ad for free, hoping to find him a new loving home. But sadly, some dogs are targeted in “free to a good home” ads and can end up in the wrong hands.

That was the case with “Puppy Doe,” a severely abused female pit bull who was found starved, beaten, stabbed, and abandoned in a Massachusetts playground. Puppy Doe was just 1 or 2 years old, but she had to be put down due to her injuries.

Puppy Doe Animal Rescue League
Puppy Doe suffered unthinkable abuse—eyes poked, tongue split, and broken bones. She was adopted off Craigslist when her owner’s landlord demanded she get rid of the dog. Photo courtesy of Animal Rescue League of Massachusetts.

A horrific case in West Virginia caught national attention when a man was charged with 29 counts of felony animal cruelty. Jeffrey Nally adopted dogs from printed classified ads only to torture and kill them weeks or even hours after taking them. The details are too graphic to post, but you can read about it here, if you have the stomach.

And it’s not just abuse. Some people try to turn a profit with these “free” dogs, a practice called flipping. Dogs that are flipped are often treated very poorly and can be sick or near death, as a Nebraska woman found out when she unknowingly adopted a sick four-week-old puppy from a dog flipper. Some dog flippers even try to claim lost pets as their own.

So how to you avoid these heart-breaking dilemmas? Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster tells us how online classifieds can benefit adoptable pets and we have the tips on how to properly use these ads when it comes re-homing a pet.

Craigslist Pet Adoptions

Craigslist is the leading online classifieds site. They allow dogs and cats to be listed as “free to a good home,” as well as a small rehoming fee.

“Free-to-a-good-home is often the best or only chance old or unpopular unwanted animals have for finding new homes,” Buckmaster says.

But some of these abuse cases have been tied to Craigslist, and “free to good home” ads in particular.

“We hate to hear about animal abuse of any kind but it would seem cruel to deny countless unwanted pets new homes out of fear, keeping in mind millions of dogs and cats are euthanized each year,” Buckmaster says.

free to good home ad on Craigslist
Example of a “free to good home” ad on Craiglist. Be aware pitbulls or other muscle breeds can be targeted from these ads to be used in dog-fighting rings.

Shelters Using Craigslist

Indeed Craigslist is a major resource used by shelters and rescue groups to help find forever homes for homeless pets.

“The Animal Rescue League uses Craigslist as a channel to promote dogs we have available for adoption, as well as trying to find the owners of stray pets surrendered to us,” ARL of Boston spokesperson Ami Bowen says. “But just like when you shop for anything else, shoppers should always consider who they are buying from, which holds true for pets listed on Craigslist.”

PETA Opposition to Classifieds

PETA has started an online petition urging Craigslist to ban the listing of “free to a good home” ads on their website. PETA wants all pet ads on Craigslist to go through official shelter personnel.

“This may sound okay, until you consider there are no additional shelter resources or personnel available,” Buckmaster says. “In fact, shelter personnel euthanize the majority of animals they see, according to Humane Society statistics.”

Craigslist also maintains the majority of pets placed on their site do end up in good homes.

“Very fortunately, the overwhelming majority of users are conscientious and well-intentioned, particularly towards animals,” Buckmaster says. “Trying to ‘hold them accountable,’ as the petition writer has insisted, would simply reduce the number of pets that would find good homes. We’re doing the best we know how to enable as many unwanted animals to find homes as possible.”

How to Avoid Scams and Abuse

So if you are faced with rehoming your beloved pet, how do you make sure they stay safe? The Animal Rescue League suggests surrendering your dog or cat to a rescue group or no-kill shelter.

“When you surrender to a reputable animal shelter or organization, you will know the organization will make sure your animal receives proper care while they are in the shelter and very careful attention will be paid to finding a safe and loving home for him or her,” Bowen says. “We certainly want to avoid having animals passed from owner to owner through the internet without concern for their well-being.”

Rescue groups do thoroughly vet potential pet parents and continue to offer support and assistance even after pets are adopted.

“We ask all adopters please return a pet if they can no longer keep an animal,” Bowen says. “Or if they find a new home for a pet, to please let us know so we can keep track of animals that came through the shelter.”

If you decide to rehome a pet yourself, make sure you do a thorough background check:

  1. Ask why the person is looking to adopt and if they’ve adopted pets before.
  2. Ask for references and get detailed information on their identity, including a copy of their driver’s license.
  3. If possible, go visit the home where the dog or cat will be living.
  4. Ask what veterinarian they plan to use.
  5. Always charge a rehoming fee to discourage anyone with bad intentions.

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