FREE TO A GOOD HOME: A Fate Worse Than Death

At first glance, it might seem like the right thing to do. After all, you don't want to "sell" your loved one. So you decide to give your dog away for free when you can no longer take care of it. Certainly, you reason, someone will give it a loving home – and so you post it on Craig’s List.

free to good home But in the real world, “free to a good home” can be the most terrifying five words in your dog’s life. This approach may expose your loved pet to a life of uncertainty, neglect, abuse or traumatic death. This is not an urban legend – this fate is very real for some unfortunate pets in the U.S.

Men and women--yes, women!--searching for dogs to fight or to use as bait for fighting dogs are amazingly creative. They will even bring their children with them when they come to take your beloved dog away.

People who torture or kill pets for sport, people who resell them to laboratories for research, even hoarders who believe they’re providing a good home but expose your pet to horrific circumstances all look for “free to good home” pets.

The message we’re sending should be very loud and very clear – DO NOT GIVE AWAY YOUR DOG. EVER.

We know that sometimes circumstances change and loving, responsible pet owners find themselves unable to care for their dogs. Circumstances change, jobs disappear, owners age and have health issues of their own. Most people recoil at the idea of asking for help--but giving away your pet for free isn’t the answer. There really is "a fate worse than death" waiting for your pet at the other end of that Craig's List ad. Even a humane euthanasia is the better--and kinder--option.

What should you do if you need to surrender your pet? Here are some things to consider first:

•  If housing is the issue, have you talked to your landlord personally?

•  If there are behavioral issues, have you talked to your vet? There are very inexpensive medications that may help both behavioral issues and physical issues that can be mistaken for behavioral issues. (The most common culprit: a UTI causing housebreaking issues.)

•  If you've exhausted every avenue and must rehome your dog, first check with the breeder or rescue your dog came from originally. In many cases, you've signed an agreement to give the dog back if you can't keep it.

•  Have you asked friends, family members, and neighbors that you know personally and trust if they would be interested in adopting your dog?

If that doesn’t work, use Google to find a breed-specific rescue. They can be both national and local. A good place to start can be the AKC breed club's rescue arm. Even if your dog is just "mostly" a German Shepard or Labrador Retriever--they still may be a candidate for breed rescue. There are groups that specialize in GSDs and Labs and Dobermans and Poodles, just to name a few.

There are also "all breed" rescues that will take any dog, regardless of its lineage or appearance. Since they are volunteer-based non-profits, these rescue groups may ask a small fee to take in your dog. Pay it! That minimal fee will cover getting your dog spayed or neutered and bringing them up to date on their shots, as well as food and travel expenses while the rescue works to find them a new home.

When your dog is placed with a rescue, you can have peace of mind that they will find your dog a good home. They will interview prospective adopters and check their references, and they will charge an adoption fee. This is a bit of extra guarantee that whoever gets your surrendered dog truly wants a new pet. The other advantage is that these rescues typically are responsible for the pet for its whole life – as SHUG is. Should anything happen in the new adoptive family, the dog comes back to the rescue. So the original owner can be reassured their beloved pet will not end up on the street or in a fighting ring.

And please be assured that no one is "making money" off of your dog. Your pet may come into rescue not needing any extra vet care, but the next dog they take may need thousands of dollars in surgery or specialized test. In most cases, in a rescue each dog will get the care they need.

Because rescues do commit to a high level of care for each animal they take in, they can't always accept every dog. Sometimes even the best rescues have to say no, for a variety of reasons. Nearly every area of the country has local municipal shelters and they are designed to take all pets. They are meant to be the option of last resort. In many cases, the only way they can fulfill that role, is through euthanasia. When you take your dog to the shelter, speak to the staff and discuss your situation. They may have other options you hadn’t considered.

The bottom line is that if you can't keep your pet, your last responsibility to them is to keep them out of the hands of someone with bad intentions. They're counting on you.

6 Responses

  1. Bonnie Mayo

    Free to Good Home – this has always been a bad way to get rid of a dog or cat – when I was a child, if nothing else, dogs were sold for $10 – because if you paid for your dog, you were more likely to love it…. It was known long ago that “free” meant that someone would get your dog or even whole litters of puppies or kittens and they would end up in research facilities – today, that is still a fate that may await your pet…. take your animal to a no-kill shelter if you have no other alternatives!

  2. Kat Lee

    If done properly it can be a great way to find a home for your pet. There are good people out there too looking for a pet, not just bad. I would aim for newspaper ads though and not craigslist.

    Most of the pets I’ve ever had we got as kittens posted in the newspaper as free to a good home. We feed them high quality food, they see the vets as needed, are spayed/neutered, get their vaccines, are indoors only and loved as children. And now our girls we got from a free to a good home ad are both 12 years old and love me as much as I love them. I would never part with them.

    Just do your research before giving away an animal, learn how to read people’s body languages and tones of voice, or just ask for them to provide you with proof that they have cared for a pet before and gotten it to a vets by asking for them to provide vet papers for a pet they had before or ask what vets they use and request a good reference/referral from their vet themselves. Important questions to ask are what their views on indoor-versus-outdoor pets and also their views on spaying/neutering and vaccines.

    These pets need homes as much as animals in shelters and that’s where they end up if they don’t go to free homes, and then they either get euthanized or someone has to pay for their adoption after the shelter has to put out money for them that could have gone to another animal to be fed, spayed/neutered, shots, and microchipped. Also by some “rights” in some areas the shelter you ‘adopt’ an animal from sometimes still retains rights or even sometimes try to keep claim of ownership for an animal since it’s only ‘adopted’. They don’t always view you as the true owner when you adopt, and with many animals at shelters I avoid those that say ‘came in as a “stray”‘ because what that tells me is they just found it wandering around and no one really knows if it already has a family out there looking for it or missing it, and honestly, it may be allowed outside and if that’s the case that means it’s a stolen pet sitting there, and they had no right to remove it from its original location. I would never want to take an animal belonging to someone else, and not everyone wants to get a pet from a breeder either. I think getting pets from free to good home ads can be the perfect way to go for a new pet owner, as long as they make sure to get a vet check-up before bringing a new pet home to make sure it can’t make any other pets sick and is good and healthy so there’s no concerns.

    Our one 9 year old cat, we got at just 4 weeks old, found dumped on the side of the road with his 2 litter mates and his mother who was hit and killed by a car. The kittens ended up getting infected with fly larvae before my uncle found them and scooped them up from the road and brought them to our house to bottle feed. When we brought them to the vets they informed us of their situation, and his 2 siblings didn’t make it. And if someone had been just a little less lazy, instead of dumping them alongside the road, maybe if they’d posted free to good home ads for them, they’d be alive in good homes too instead of left to die on the side of the road. Also a lot of people are afraid to surrender an animal to a shelter because then they can never adopt, and still even through shelter adoption the shelter has no way of really knowing who they’re adopting too either.

  3. Moderator

    We applaud you for giving loving homes to “free to good home” pets. Unfortunately, not everyone taking advantage of a free pet do so. That’s the problem.

  4. David

    Besides the “FREE TO GOOD HOME” bit, I often find on our local Craigslist posts something along the line of “$20 re-homing fee to insure that it is going to a good home.” Might as well say “Gimme $20 and you can take it.” A low re-homing fee insures nothing except a large degree of uncertainty for the pet.

  5. There is definately a lot to learn about this subject. I like all of the points you made.

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