Why You Should Not Give Pets Away Free to a Good Home

Do you really know to whom your companion goes?

Munchkin pets
SHINYA SASAKI/Aflo/Getty Images

Once you have taken an animal into your home and made him or her part of your family, you have an obligation to protect and nurture that animal because you made a commitment. The animal has a right to expect to be treated a member of the family. And that’s what makes the issue of re-homing pets an animal rights issue.

But sometimes life throws a curve ball and there are circumstances beyond your control.

If you have fallen into a situation where you need to find new homes for your companion animals, you are in a disastrous position indeed. If you care for your animals at all, you will take every precaution to ensure they are going to a forever loving home. If you are truly desperate and don't have the time or ability to vet a stranger offering to take your companion, your best move is to take him or her to a shelter, as much as it may pain you to do so. At least, the animal may be given a chance to find a good home. Shelter personnel do have the time and ability to check out every prospective home, so keep that in mind. Having to surrender your companion animal to a shelter is not the best outcome, but it's a better outcome than having your companion fall into the wrong hands. 

Criminals easily prey on people who just want the animals to go to a good home. They know that sometimes you are pressed for time and apparently have no choice but to turn the animal over to you in your hour of need.

They rely on that raw emotion you have over having to surrender your friend while time is running out. They try to convince you they will be good guardians, and you very much want to believe them, which works in their favor.

First and foremost, always affix an adoption fee. People looking for animals to abuse will usually not pay a fee.

You may even hear a sob story from someone who wants your animal but can't afford to pay an adoption fee. But chances are, if they can't afford to pay a $50 adoption fee, what will they do when the animal needs to be seen by a veterinarian? How will they afford to keep up with dental cleanings, check-ups and vaccines?

Charging an adoption fee also prevents someone from taking your animals on a whim, and then, having lost interest, turning them in at the shelter or abandoning them on a dark, lonely street far from home.

Abuse & Torture

Sick and amoral people cannot always be spotted on looks alone. Some individuals want your dogs and cats just to abuse, torture and kill them. By charging an adoption fee, you make it much more difficult for these animal abusers to acquire animals - specifically, your animals.

Dogfighting

According to the Michigan State University Animal Legal and Historical Center, one of the methods used to train fighting dogs is to dangle a small dog, cat, rabbit or guinea pig on a rope in front of a dog who is forced to run on a treadmill or around a circle. Naturally, these small animals are terrified and the dog is given the animal to kill as a reward at the end of the session.

Where do these animals come from? Some people steal animals right off the street or from a backyard. In dogfighting, dogs are trained to be vicious and trained to attack other animals, so-called "bait" animals. In a Florida shelter, an elderly woman and her clean-cut young son came to adopt a small animal. Ostensibly, the animal was to be “a companion” for the elderly woman. The pair went home with a small white mixed breed who was immediately thrown into a ring with a fighting dog and killed. Looks can be deceiving and people searching for dogs for this purpose will use any disguise, tell any lies and use charm to separate you from your loving companion. Again, charging an adoption fee makes it more difficult for someone to acquire animals for dogfighting.

B Dealers

Although there are breeding facilities to supply the animal-testing industry with dogs and cats, some laboratories attempt to cut corners by hiring dishonest intermediaries who deal in stolen pets.

A woman named Barbara Ruggiero was such a dealer, referred to as a "Class B dealer," a random source animal dealer regulated by the USDA to sell animals to laboratories for experimentation. Class B dealers sometimes acquire animals in unscrupulous ways, and charging a small adoption fee makes your animal unprofitable to them.

Finding a New Home

It is strongly recommend that you affix an adoption fee. You can always waive the fee if you find someone you truly trust. Whether or not you charge an adoption fee, there are steps you can take to make sure your animals are going to a good home:

  • Home visit: Visit the potential adopter's home and speak with the other family members. Are there other pets in the home? Who will care for the animals? Does anyone have allergies? Where will the animals live? If there are children, make sure that the adults know that they should be responsible for the animals; not the children. If the potential adopter doesn’t live near you, ask a rescue in the town where s/he lives to visit the home. Because of Facebook and Petfinder, the perfect guardian may be miles away, even in another state. Rescues often have volunteers to help you facilitate your adoption and put your mind at ease. PilotsNPaws may be able to transport your companion anywhere in the country where you find a suitable home. Consider relatives who live out of state; they may be willing to adopt your precious family member.
  • Ask for references: Call the references and ask if the family has taken good care of their current or past pets. Ask what happened to their past pets - did they die of natural causes after fifteen years, or did they seem to disappear after a few weeks?
  • Ask for a vet reference: Call their current or past veterinarian and ask about the family's other pets and how well they were cared for. The vet may not give you very detailed information, but confirm that they have a relationship with a vet and ask whether the vet recommends the family as good guardians.
  • Animal abuser registry: Animal abuser registries are growing rapidly in response to public pressure. If you live in an area that has such a registry, be sure to take advantage of it. They list local people who have been convicted of animal cruelty in the past so that shelters and rescue groups can avoid them.
  • Google them: Whether or not someone has a history of animal abuse, an internet search might turn up past crimes and brushes with the law.
  • Be prepared to take the animal back. You may have taken all of the important steps, but the pet may not be a good match for this family. Maybe your dog doesn't get along with their current dog. Maybe a family member has a previously unknown allergy. To keep your animals safe, you have to be prepared to take them back and let the adopter know that you will take the animal back if it doesn't work out.
  • Have the adopter sign a pet adoption contract. Petrescue.com offers boilerplate adoption contracts that can be downloaded and printed out
  • Never use Craigslist. Because Craigslist offers free or cheap items, those surfing Craigslist are looking for free cats and dogs. Even if you do have a fee, they’re confident they can con you into waiving it. Craigslist is never a good place to advertise an animal. Horror stories abound about animals given away to someone who found him or her on Craigslist. With reputable databases such as Petfinder and all the breed rescue sites, why would someone even be looking on Craigslist? Because they don’t want to deal with the paperwork and systems these sites have put in place to protect their animals.
  • Breed Rescue If your animal is a purebred, reach out to the specific breed rescue and ask them to step in. Frequently they have a waiting list of anxious, but vetted, adopters. German Shepherd Dog Rescue and Siamese Rescue are two examples of a specific breed rescue group.
  • If you still have doubts about the safety of giving your animal away to someone without vetting them first, consider these cases.

In 2007, Anthony Appolonia of Aberdeen, NJ, confessed to torturing and killing 14 cats and kittens, many of whom came from local "free to a good home" advertisements in the newspaper. Local rescuers had given him the cats but became suspicious when Appolonia requested additional cats. Appolonia admitted to torturing the cats before drowning them and pled guilty to 19 counts of animal cruelty.

In 1998, the aforementioned Class B dealer Barbara Ruggiero and two accomplices were found guilty of felony grand theft of dogs in Los Angeles, CA, after they answered hundreds of "free to a good home" ads and then sold the dogs to laboratories, to be used in experiments.

The information on this website is not legal advice and is not a substitute for legal advice. For legal advice, please consult an attorney.

Doris Lin, Esq. is an animal rights attorney and Director of Legal Affairs for the Animal Protection League of NJ.

This article was updated by Michelle A. Rivera.