The Danger of Pet Adoptions on Craigslist

College Student with Cat

By Amanda Ketchledge

Craigslist is commonly known as a great site to find a used couch or an old TV, but what about pets? Casual transactions for furniture may work, but what happens to animals, especially when irresponsible adoptions occur?

Jason Brown Animal Cruelty
Jason Brown’s mugshot courtesy of the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office. Dogs and cats from the Nevada Humane Society. Collage created by Amanda Ketchledge.

This past July, Reno resident Jason Brown was accused of dismembering dogs in a local motel room. Brown pleaded not guilty to seven counts of willfully torturing and killing animals and two counts of possession of methamphetamine. He could face more than 20 years behind bars if he is convicted on all counts at his trial next June. But where did these animals come from? Brown allegedly got the dogs from various owners who put them up for sale on Craigslist.

Sadly, this isn’t the first case of a Craigslist sale gone wrong for pets. Many owners put up animals for “free to a good home” on the website. Billy Howard, the founder of Puppy Mill Free Reno expressed disgust.

“I can only hope in my vision that those animals passed away very quickly and did not suffer,” said Howard. “That’s how I have to hold that situation to be able to sleep at night.”

Howard was speaking from the Nevada Humane Society, where homeless pets are also up for adoption. His grassroots organization, Puppy Mill Free Reno, aims to end the sale of cats, dogs, and rabbits in retail stores. Howard says Craigslist is one of the biggest sites used for the sale of pets.

“Certainly some things that consumers need to be aware of, or people who have dogs, never ever put your dog up for free to a good home, because you’ll never know if that is a good home,” said Howard.

In the Terms of Use on Craigslist’s website, it states that animal sales and breeding are not allowed, but adoption for a small re-homing fee is okay.

Mastiff Great Dane
Sura is a Mastiff and Great Dane mix listed on Craigslist. CREDIT Steve Pienkoski.

Steve Pienkoski owns a Mastiff and Great Dane mixed dog named Sura. Pienkoski and his family put her up for adoption on Craigslist, the site where they originally got her. 

“I feel it’s safe because I have been a part of a bunch of different rescue organizations, so you go through a more stringent policy I think. I wouldn’t just give her to anyone,” said Pienkoski. “I’m more interested in just getting her a good home where she’s going to be happy.”

He says the previous owner on Craigslist wasn’t upfront about Sura’s behavioral problems. He thinks that she may have separation anxiety and chews as a result. The Pienkoski family has had Sura for three months, but they feel that she would be a better fit with a family who could spend more time with her.

“She’s on Craigslist for a good reason, because I’m trying to find her a good home; better than what we can give her,” said Pienkoski. “It’s a free site that you don’t have to pay to put your animal on there. I think you hope for the best.”

Cat for Adoption Craigslist
One of Edy White’s cats up for adoption on Craigslist. CREDIT Edy White

Edy White has the best interest for her cats as well. She is a freshman at the University of Nevada, Reno who owns five cats in her studio apartment in downtown Reno.  White adopted several of the cats from Craigslist and has now put up two for adoption on the website. She is asking for a small rehoming fee, but she says she will include their toys and food.

“I would keep them if I could, but I would rather find them better homes than take them to the shelter first because when you take them to the shelter, they have trauma and they get upset,” said White.

College Student with Cat
University of Nevada, Reno student Edy White holds one of her cats that she put up for adoption on Craigslist. CREDIT Amanda Ketchledge

White says the rehoming fee on Craigslist isn’t to make money off of the animal, but to ensure that they’re going to a good home. In her opinion, Craigslist isn’t all bad, but you need to be careful.

“Be weary of who you’re talking to and if they’re more concerned about their personality than the money,” said White.

Kimberly Wade of the Nevada Humane Society says people just need the right education when looking online.

“It’s just a matter of educating people so they really know what to look for and what signs to see in people,” said Wade. “Just make sure you are going to a good place to get that animal. Make sure that you have conversation with that person offline, get a phone number, meet them in a public place, talk to them, get to know them. Then go to their house, go see the animals and make sure the animal that you’re getting has been treated well.”

There is also the possibility for pets on Craigslist to end up going to animal testing, dog fighting, and breeders.

“They can be put into these terrible conditions. Some dogs might be traded from place to place, a lot of them end up in puppy mills or at auctions,” said Howard. “And in puppy mills, they never get out, they don’t get groomed, they’re not cared for, all they’re there for is to pop out puppies litter after litter.”

Wade says Craigslist isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though.

“Whether you’re giving up a pet or adopting a pet, you can never be one-hundred percent sure,” said Wade. “Nobody can guarantee the health or life expectancy of any animal, regardless of where they come from, just like you can’t with humans.”

Both Wade and Howard say that before scrolling through the pet posts on Craigslist, you might want to consider checking your local shelter for a pet. If that option doesn’t work for you, take the necessary precautions when adopting online. 

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