February 3, 2014

Monday Musings: The Craigslist Pet Conundrum

I missed the boat on the Craigslist Blog Hop led by Keep the Tail Wagging last December, but Kimberly and I have chatted on that subject in two separate conversations, which led me to start poking around and contemplating seriously my stand on the matter.  As with most complicated issues, I still don't really know for sure what I would like to happen, but definitely something different than what I am seeing.  

I've developed a maddening new hobby of perusing the Community-Pets section, and then if I really want to get upset, I do a search for "Puppies" in the For Sale section.  Selling animals outright is against Craigslist rules, but it is left to users to enforce, and it doesn't stop anyone.  Puppy sellers know that those shopping in the online back alley will likely see their ads before they get taken down.  Some don't even attempt to disguise their prices as "rehoming fees."  In a recent search I found puppies for sale for anywhere from $80 to $1500. 

Here in Denver we have some of the strictest Breed Specific Legislation in the country, and our surrounding-area shelters are filled with pit bulls and pit bull-types.  Sadly, people in this region continue to breed, sell and give away pit bulls.  Many of these dogs will not have a chance.  The most disturbing ad I've seen recently was a blurry picture of a pit bull litter, advertised in the general 'For Sale' section, "will trade for jewlrey [sic] or handbags." I've seen a male and female pit bull, unaltered and possibly having already created yet another litter, being given away as "must be gone by tonight." I see misspellings and flat out slaughterings of breed names and breeds that don't or shouldn't exist, such as American Bulldog/Pomeranian puppies and "Dioxin (Dachshund) Littermates." I've seen older dogs being cast aside because "we're moving," "we're having a baby" or, most infuriating, "I've switched to breeding something different." 

Initially I flagged many of these ads as fast as my fingers would carry me, and posted them on my Facebook page for others to flag.  Lately I've started questioning if that is in fact the right thing to do.  What becomes of these puppies if the ad is taken down? Are shadier, crueller, more desperate measures taken? Are they put in a box in a parking lot to attract more uneducated owners and whim purchases? For each pet that doesn't get taken by a dog fighter, pet flipper or research supplier is another getting dumped in the woods? Are we simply sweeping the problem under the rug where we don't have to see it?  There are multiple online petitions circulating with various proposals: take animals off of Craigslist entirely, disallow "Free to Good Home" ads, make posting available to shelters and rescue groups only.  I haven't personally signed any of these petitions because there isn't a single one that addresses all of my concerns;  with every exclusion I see a new problem. 
I believe that a great deal could be done with the ad-posting interface, simply giving set options for re-homing fees and including warnings about the dangers of giving animals away.  I believe Craigslist should take more responsibility for enforcing the "No Pet Sales" rule, and banning users who perpetuate it.  As dog lovers, we have our knowledge as a tool for reaching out to those who seem genuinely uninformed or in need.  Providing contact information for local breed rescues or urging caution can go a long way toward keeping dogs safe.  

I recently contacted a poster who was looking for a home for her 8 year old Border Collie that had belonged to her recently-deceased mother.  She sounded genuinely in need, struggling with depression and feeling as if she could no longer care for the dog.  I directed her to the local Border Collie rescue and urged her to be careful in screening potential homes.  She replied to me, thanked me for my concern and said she had found a foster situation for the dog until she was able to get back on her feet.  I hope the story has a happy ending for all involved, but I continue to fear for the fates of so many animals on Craigslist.  Below is an ad that I posted in the "Pets" section of my local Craigslist site, and which I will continue to renew in hopes that it reaches even a handful of people that might not know any better.    

Responsibly Rehoming Pets (denver area)

If you absolutely must re-home your pet (which is far desirable to dumping them at an overcrowded shelter to an uncertain fate), please consider contacting a local breed rescue for purebreds or known mixes. Please carefully screen any potential adopters including asking for veterinary or other pet professional references and possibly a home visit. If you are re-homing due to behavioral issues, please consider contacting a trainer before giving up. 

Further Reading:

Boingy Dog, Slim Doggy and Keep the Tail Wagging have all written excellent posts on this topic.

Up On The Woof has a fantastic article which includes links to some form letters to send out to posters offering pets for free.

Here is one petition that asks Craigslist to only allow registered shelters and rescue groups to post animals for adoption.


  1. Thank you for writing about this. Shamefully, I will admit that I avoid the pet section of craigslist because it's overwhelmingly depressing to me. I have grown to dislike the "Farm & Garden" section as well due to types of horse ads being posted.

    I agree that being strict about the posting and re-homing rules would be the best bet, but I know that there is no way craigslist could monitor all of the different sites in each state/country. Would a better route be to charge a small fee, similar to the "Jobs" section? (I don't know if you recall, but Denver implemented this a few years ago, which did drastically reduce the amount of spam.) Could $25 dollars per ad reduce the people trying to make a quick buck?

    I see the issue of BYB become more serious because of craigslist (and don't get me wrong, I LOVE craigslist), but there is also an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. How do we educate the public about this?

    My questions are basically rhetorical, because I know the solution isn't so simple. The Pets section breaks my heart, and aside from getting the breeders information and then reporting them to the county (most counties require a special license), I'm not sure how to combat it...

    1. The fee is a fantastic idea. I think that would curb a lot of the thoughtless posting. It just horrifies me that there are people out there thinking they are going to make a quick buck off a litter of badly-bred puppies.

      It is so upsetting to look at, I have to force myself to step away sometimes before I start firing off angry emails to some of the posters. There is so much ignorance and it just seems to emphasize how far we have to go.

    2. I agree that it would be tough for CL to monitor, but they could make changes within the ad postings that would help. I don't see how they could do away with the "General" section of the For Sale ads, but somehow make it harder to put pets in there, and also put options for rehoming fees in the pets section, not leaving it open. Nothing over $100 if not a rescue group? I don't know what the proper amounts would be, but people should not be profiting off of their bad decisions.

  2. I think your idea is a good one (posting a PSA on Craigslist). I can't even read our local listings for pets on Craigslist, because I end up getting too incensed or sad to go on (for many of the reasons you mention).

    1. It can be really upsetting, and I'm disappointed that Craigslist essentially turns a blind eye and leaves it up to the public to police the ads.

  3. It is a dilemma and in the end, I guess I think the line between rescue and any horse or dog is very gray. Most animals are just a bad day away from that prefix and age doesn't matter. Maybe the real question is how do we keep our human hearts open when it hurts to look. The answer to that is going to be different for each of us, empathy has a cost.

    1. "how do we keep our human hearts open when it hurts to look"

      So well said, Anna.

  4. I'm trying to keep an open mind on the issue, but my belief has always been that Craigslist is just another tool to get animals into homes. No different than Facebook or blogs or newspaper Classifieds.

    What I think needs to happen is we need to keep educating people on how to list their dogs responsibly and how to obtain dogs responsibly. Shelters, for example, will still have screening processes in place. But individuals re-homing dogs may not know how important this is.

    It's definitely complicated.


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