During my last year of school studying abroad I spent a lot of time on Craigslist. It's where I got my furniture, my books, a lamp, some binders, a mattress, a mover. On a student's budget, Craigslist is a goldmine; a vast, virtual garage sale where quality is questionable but the price is right. It's a place for penny pinchers, bargain hunters, travelers, artistes, new-to-the-city students, back-to-the-city students, and regular working folk looking to save a buck or make a buck. It's great for old fashioned people like me who prefer to buy things from people but enjoy the convenience of finding them online. It's great for just about anyone-and therein lays the problem.
During that same year I also used Craigslist to browse for pets. Not that I needed one at the time, but animals had been a constant part of my life to that point and I daydreamed about having one (or two) again. I marveled at how easy it would be. "Free to a good home!" the ads would say, for just about any domestic animal you could want. "Leaving town and can't bring my two friendly cats. Free to a good home."
Yesterday morning I read an article about a man charged with the torture and killing of 29 dogs and puppies that were free to a good home. They were brought home as presents for his girlfriend only to be killed out of anger. Some lasted weeks, others lasted hours. It's a terrible story highlighting the reality of just how dangerous "free" can be.
"Free to a good home" is an open invitation. There is no adoption contract, exchange of information, or record keeping for an animal handed out for free. There are no guarantees that the person taking a free animal will care for it, keep it, or even treat it with dignity. It's a dangerous gamble with an animal's life hanging in the balance.
There are many reasons why people give up their pets and not all of them are predictable or preventable. If you or someone you know can no longer care for an animal, here are some of the measures you can take to ensure the safety of your pet:
1) Take your pet to an animal shelter or rescue. Many of these organizations are "no-kill" meaning they are committed to finding a home for every animal in their care without the risk of euthanasia. Do some research and plan in advance! If you know you're moving in a few months start looking for a suitable shelter now. The consequence of a no-kill environment is the potential lack of space and waiting lists. Not all of these organizations will accept an unscheduled drop off but with proper planning you can ensure your pet will have a space. Go the extra mile to get a copy of your pet's medical records from the veterinarian-the more a shelter knows about your pet, the better chance they have of finding the best possible home.
2) Ask friends and family. This is typically the first thing people do when they realize they must surrender a pet. There are obvious advantages to surrendering an animal to someone you know. Just make sure your friend or family member is prepared to take on the responsibility, sees the situation for the permanent one that it is, and isn't just saying yes because you asked.
3) Request an adoption fee. Whether or not you actually plan to charge an adoption fee, advertising that you do is the first barrier against the wrong kind of adopter.
Giving up a pet is never easy but knowing your pet will be taken care of is going to make it easier. Regardless of your reasons for surrendering an animal, remember that pet ownership is a responsibility and if you can no longer manage that responsibility the next best thing you can do is manage the transition properly. There may be people out there who would harm your pet, but there are thousands more working hard every day to ensure homeless pets find the love and care they need. Go the extra mile to find your pet a loving home-you won't regret it!
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