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The risks of 'free to a good home' pet adoption

January 10, 2018

When keeping your pet is no longer an option due to unforeseen circumstances, “free to a good home” adoption may seem like a quick fix. Before you surrender your pet to a stranger, understand the risks and realities.

The risks of 'free to a good home' pet adoption

Pet ownership is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. It means ensuring the health and welfare of your pet throughout its life—even in cases where you can no longer care for the animal yourself.

Most pet owners will make every effort to keep their pet in the home, but sometimes circumstances make that impossible. “Free to a good home” adoption might seem like a quick and easy solution. Before you surrender your pet to a stranger, you should understand the risks and realities of “free to a good home” adoptions.

What are the risks of "free to a good home" adoption?

We’d all like to think the best of other people, but the unpleasant fact is that people seeking to adopt a pet under the radar—via posters or online ads—may not have the animal’s best interests at heart. Here are a few examples of such unintended outcomes.

Breeding Mills.Some potential adopters are not looking for a companion animal at all, but rather for a breeding machine. The breeding of puppies and kittens is a profitable business, and unlicensed breeders often cut corners on the health and welfare of their animals. For example, animals may be kept in unclean conditions or first-degree relatives allowed to mate with each other, which can produce a broad array of health problems in their offspring.

Dog Fighting Rings.Dog fighting is a criminal industry that exists in the shadows of pet ownership. Dog fighters frequently seek to adopt free puppies, either in hopes of training them to be fighting dogs, or (in the case of more docile animals) to be used as “bait dogs” for the more aggressive animals to attack. Either way, it is a short and painful life that no animal deserves.

Class B Adopters.Scientific experimentation requires animal subjects, and unscrupulous laboratories unwilling to go through the proper procedures to obtain test animals will often recruit surrogates (referred to as Class B adopters) to obtain free animals for scientific testing. Again, the result for the animal is a life of pain and misery, often ending in premature death.

Animal Abusers.And finally, there are those in our communities who simply seek out free animals to abuse. Despite the growing number of animal abuser registries that seek to publicly identify these individuals, many continue to obtain their victims from well-meaning people seeking to find good homes for pets they can no longer keep. 

How Can You Be Sure Your Pet Will Go to a Good Home?

The scenarios we’ve outlined above are grim realities. So, what can you do to keep your pet from ending up in one of these places? The short answer is: Do your homework. Here are some steps you can take to be sure the person who adopts your pet has the animal’s best interests at heart.

Don’t surrender your pet to the first person to respond.When screening potential adopters, collect names and contact info, and screen each individually. Don’t simply hand over your pet to the first person who shows up with a carrier. The larger your candidate pool, the better your chances of finding a truly caring owner.

Ask lots of questions.Don’t be afraid to ask questions of potential adopters. What kind of environment will they provide for your pet? What will they feed it? Where will it sleep and play? Do they have other pets in the home—and if so, are any aggressive? The answers will help you choose an adopter with the means and intentions to care for your pet properly.

Check animal abuser registries.The internet can be a huge ally here. Check potential adopters against the identities of known animal abusers to minimize the chances of your pet going to a person with a history of criminal neglect.

Ask for vet and personal references.If a potential adopter has other pets, ask for a veterinarian reference. Also, gather personal references. These will help you paint a more detailed picture of a potential adopter’s character.

Ask to for a post-adoption visit.If you do find a good candidate, request permission for a post-adoption visit to the home. And if you don’t like what you see, be prepared to take the pet back and start the process anew.

Consider other options.There are options other than “free to a good home” adoptions. If you have a purebred animal, consider a breed-specific shelter. There are more than you’d think, and the internet makes doing the research easy. Also, consider a no-kill or low-kill shelter. Shelters have the means to advertise your pet’s need for a forever home, as well as methods to screen potential adopters.

Surrendering a pet is never easy. But if you find it is the only option open to you, we hope these tips will help you make informed and caring choices.

Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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