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The Dangers of ‘Free To Good Home’ Ads

Free To Good Home ads are commonly used by people who can no longer keep their pets. Owners with good intentions use such ads in an attempt to place their pets in loving homes. But in doing so, they could be condemning them to abuse, neglect, experimentation, use as dog fighting bait, or other tragic fates. Your pet depends on you to take the necessary steps to ensure a safe and loving home.

While we’d like for every animal to live its natural life as a cherished family member, we realize this is not always the case. Whether a pet is rehomed due to circumstances beyond a person’s control (for example, an owner’s death) or if a person rehomes their pet for personal reasons, it’s important to take precautionary steps to try to ensure a safe and loving home for the pet.

The Dangers

Neglect. When an animal is obtained for free, it often has no perceived value. Since there are “plenty more where that one came from,” a person may not feed and properly care the animal. Veterinary care may be denied since they may figure they’ll just “get another one” if this one dies. As rescuers, we’ve heard horror stories of pets that were adopted by “caring” families, only to be chained outside and forgotten.

Abuse. It’s a disturbing fact of life that some people abuse and kill animals. Free To Good Home ads offer a constant supply of new victims. Two recent examples include young men who obtained pets from such ads and then brutally tortured and killed the animals.

In March of 2011, Jeffrey Nally, Jr., a 19-year-old West Virginia man, was arrested for torturing and killing 29 puppies he obtained from “free” classified ads. According to reports, Nally killed the puppies using hammers, drills, saws, crossbows, and guns. Some of the dogs were skinned or otherwise mutilated.

In December of 2010, Louisville (KY) Metro Police arrested 24-year-old Alex Phelps for torturing and killing cats. He responded to “Free To Good Home” ads and convinced owners that he’d provide their pets with a loving home. Jason Knopp handed over his two cats. Knopp commented, “"He knew all the right things to say. He said he volunteered for the Humane Society, fostering cats."

Phelps also fooled Jennifer Chappell, who had rescued, bottle fed, and cared for 3 kittens. Chappell commented, “They went in a laundry basket everyday with me to work. They were sleeping on down comforters, they had the life of luxury." Phelps responded to Chappell’s adoption ad, saying he and his family were "avid animal lovers." Chappell said, “I thought they would have a good home. He seemed like a cat lover." Phelps confessed to stabbing and killing four cats he had obtained via ‘Free” ads.  He’s suspected in the torture and killing of additional cats.

Animal Experimentation/Research. “Bunchers” acquire pets from random sources, including Free To Good Home ads. The animals are then sold to Class B dealers, who sell them to research facilities for experimentation purposes. Bunchers are “professional” in acquiring pets. They know exactly what to say and will sometimes bring family members with them so they appear more legitimate.

Dog Fighting. People involved in the despicable act of dogfighting use Free To Good Home ads to acquire pets they later use to teach their dogs to kill. Cats and dogs of all sizes, ages, and breeds are used for this heinous practice. They duct tape the muzzles of larger dogs to render them defenseless. The theory behind this practice is that the fighting dogs will learn to kill and gain confidence.

Breeding. Puppy mills and backyard breeders scour free ads for animals they cause use to produce puppies (or kittens). If your pet is a purebred, potential adopters may be interested in using it breeding purposes, either as part of a puppy mill operation or as a backyard breeder. Please read our report on Puppy Mills for the horrors of pets that meet this fate.

Snake Food. Small animals, including kittens, have been “adopted” for use as snake food.

Hoarders. Animal “collectors” have been known to respond to Free To Good Home ads with the sincere belief that they’re rescuing the animals. While they may have good intentions, these people collect more animals than they can property care for. As a result, they often live in squalor conditions without adequate food, water, or veterinary care.


We recommend charging an adoption fee for the pet. People tend to value what they pay for. In today’s disposable society, a person who’s willing to pay an adoption fee is indicating more serious interest than someone who takes an animal just because it’s free. An adoption fee can also indicate the person’s ability and willingness to spend money to meet the pet’s needs, whether they be medical, grooming, food, toys, etc. If you’re uncomfortable receiving money for your pet, you could donate it to a human organization or local shelter.

If your pet is not already spayed or neutered, please have this done before placing it up for adoption. The adoption fee could cover the cost of the surgery. This could save your pet the anguish of falling victim to a puppy mill. Even if your dog is not intentionally bred, it could still contribute to pet overpopulation through accidental or unintentional breedings.

Screening Applicants

The most important step is to ask for a vet reference and then call the vet to verify that their current (or previous) pets are properly cared for, vaccinated, on heartworm preventative, spayed/neutered, etc. If you do nothing else, at least take the time to make this one important phone call. Your pet’s life could depend on it.

We also recommend asking prospective adopters if they own or rent their home. If they rent, ask for their landlord’s name/number and verify that they’re allowed to have the pet.

Ask the person to sign a contract promising committing to provide the pet with a safe and loving home, adequate food, and veterinary care. If you’re in a position to take the animal back if the person changes his/her mind, include that as a stipulation.

Other questions that we feel are important include:

Please review our adoption application for more suggestions. Some questions have obvious ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. You wouldn’t want to adopt your dog to someone who intends to leave it chained outside. But some questions are highly subjective. The “best” answer will vary from one pet to another. For example, we ask about activity level because we don’t want to adopt a hyperactive dog to a sedentary person. Likewise, a couch potato dog wouldn’t be a good match for an active individual that’s looking for a hiking or jogging partner. You know your pet and can best determine if the adopter would be a good match.

We often do a home visit prior to finalizing an adoption. This usually gives a good sense of the type of home environment where your pet would be living, particularly if the family has other pets. If you’re unable to do a visit yourself, you may be able to elicit the assistance of a local rescue organization. Even if you know you will be unable to do the visit, still ask the applicant if they would object to you visiting their home prior to the adoption. Their response may give you valuable insight.

Advertising Your Pet

It’s important to be honest and upfront in describing your pet. Note any health problems and don’t be misleading about your pet’s temperament or training. Your goal should be to find a suitable home that’s willing to accept your pet – with any faults and medical conditions – into their family. It would be unfair to both the people and the pet to set them up for disappointment by not disclosing bad habits or health problems.

Places to advertise: Veterinary offices, groomers, dog parks, pet supply stores, and any other place that is likely to be frequented by responsible people with a sincere interest in pets.

You can also place ads in newspapers and online, but carefully screen applicants, especially those responding to online ads. People who intend to do harm to your pet will not be obvious with their intentions. They may bring family members, sometimes even children, in an effort to convince you they’d provide your pet a good home. For your pet’s sake, please don’t forego the important screening procedures outlines above.

Safety Note: Exercise caution when meeting with anyone who inquires about your pet. It’s a good idea to first have them submit an application and check their vet reference. We suggest meeting in a public place and don’t go alone. If you’re doing a home visit, check references first and take a friend or family member with you.

Alternatives to Free To Good Home Ads

Make every effort to keep your pet. Moving, behavioral problems, and lack of time are common reasons cited for pet relinquishment. With guidance and effort, pets can usually accompany their families on moves. Please see our report on Renting With Pets for more information. Many behavioral problems can be resolved with the help of a knowledgeable trainer or consultant. And while you may not feel you have enough time to provide your pet with an ideal life, consider if it’s better than the alternative.

If you feel you’ve exhausted all options to keep your pet, consider seeking the assistance of a rescue organization. There are groups throughout the country dedicated to specific breeds, as well as many rescues committed to saving mixed breed dogs and cats. If at all possible, give the group(s) advance notice. If you can continue to care for the pet for a short time, it will enable rescuers to try to find a suitable home or temporary foster home. While most rescues are comprised of people who are committed to helping animals, it’s still a good idea to check their adoption policies and procedures before handing over your pet.

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