By Jordyn Grzelewski
When a couple from Boardman found Blaze on Craigslist, they had no way of knowing the 3-year-old dog had a serious medical condition.
Within a couple of weeks, they noticed the symptoms. He was lethargic. He was struggling to breathe.
It turned out the dog was suffering from advanced heartworm, a disease in which parasitic worms lodge themselves in the animal’s heart and lungs.
Unable to afford the unexpected veterinary costs – at that stage of heartworm, treatment costs can climb toward $1,000 – Blaze’s owners decided to surrender their new pet.
Jason Cooke, a local animal activist, is fostering Blaze while the dog continues treatment.
“This is an example of someone giving away a dog that they obviously didn’t even know was sick. And he wasn’t neutered,” Cooke said. “Then you have someone picking up a dog that’s sick, and not being able to deal with the financial consequences of that.”
He said the incident highlights a problem: improper re-homing of pets, especially on websites that offer no safeguards for animals or people on either side of the transaction.
Mark Rhodes, of advocacy group Trumbull Canine Connection, summarizes the issue this way: “You don’t know where it’s going, and you don’t know what you’re getting.”
FREE TO A GOOD HOME
Experts say “free-to-a-good-home” advertisements, often unknown to the people posting them, are likely to attract unsavory types.
“A lot of time, dog fighters and abusers who have been declined by agencies such as the dog warden’s office or Angels for Animals ... are able to go to these sites and pick up dogs,” said Rick Tunison, kennel manager and a deputy dog warden for Mahoning County.
Corey Roscoe, Ohio director for the Humane Society of the United States, said advertising animals as free attracts people such as pet collectors and “dog flippers,” who take free pets then sell them.
“You should never offer your animal for free,” she said.
On the flip side, answering one of those ads can be an issue for potential adopters. Not only could you be unaware of issues the animal might have – a disease, or behavior issues – but no animal is truly “free.”
“When someone takes a free pet, it’s great, right? It’s free. But oftentimes that free pet actually then requires a trip to the veterinarian,” Roscoe said.
“There’s no such thing as ‘free to a good home.’ That doesn’t exist,” Cooke said. “Dogs are not free.”
So, what should you do if you need to re-home your pet? Experts offered several good practices.
Ask for references.
Always advertise a re-homing fee.
Meet with potential adopters in person.
Make sure your pet is spayed or neutered first.
Consider coordinating the re-homing on a monitored site or through an agency – Rhodes, for example, manages a Facebook page that requires users to follow a set of rules.
Give yourself plenty of time to go through the process.
“People aren’t going to pay $100 for a dog they’re going to do something bad to,” Rhodes said of why people should ask for a re-homing fee.
If you are looking to adopt a pet, experts say going through a rescue group – whether it’s an organization such as Angels for Animals, or the county pound – is always the best way to go.
“We encourage people to go to an adoption shelter, where the animal may not be free,” said Roscoe. “But they’re really saving money in the long run.”
The Mahoning County Dog Pound, for example, charges $135 to adopt a dog. That fee includes spaying/neutering the animal, vaccinations and a county dog license.
“That’s pretty cheap. If you can’t afford to pay an adoption fee, are you actually able to afford veterinary care? Dog food?” Tunison said.
Tunison also noted the way this issue impacts his agency, which takes in stray dogs that workers find.
“What will happen a lot of times, people will take in these free dogs online. All of a sudden the dog is chewing things, or has destructive behavior. Then they don’t want them anymore,” he said.
People will then surrender the dogs to the dog warden, which takes up space in the kennel.
“It causes an overcrowding issue,” Tunison said.
Experts emphasized a related issue: the importance of spaying/neutering pets.
“If people would just take the time to spay and neuter dogs, there wouldn’t be the overpopulation and ‘free dogs’ if people were more responsible,” Tunison added.