Why You Should Never Give Pets Away 'Free to a Good Home'

Giving pets away for free can lead to sad consequences.

Munchkin kittens

SHINYA SASAKI / Getty Images

Once you've taken an animal into your home and made him or her part of your family, you have an obligation to protect and nurture that animal because you've made a commitment. But sometimes life throws a curveball and there are circumstances beyond our control. If you've found yourself in a situation that requires you to find new homes for your companion animals, you'll need to take every precaution to ensure they are going to a forever loving home.

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. We hope our readers will adopt rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores, and will also consider supporting local animal shelters.

You Have to Rehome Your Pet. What's Next?

If you're in truly desperate straits and don't have the time or ability to vet the background of strangers offering to take your companion animals, your best move is to contact local rescues for assistance. Many are networked nationwide and work incredibly hard to secure safe alternatives for pets.

If rescues can't offer immediate assistance, as much as it may pain you to do so, take your pet to a shelter. At least there, your dog or cat may be given a chance to find a good home. Having to surrender your companion animal to a shelter is not the best outcome, but it's a far better fate than having your companion fall into the wrong hands. 

Always Charge a Rehoming Fee

Criminals easily prey on people who just want their animals to go to a good home. They know that sometimes you're pressed for time and have no choice but to surrender an animal in your hour of need. They rely on that raw emotion and will do their best to convince you they'll be good guardians. Of course, you very much want to believe them and that works in their favor.

First and foremost, when giving a pet away, always charge a rehoming fee. People looking for animals to abuse usually won't pay a fee. You're likely to hear a sob story from someone who wants your animal but says they simply can't afford to pay an adoption fee. That should be a red flag. Having a pet costs money. Food, vet checkups, and vaccines aren't free. If they can't afford to pay a $50 adoption fee, what are they going to do when a bigger expense comes up?

Charging an adoption fee also prevents some people from adopting your animals on a whim, and then, when they lose interest, turning them in at a shelter or abandoning them on a dark, lonely street far from home.

Sick and amoral people cannot always be spotted on looks alone. Some individuals want your dogs and cats just to abuse, torture, and kill them. By charging an adoption fee, you make it much more difficult for animal abusers to acquire animals—specifically, your animals.


In dogfighting, dogs are trained to be vicious and trained to attack other animals, so-called "bait" animals. According to the Michigan State University Animal Legal and Historical Center, one of the methods used to train fighting dogs is to dangle bait animals, such as a small dog, cat, rabbit, or guinea pig on a rope in front of a dog that's forced to run on a treadmill or around a circle. Naturally, these small animals are terrified. The dog is eventually given the animal to kill at the end of the session as a reward.

Where do these animals come from? Some people steal animals right off the street or from a backyard. Other people use much more cunning means to obtain bait animals. For example, at a Florida shelter, an elderly woman and her clean-cut young son came to adopt a small animal. Ostensibly, the animal was to be “a companion” for the elderly woman. The pair went home with a small white mixed breed who was immediately thrown into a ring with a fighting dog and killed.

Looks can be deceiving. The bottom line is that people searching for bait dogs will use any disguise, tell any lies, and use charm or downright deception to separate you from your loving companion. Again, charging an adoption fee makes it more difficult for someone to acquire animals for dogfighting.

Class B Dealers

Although there are breeding facilities to supply the animal-testing industry with dogs and cats, some laboratories attempt to cut corners by hiring dishonest intermediaries who deal in stolen pets. Such dealers are referred to as "Class B dealers," and are classified as random source animal dealers regulated by the USDA to sell animals to laboratories for experimentation.

Class B dealers sometimes acquire animals in unscrupulous ways. Charging a small adoption fee will make your animal unprofitable to them so they'll likely look elsewhere.

Finding a New Home

While it's strongly recommended that you affix an adoption fee, you can always waive the fee if you find someone you truly trust. Whether or not you charge an adoption fee, there are steps you can take to make sure your animals are going to a good home:

  • Perform a home visit: Visit the potential adopter's home and speak with the other family members. Are there other pets in the home? Who will care for the animals? Does anyone have allergies? Where will the animals live? If there are children, make sure that the adults know that they should be responsible for the animals; not the children.
  • Ask someone to perform a home visit if you can't: Thanks to Facebook and Petfinder, the perfect guardian for your companion animal may be miles away, even in another state. If the potential adopter doesn’t live near you, ask a rescue in the town where they live to visit the home. Rescues often have volunteers to help you facilitate long-distance adoptions and put your mind at ease. PilotsNPaws may be able to transport your companion anywhere in the country should you find a suitable home out of state.
  • Ask for personal references: Call the references and ask if the adoptive family has taken good care of their current or past pets. See if you can find out what happened to pets they previously owned. Did they die of natural causes after 15 years, or did they seem to disappear after a few weeks?
  • Ask for a vet reference: Call their current or past veterinarian and ask about the family's other pets and how well they were cared for. The vet may not give you very detailed information, but confirm that they have a relationship with a vet and ask whether the vet recommends the family as good guardians.
  • Check animal abuser registries: Animal abuser registries are growing rapidly in response to public pressure. If you live in an area that has such a registry, be sure to take advantage of it. They list local people who have been convicted of animal cruelty in the past so that shelters and rescue groups can avoid them.
  • Google the person: Whether or not someone has a history of animal abuse, an internet search might turn up past crimes and brushes with the law.
  • Be prepared to take the animal back: You may have taken all of the important steps, but the pet may not be a good match for this family. Maybe your dog doesn't get along with their current dog. Maybe a family member has a previously unknown allergy. To keep your animals safe, you have to be prepared to take them back and let the adopter know that you will take the animal back if it doesn't work out.
  • Have the adopter sign a pet adoption contract. Petrescue.com offers boilerplate adoption contracts that can be downloaded and printed out.
  • Be Wary of Craigslist: Most people sourcing animals on Craigslist are looking for free cats and dogs. Even if you are asking for a rehoming fee, many Craigslisters are confident they can con you into waiving it. For that reason, Craigslist is almost never a good place to advertise an animal. (And in fact, horror stories abound regarding animals given away to someone who found that pet via Craigslist.) With reputable databases such as Petfinder, local shelters, and many breed-specific rescue sites, why would someone even be looking on Craigslist? Because they don’t want to deal with the paperwork and systems these sites have put in place to protect their animals.
  • Breed Rescue If your animal is a purebred, reach out to the specific breed rescue and ask them to step in. Frequently they have a waiting list of anxious, but vetted, adopters. German Shepherd Dog Rescue and Siamese Rescue are two examples of specific breed rescue groups.

Criminal Cases

If you still have doubts about the safety of giving your animal away to someone without vetting them first, consider these cases:

In 2007, Anthony Appolonia of Aberdeen, New Jersey, was convicted of torturing and killing 19 cats and kittens—many of which came from "free to a good home" advertisements in the local newspaper. Rescuers who had given Appolonia cats became suspicious when he requested additional cats.

In 1998, Class B dealer Barbara Ruggiero and two accomplices were found guilty of felony grand theft of dogs in Los Angeles, California. The trio answered hundreds of "free to a good home" ads—and then sold the dogs to laboratories to be used in experiments.