Should You Buy a Pet on Craigslist?

The temptation of the Craigslist Pets section haunts me every time I browse the web. I want to scoop each and every animal being sold there up in my arms and take them home with me. Of course, I can’t do that– and, in fact, I don’t think anyone should buy a pet using Craigslist, except in some very specific circumstances. Craigslist offers an unprecedented opportunity for unethical people to sell large numbers of pets cheaply from their homes, which encourages pet theft, backyard breeding,  and irresponsible ownership.

What’s So Bad About Craiglist?

In general? Nothing. It’s an excellent, mostly free marketplace where people exchange items and ideas. I found my full-time job on Craigslist. I’ve also bought lots of meat for my raw fed dog there, and used the Free section to give away my old cardboard boxes after moving.

But the Pets section, specifically, is a problem. If you buy a television on Craigslist, it might be stolen or poorly made, but the TV isn’t suffering. A stolen pet suffers because it misses its family, and a badly bred pet may suffer congenital and heriditary defects causing pain or even death. There’s no way Craigslist could possibly police the Pets section every day and make a judgment as to which ads represent a scammer selling animals and which are really placed by people hoping to privately rehome a pet. Sometimes the free market really can be a little too free.

If I were a scammer hoping to sell a stolen pet for a quick buck, I’d go straight to Craigslist and post a sob story about losing my job and wanting a $150.00 rehoming fee to make sure the dog would be cared for in its new home and to recoup a recent bill for a tooth cleaning or some such thing. If I were a backyard breeder hoping to profit from a litter of irresponsibly bred puppies, I’d go straight to Craigslist and call them an “accidental litter,” and post that a “reasonable rehoming fee” will be charged. There are dozens of ads every day with the exactly those stories. How could anyone ever tell the difference between a skilled scammer and an honest person?

When It IS Okay to Use Craigslist: Pets

There are a few circumstances under which I think it’s possible to be fairly sure you’re not supporting pet theft or backyard breeding by using Craigslist:

  • A legitimate rescue posts Craigslist ads for adoptable pets.
  • An adult pet is adopted out, with a reasonable adoption fee requested as a donation to an animal rescue organization. You donate to a rescue and present a receipt as your adoption fee.
  • A person providing foster care for a pet through a legitimate rescue uses Craigslist to increase their foster pet’s chances of adoption.
  • An adult or senior pet is posted “free to a good home,” and the owners have only that pet (or have just acquired it, for example through inheritance, and can’t keep it).

Due to widespread backyard breeding, I never recommend getting a baby animal through Craigslist. Even adults may be retired breeding animals being dumped for a quick buck– beware “adopting” a pet that’s not spayed or neutered.

But I Can’t Find the Breed I Want in a Shelter…

Think again. Read Five Myths About Pet Adoption. Many shelters have purebreds and will even keep a waiting list and call you if your favorite breed comes up for adoption. If you absolutely can’t find the right breed in a shelter, don’t turn to Craigslist. Go for a pet from an RRB instead.

What Are Owners Supposed to Do?

I hear this question a lot when I speak out against Craigslist’s Pets section. What else are owners wanting to rehome their pets supposed to do? Just dump the pet at the pound to be put to sleep? Abandon it on the side of the road? Have the vet euthanize it?


Instead, try this: Don’t get a pet unless you can commit to keeping it for life. Yes, sometimes life throws you a curveball. Sometimes the best of intentions aren’t enough. And yes, times are tough on everyone right now. But if you were mature enough to take on the responsibility of caring for a pet, you can sure be mature enough to either maintain enough money in a savings account to provide for it even in the event of financial troubles, or take the time to work with a no-kill or low-kill shelter/rescue to place your pet with a new family.

Private individuals aren’t necessarily qualified to evaluate adopters of pets. Shelters have employees and volunteers trained specifically to spot subtle red flags that suggest an applicant isn’t what he or she seems to be. Most private individuals aren’t equipped to do a background check on someone adopting a Bully breed, to ensure the adopter hasn’t been involved in dog fighting in the past. Shelters and rescues generally are.

Finally, even as a matter of last resort, if all the rescues are full and the owner absolutely cannot reduce their spending and change their lifestyle enough to be able to keep the pet, profiting by selling the family pet is despicable. Pets are family members to those who love them. If you had to give a child up for adoption, would you expect the adopting family to pay you for it? I think not.

If a private owner absolutely must relinquish a pet and can’t go through a reputable organization, they should charge a moderate adoption fee, payable to the adopter’s favorite animal rescue organization. Giving pets away free endangers them by attracting resellers and other unsavory types, but selling a family member for a profit is just as bad.

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  1. Patty
    | Reply

    Hi Jelena,
    Thanks for all the helpful information.
    We are looking to adopt a dachshund puppy from Dachshund Rescue of Bucks County and NJ. Have you ever heard of them?? We have a 14 dachshund in our family now, a real cutie pie and love him with all our hearts. We need to make sure he will be ok with this new lil friend also. Anyway…..
    Their fee to adopt adds up to $550 with the $25 application fee…$375 for a puppy and $150 for their Goodie bag…Is this considered a reasonable fee? It is less than purchasing from a pet store but I will not buy from a pet store or private breeder after all my research… We live about 2 hours from DRBC but willing to take the drive to adopt a puppy.
    The fee seems a bit steep to me but I am a novice at this and need help. I have spent hours trying to “do the right thing” . I have learned a lot but I can’t find a rescue closer to my home NJ 08223 …near Ocean City NJ ….We really want a pure bred Dachshund….only because I know this bred very well.

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