I recently received this text:
Hello Ayelet! This is Maya’s little sister Katie. I’m trying to get a kitten for myself and my roommates. We want to possibly get a mini kitten from Caigslist and I wonder if you know a good place to take them for a check up, etc. Or if there’s a great no kill shelter that you recommend?
My heart always soars when I get a request for animal adoption assistance. My first recommendation? Don’t let “adoption” and “Craigslist” appear in the same text message.
More often than not people who are adopting out pets on Craigslist fall into one of two categories.
1. Private families that can’t or don’t want to keep their pet
2. Backyard Breeders running “adoption” scams
I find that the people in the first category are usually not 100% truthful as to why they are getting rid of the pet. I feel for them because they are generally good people who can’t find a rescue group to take the animal, but they don’t want to go to a public shelter, where there’s a chance they’ll put down. Because of this, behavioral and medical issues are not disclosed. So, you don’t actually know what kind of pet you are getting. A way to get around this is to ask for the pet’s medical records and vet phone number. That way you can determine whether the family really is getting rid of their pet for unavoidable reasons (moving to a place that doesn’t accept pets, can no longer afford to keep pet, etc) or if something is actually wrong with him.
At the risk of sounding harsh, I have to state: people in the second category are irresponsible members of the community who don’t know what they are doing and are trying to make a fast buck at the expense of an animal’s well-being. These people breed puppies and kittens and then “adopt them out” for an “adoption fee.” The animal’s health and behavior is not considered by these people.
Now, don’t get my wrong, I shop on Craigslist all the time. I owe my loveseat and dresser to the great Craig Newmark. However, when dealing with a living being more time, thought and consideration is required. Although Craigslist prohibits the sale of animals, it does allow “Re-homing with small adoption fee,” a loophole that means there are still people selling animals they’ve bred or acquired in shady ways (a New Jersey woman, for instance, alleges that the day after giving her dog up for adoption to a couple who found her through a Craigslist ad, she was contacted by someone who had just “adopted” the dog through the couple for a $100 adoption fee).
If you’re going to surf for adoptable pets — be it on Craigslist or elsewhere — here are basic guidelines to ensuring your pet is coming from a responsible group who cares more about the pet than about simply getting rid of the animal.
1. Are they a registered 501(c)3?
501(c)3 is a tax exemption given to Nonprofit organizations by the IRS. It is important to look for this status in an organization because it lets you know the organization is serious and committed to the cause. It can cost well over $1,000 to apply for this status and the organization’s financial records must be made public. If someone is serious enough to go through all of the paperwork and pay all of the fees to get this status it’s a good indication that they are a dedicated organization. Go to guidestar to check if the pet rescue group you want to adopt from is registered as a 501(c)3. It is free to look up the basic information.
2. If you are getting an animal from a rescue group, do you get a pet the same day or is there a waiting period?
A serious and reputable animal rescue group will have an extensive adoption process. You can expect to fill out an application, submit a list of references (usually friends or coworkers and a vet you plan on working with), and be interviewed. There is usually a home-visit by a representative of the organization. This may turn some people off, but remember you are accepting responsibility for a life when adopting an animal and that must be taken with the utmost seriousness. Most good rescues operate on very little funding and they invest money, love, and time in each animal they take in. So it’s understandable that they might have high standards when placing a pet. The animals they have are usually saved from being euthanized due to medical, behavioral or logistical (space) concerns. This adoption process insures that their work was not done in vain and that the animal will be placed in a loving and caring environment best suited for his or her specific needs. It takes time to read through applications, call references and interview perspective adopters. And these people usually aren’t getting paid for their time. So you can expect the process of getting approved to take several weeks.
3. Do they have a life-time return policy?
I know this sounds crazy, but hear me out. When getting a pet you’re diving into a relationship, not acquiring an accessory. However, as far as returns go, the person you paid to get your dog should have a much better return policy than that bag you purchased to put said pet into. An organization will usually have you sign a legally binding document that states that if at any point in the animal’s life he is no longer wanted, he must be brought back to the organization. And they mean business. One of the rescue groups I volunteer for came very close to suing a client because he was caught posting a “for adoption” status on Facebook with a picture of one of our rescues. We contacted him immediately and the dog was returned. Good thing, too, because our lawyer was in the pouncing position. Just as mentioned above, rescue organizations are tirelessly committed to each and every pet they adopt out. After all of the work and attention for detail that is put into rehabilitating and then homing a dog, it would be heartbreaking to know that the animal was placed with someone else who may not be the right fit, or heaven forbid euthanized unnecessarily.
4. Are you provided with documents to show that the animal has a clean bill of health and has been vaccinated and spayed/neutered?
You’d be hard pressed to find a rescue organization not committed to the No More Homeless Pets movement. The way to ensure this is to spay and neuter. (There are also health benefits to this, but that is a topic for another time). The only time you will get a pet who is not spayed/neutered is when you are getting a puppy under six months of age. In that case expect to put down a deposit and sign a contract that states you will spay/neuter your pet when he/she is old enough. The deposit is returned to you when you provide the rescue organization with medical records that proves the deed’s been done.
You also know you are dealing with a reputable organization if they have all of the pets medical records for you to review and take with you to your vet. If a group does not have this, walk away. Do not let them tell you they will mail it to you later. There is no reason that this information isn’t readily available as soon as you take your pet home. The organization should also only adopt out healthy animals. When an animal is still sick, it should be fostered in a home with a volunteer until the vet gives him a clean bill of health. The exception to this is if you are adopting an animal listed as “special needs” who has some sort of chronic illness. If this is the case the organization should be candid with you about what medical expenses you should expect to pay each month/year and what the daily care is for this pet. You should also be told about the pet’s personality in detail. How is he with resource guarding, with strangers, with children, etc.? A rescue oraganization who is committed to the animal will want to make sure you know exactly what you are in for to avoid the animal being passed from house to house, and possibly causing more harm to him.
5. Is the adoption fee exorbident?
This one is a bit harder to define. Some organizations’ cost-per-pet is a lot higher than others. Medical bills, transportation expenses, rent and utility costs can all factor into determining an adoption fee. Stray From The Heart writes on their website that it charges between $600 – $1,000 a month on each dog, depending on his or her needs. I know of another rescue organization that has to travel all over the country to purchase dogs at auction in order to save them from puppy-mills. Understandably their expenses will be a lot higher than a group who rescues dogs from their own town and has a network of foster homes. On average you can expect to pay $150-$500 for an adoption fee.
To go back to my friend’s sister’s text, I was really happy that she sought me out for advice. She just as easily could have emailed the Craigslister and gotten her “mini kitten” (what is that by the way)? But instead she asked some questions. And when you’re making this kind of life-altering choice, questions should be asked in quantity.
To submit questions to Ayelet Blumberg’s How To Adopt column, email at Ayelet@TheDo.gs.