The Dangers of ‘Free to a Good Home’ Ads

Finding a home for an animal can be both emotional and time-consuming. “Free to a good home” ads, particularly ubiquitous on Craigslist, may seem to be an innocuous way to speed up the process, but such ads have proved to be extremely dangerous—and in some cases, deadly—to animals.

Targets of Abusers
Classified ads—online and elsewhere—are magnets for abusive people and those who wouldn’t be approved to adopt an animal from a reputable shelter. There have been numerous cases in which cruel people have trolled such ads for the sole purpose of obtaining animals they planned to torture and kill. For instance, a man was charged with multiple felony counts of torturing an animal after he dismembered five dogs at a Reno, Nevada, hotel. At least two of these dogs were acquired via Craigslist.1. Jeffrey Nally, a West Virginia man who was sentenced to 10 to 45 years behind bars for mutilating and killing more than two dozen puppies, also sought out his victims from “free to a good home” ads.2 And an Alabama man who claimed to be “mad at the world” obtained several kittens via Craigslist ads. He abused them in a “cat room” in his house for months and then killed them before he was finally arrested on 22 counts of cruelty to animals.3

Even people who’ve made an effort to screen potential adopters have been fooled. A woman who advertised on Craigslist gave her dog to a man she said seemed to be an animal lover, saying that she “didn’t feel any fear, you know, when I left her with him. He tricked me.” The man, Austin Patterson, was discovered to have mutilated and killed at least four cats, crimes for which he was sentenced to eight years in prison.4 A co-defendant admitted that Patterson found the animals on Craigslist.5 The prosecutor in the case had said that Patterson “was able to convince two families to give up their animals that they love. He was manipulative.”6 Barry Herbeck, a Wisconsin man, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for torturing, sodomizing, and killing nearly two dozen animals whom he had obtained through classified ads. Herbeck admitted to taking his kids with him when answering ads so that people would feel comfortable turning the animals over to him.7,8  A Virginia family looking to rehome their dog Lucky said they had interviewed several people after posting an ad on Craigslist and settled on Arthur Vieira.9 He later burned the dog alive and was sentenced to 5 years in prison.10

“Free to a good home” ads are also an open invitation to people seeking “bait” for fighting dogs or coursing hounds or seeking “food” for captive predators. An Idaho man who was arrested on cruelty-to-animals charges was posing as a “pet adopter” on Craigslist and feeding the animals he acquired to snakes.11

Targets of Animal Dealers
Class B dealers obtain animals from “random sources” and sell them to laboratories and biological-supply houses (which supply dead animals to schools for dissection). Dealers pick up stray or free-roaming animals and even steal animals right out of their own backyards. They also procure “spent” dogs and cats from breeders and obtain animals who are advertised in “free to a good home” ads.

In 2011, PETA obtained documents revealing that the University of Michigan (U-M) was purchasing cats from a Class B dealer called R&R Research, LLC. Some of the cats who wound up in U-M laboratories were procured by R&R from unsuspecting people who had placed “free to a good home” ads. Some of the cats had hard tubes repeatedly forced down their delicate windpipes in the school’s Survival Flight intubation training laboratory, after which they were killed. U-M now uses exclusively human simulators for intubation training.12

Please read PETA’s factsheet on animal dealers for more information.

What You Can Do
PETA has asked Craigslist to implement a policy prohibiting “free to a good home” ads, but thus far the company has done nothing beyond posting a mild warning about giving away animals on its site. Please click here to urge Craigslist to ban these ads immediately.

If your local newspaper runs “free to a good home” advertisements, please contact the paper’s editors, warn them about the dangers of these ads, and ask them to stop running them. If you see such ads, call the numbers listed and urge the responsible parties to take the animals to a reputable open-admission shelter instead. By properly screening applicants, reputable adoption groups and animal shelters can help ensure that animals find safe homes in which they’ll be treated with love and respect for the rest of their lives.

If you or someone you know can no longer care for an animal companion, please don’t advertise the animal as “free to a good home” (and never adopt out an animal who hasn’t been spayed or neutered). A reasonable fee, an application, a contract, and a home visit are essential to ensuring that animals end up in homes that are truly “good.”


1Marcella Corona, “2 Dogs in Cruelty Case Adopted From Sparks Woman,” Reno Gazette-Journal, 15 July 2014.
2Stephen Huba, “Man Convicted of Animal Cruelty Finally Maxes Out,” Morning Journa, 19 Oct. 2013.
3Chase Erwin, “Police Say Man Killed Kittens He Bought off Craigslist,” WAFF, 7 Nov. 2013.
4Selena Hernandez, “Woman Shocked She Gave Puppy to Man Accused of Killing Cats,” KENS5 Eyewitness News, 19 Sep. 2007., “Texas Man Headed to Prison in Cat Mutilation Case,” 1 July 2010.
6Craig Kapitan, “Cat Killer Gets 8-Year Sentence,” Express-News, 10 June 2010.
7Kathleen Ostrander, “Animal Abuser Targeted,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 29 Mar. 2001.
8Kate Gaul, “Giving Away Pets Not Best Option: Many End Up Being Abused or in Less-Than-Ideal-Situations,”Lincoln Journal Star, 28 July 1998.
9Elisabeth Heulette, “Virginia Beach Dog Set on Fire Had Been Listed On Craigslist,” The Virginian-Pilot, 7 Aug. 2015.
10Gabriella DeLuca, “Virginia Beach Man Sentenced to Five Years for Burning Dog Alive,” WTKR, 13 Jan. 2016.
11KLTV, “Nearly 100 Snakes Seized From Wood Co. Property,”, 22 Apr. 2011.
12Kellie Woodhouse, “University of Michigan Ceases Use of Cats in Survival Flight Training,” The Ann Arbor News, 13 Dec. 2011.


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