Ethical Pet Adoption versus Saving a Life

Shelter cat

Mendocino County, USA, shelter cat

This article asks the question whether it is ethical for a person to adopt a companion animal, who is on death row at a shelter, to then advertise the animal on Craigslist as a freebie, without the shelter being involved.  This happened and it enraged the world of animal advocates.

The woman who adopted this dog (the Craigslist add was finally taken down April 17) stated she knew what she was doing (saving the dog’s life?) – she wasn’t trying to endanger the dog. She considers her critics as childish. However, this is one of those topics where a lot of variables come into play.

I wanted to do this story because it could concern a dog or a cat. The case in point is happening in upstate South Carolina at this time. I won’t name names because I don’t want to defame anyone’s character, even though this person is doing that quite well on her own. The case concerns a dog rescued in the nick of time from death row. A kind animal lover paid the fee so the adopter didn’t have to pay a penny out of pocket.

Almost immediately after taking the dog from the shelter under the premise of “adoption”, the dog ended up on Craigslist as a “freebie.” The person placing the add said a vet reference would be required before handing over the dog.

This has started an all-out war as to what’s right and wrong. For one thing, Craigslist is a very dangerous place to advertise a free pet. The vet reference clause is a good one. It’s what any reputable rescue would do. Rescues, however, are more strict on who they place a cherished animal with, and usually have stipulations. Most rescue’s have the legal right in writing to come to the home to check on the adopted pet, and the authority to remove it, should the home turn out to be a less than safe place. Rescues also usually ask that the adopter return the pet to them if they’re no longer able to keep it.

Animal lovers who are acting out of concern believe the shelter this dog was adopted from should step in and take back this dog. There are several reasons, including that it hurts a rescue when someone gives away a pet without charging a rehoming fee. Many pets have to undergo expensive medical treatment to be healthy enough for adoption. The fee never covers the amount spent on the cat or dog, but it does help in preventing abusers getting their hands on a free pet. To do what this person is doing is like a slap in the face to legitimate rescues.

It’s tricky to say the shelter should be able to step in and take back the animal. I know my hometown shelter used to require a contract be signed saying the shelter could visit the home at any time and had the legal right to remove the animal, should the adopter not follow their rules. I recall one rule on cats was they had to be kept indoors at all times. I’m not sure whether shelter’s still require this type of contract or not. Should a shelter have this much control over an animal no longer in their care? Where is the line crossed between animal welfare and returning a pet to the shelter against the wishes of the new owner?

The fact that a life was saved also comes into play. This dog now has the chance for a happy life, IF and only IF the person running the ad on Craigslist is very careful about who she adopts the dog out to. On the other hand, this dog may have bonded with her, whether or not she feels the same way about the dog. A few people have stated the dog was better off in the shelter than with this woman. They’ve most likely contacted the shelter asking this woman be removed from their rescue/adoption list.

What do the readers think? Should a shelter have the right to demand back an adopted animal? Please leave a comment below.


Original photo by Mendocino County Animal Care Services

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Ethical Pet Adoption versus Saving a Life — 9 Comments

  1. This is a tricky question. There is no simple answer. Provided the person who adopted the dog ensures that the re-adoption is carried out with care to the same standard as applied by the shelter, then what happened is all right.

    However, the adopter is not applying the same standards as a shelter and there is a risk, as you state, of the dog being picked up by a nasty person and used in research or something like that.

    However, the dog was on death row with what appears to have been a reasonable chance of being euthanised.

    There is no answer at this micro level. The answer is at a bigger level, the macro level meaning that the whole shelter system including cat and dog ownership in general needs to be revamped so there is less relinquishment and unwanted births.

  2. What is the difference between an adopter adopting a dog )in order to find it a home) from a kill shelter, and the kill shelter adopting it out to someone? The adopter is at least asking for a vet reference. The shelter doesnt even ask for that. I say the dog has a better chance of finding a good home through the adopter on craigslist than sitting in a kennel at the kill shelter. Obviously the dog had been at the shelter for a while anyway if it was scheduled for pts.

    • There isn’t much difference which is why it is such a finely balanced question. It depends on the individual circumstances; how good is the individual adopter and can she or he be conned by someone on Craigslist? How rigourous is the adopter in making checks in offering her dog for adoption? Potentially, at least, a shelter should have procedures and methods to protect the welfare of the dog once adopted but shelters vary in quality. It depends on the circumstances; the people involved and the shelter.

  3. What about having a “sponsorship/scholarship” system that allows a person to financially support the death row animal, while the Shelter maintains the role of screening the adopter ? These animals can be ID to candidate homes, with their discounted adoption fee part of the package. The Healing Touch for Animals techniques help balance an animal’s energy system and enable them to better express themselves. So that can help compensate for those whose personalities are not easily expressed in the environment.

  4. This is a sticky subject. She did save the dog from being PTS but advertising for free is dangerous, even with vet references.

    I’ve never adopted from a shelter because of the rules. I feel if I’ve paid the fee and met their other requirements, then the animal is mine to do with as I please (within reason). I do have 5 rescue cats that I’ve vetted at my own expense. I’m very careful about re-homing those that I have rescued.

    The shelter needs to state in the contract what actions the new owner can take. Without that contract the owner is legally free to do as she wants.

    • I agree with what you say in your comment. A good contract between the shelter and adopter would probably prevented this. But even if it didn’t and even if there was a contract you could still say that it was immoral or unethical to do what she did. I’m not saying that her actions were unethical. I don’t think they were but there is this well-known problem of advertising companion animals on Craigslist so perhaps if she had rehomed the dog in some other way it would have made her actions more acceptable. Perhaps it is the Craigslist aspect of this story that ultimately is the unacceptable part of it.

  5. think it’s not good to put any kind of animal free on any news paper or internet sight there are bad people out there looking to get them for bate dogs cats used too. and people looking to hurt animals .should always check the person out for police records to see if they have had troubles be for.check there homes.ask people next door to them about them if they fight dogs or other things.

    • Thanks Doris. I think you make a good point about Craigslist and it is a point that I made in another comment. If this lady had found a person to adopt her dog in a way other than through Craigslist and which was less fraught with difficulty, I think our behavior would be seen as more acceptable.

  6. Advertising on less than credible websites like craigslist is risky. But, it may seem odd to folks, but I applaud that she rescued this dog from certain death and is trying to rehome.
    If she’s able to find a suitable home for him, why couldn’t the shelter?
    The answer is simple. Rehoming takes work but killing is easy. County shelters are lazy, lazy, lazy.

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