We spend so much time criticizing Craigslist posters on this blog that it seems only fair for us to make some constructive suggestions as to how to do things a little better. Rehoming a pet through a service like Craigslist should be a last resort and never a primary method of finding homes for any intentionally bred pets. If you don’t have a waiting list long before the litter is even born, you’re probably not a responsible, reputable breeder. But there are, in fact, some situations in which rehoming through Craigslist is the safest option for a pet that can no longer stay in its current home.

If you absolutely must use Craigslist to find a home for a pet, follow these steps to give your pet the best chance of finding a good, lifelong home. But don’t lie to yourself–once you relinquish ownership, your pet could end up at a kill shelter the very next day. The minute that you transfer custody of your pet to someone else, your pet’s health, happiness and life depend on that person’s willingness to continue caring for it. If you want to be sure that your pet is safe, don’t rehome it. Do whatever it takes to keep it with you.

Rule Out All Other Options First

Can you keep the pet? What would it take for you to be able to keep the pet? Allergy shots? Finding a pet-friendly apartment? A loan to cover spaying, neutering and shots? When you took your pet into your home, you became responsible for it for the rest of its life. If you’re considering breaking that promise, please do everything possible to ensure that’s the only option.

If you absolutely can’t keep your pet, consider working with a no-kill rescue. Particularly if your pet is a purebred, there may be a rescue willing to help you find a new home by posting it as a “courtesy listing” on their website and Petfinder. If you can work with  a rescue that will help you screen potential adopters, your pet will have a better chance at finding a lifelong home. Rescue volunteers have much more experience in screening adopters than you likely do, and they probably have access to adoption contracts that can also help ensure an adopter is serious.

Before you post an ad on Craigslist, you should also ask friends and family who you trust if they’d be willing to give your pet a new home. Email your coworkers and members of clubs you belong to. People you know aren’t necessarily better pet owners than people you don’t know, but they might be more likely to give you a chance to take your pet back if they later can’t keep it, rather than just dropping it at a shelter.

Writing a Craigslist: Pets Ad

If you’ve determined that Craigslist is your only option, the crafting of your ad is critical. Write it to attract the type of home you want for your pet. A mid-length, intelligently written ad with plenty of pictures is more likely to attract serious pet owners rather than impulse buyers. Disclose any health or temperament issues your pet has. Discuss its diet and its ideal living situation briefly. State that a home visit and adoption contract will be required.

Take some good, current photos of your pet for the ad. Don’t use old puppy/kitten photos or out of focus cell phone pics. Show your pet at his or her best, whether that’s playing fetch or napping on the couch or chasing a catnip toy.

Defining a Rehoming Fee

The definition of a “rehoming fee” is a frequent source of Craigslist controversy. Posters frequently debate just how much it’s fair to ask an adopter to pay. Should the adopter reimburse the previous owner for a portion of the pet’s original cost, or for spaying/neutering and vaccinations? Or should pets be offered “free to a good home” so that the prior owner can’t make money by getting rid of a family member?

If your goal is to ensure that your pet gets the best possible home, set a rehoming fee that’s around the same amount as adoption fees at your nearest shelter. If your pet isn’t altered and up to date on other vet work, lower the rehoming fee accordingly. Then request that the fee be paid in full to a local animal rescue of the adopter’s choice. Have the adopter present you with a receipt from that organization before they take possession of the pet.

It isn’t fair to expect reimbursement for the costs of caring for a pet if you’re turning it out of your home and handing your responsibility over to a new pet parent. But it’s not safe to give pets away for free, either. All sorts of unsavory characters pick up free pets for purposes that don’t include providing them with a good home. Requiring a rehoming fee to be donated to an animal rescue shows that you’re not trying to turn a profit, but you’re also not willing to give your pet to someone who won’t demonstrate their commitment with a fair payment.

Interviewing Adopters

Insist that any potential adopter visit your home and interact with your pet, then invite you to their home for an inspection. Ask about their current and previous pets. Make sure they don’t have a history of getting a pet and then giving it away or selling it shortly thereafter. Ask about any pets that have died in their care.

Request the adopter’s vet’s name and phone number. Call the veterinarian and make sure their bills are paid in full and the adopter’s pets receive yearly checkups. If the adopter is a renter, request the landlord’s contact information and call to ensure that the tenant is allowed to have another pet. Make sure that they’re not behind on rent or in the process of moving to somewhere that won’t allow pets.

When you do a home visit, make sure to meet all pets currently in the home. Check that they’re of a healthy weight and in overall good condition. Check fences for safety and good repair. Make sure that fresh water is available at all times.

The Adoption Contract

Ask a local shelter if you can look at a copy of their adoption contract to use to create a contract for rehoming your pet. I am not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice, but a basic private rehoming contract should include:

  • A guarantee from the adopter that the pet will have food, water, shelter, and adequate vet care at all times, and that the pet will never be beaten or chained.
  • A statement that the prior owner may conduct one visit within six months to the pet in order to ensure that it is getting adequate care, and if at that time the pet appears to be suffering from abuse or neglect, the prior owner may take it back.
  • A guarantee from the adopter that the pet will never be taken to a shelter that practices euthanasia of adoptable animals.
  • A paragraph dealing with the transfer of any papers or registration the pet has, if applicable.
  • Any health guarantee or “warranty” you plan to transfer; if none, a paragraph stating that the prior owner doesn’t guarantee the pet’s health or behavior and is not liable for any expenses or problems in the new home.
  • A statement that if the pet escapes or is stolen, the adopter will take all reasonable steps to find it, including checking local shelters.
  • A guarantee from the adopter that if they can no longer keep the pet, the prior owner has first right of refusal.

After the Adoption

Have a plan in case things don’t work out. Many private rehoming agreements result in a pet being returned or rehomed again. If you don’t want to see your pet back on Craigslist in six months, make sure you’re prepared to potentially take it back and find another new home.

Conduct a visit within six months of the adoption to ensure that your former pet is healthy and happy. If possible, keep in touch with occasional, friendly emails, and be available as a pet sitter if the new family goes out of town. This allows you to occasionally see your former pet and make sure he or she is receiving proper care.

The Bottom Line

For any pet, the ideal situation is one lifetime home. If a pet must be rehomed, there is no way to guarantee its safety or happiness. Craigslist is full of unsavory characters who pick up free and cheap pets to resell, use as dogfighting bait, and even to feed to other animals. It’s a jungle out there–if you have to enter the jungle in hopes of finding a good home for a pet you can’t keep, do it with your eyes wide open and as many bases covered as possible.

3 Responses to “How to Safely Rehome a Pet Through Craigslist”

  1. 1 christina deguzman
    April 23, 2011 at 11:00 am

    I posted a ad on craigs list for adopting out my 4 little kittens. I was flagged numerous times, then was told I can not request that people give me thier info, address or to ask to see the inside of thier home. I could not request that they get the cat spayed or nuetered and that I would follow up on that. I was pretty much told that everything I was asking for from an adopter was illegal, so…my question is…Is it illegal to ask for such things?

    Please email me back with your answer!

    Thanks, Christina Deguzman

    • April 27, 2011 at 1:01 am

      Hi Christina,

      It is not illegal to ask that people fill out an adoption application. You can’t generally ask about federally protected statuses (like race or marital status) for a business transaction. However, you are definitely permitted to ask about relevant things like address, the inside of their home, phone number, vet reference, and in fact we recommend doing so. You may wish to consider homing your kittens (we hope the parents are now altered?) by working with a local rescue group and acting as “foster parent” while keeping them in your own home until the rescue approves an adopter, since Craigslist is not working out for you.

      (Disclaimer: None of us are lawyers and this is not legal advice, just one pet owner to another.)

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