In 2007, Anthony Appolonia of Aberdeen, NJ, confessed to torturing and killing 14 cats and kittens, many of whom came from local "free to a good home" advertisements in the newspaper. Local rescuers had given him the cats, but became suspicious when Appolonia requested additional cats. Appolonia admitted to torturing the cats before drowning them, and pled guilty to 19 counts of animal cruelty.
In 1998, Barbara Ruggiero and two accomplices were found guilty of felony grand theft of dogs in Los Angeles, CA, after they answered hundreds of "free to a good home" ads and then sold the dogs to laboratories, to be used in experiments.
Why not give animals away for free?
If you can no longer care for your pets, giving them away for free to someone who has generously offered to care for them may seem like the right thing to do, but there are good reasons not to.
Criminals such as Appolonia and Ruggiero prey on people who just want the animals to go to a good home. You may even hear a sob story from someone who wants your animal but can't afford to pay an adoption fee. But chances are, if they can't afford to pay a $50 adoption fee, they can't afford to take care of your pet.
Charging an adoption fee also prevents someone from taking your animals on a whim, and then turning them in at the local shelter in a month or two, after they get bored.
Abuse & Torture
There are sick people in the world like Appolonia who want your dogs and cats just to abuse, torture and kill them. By charging an adoption fee, you make it much more difficult for these animal abusers to acquire animals - specifically, your animals.
Some people steal animals to use as "bait" for dogfighting. In dogfighting, dogs are trained to be vicious and trained to attack other animals. These animals are the "bait" animals. Again, charging an adoption fee makes it more difficult for someone to acquire animals for dogfighting.
Ruggiero was a "B dealer," a random source animal dealer who is regulated by the USDA and sells animals to laboratories. B dealers sometimes acquire animals in unscrupulous ways, and charging a small adoption fee makes your animal less profitable or unprofitable to them.
Finding a New Home
There may be times when you decide not to charge an adoption fee, but whether or not you charge an adoption fee, there are steps you can take to make sure your animals are going to a good home:
- Home visit: Visit the potential adopter's home and speak with the other family members. Are there other pets in the home? Who will care for the animals? Does anyone have allergies? Where will the animals live? If there are children, make sure that the adults know that they should be responsible for the animals; not the children.
- Ask for references: Call the references and ask if the family has taken good care of their current or past pets. Ask what happened to their past pets - did they die of natural causes after fifteen years, or did they seem to disappear after a few weeks?
- Ask for a vet reference: Call their current or past veterinarian and ask about the family's other pets and how well they were cared for. The vet may not give you very detailed information, but confirm that they have a relationship with a vet and ask whether the vet recommends the family as good guardians.
- Animal abuser registry: Animal abuser registries are in their infancy right now. But if you're lucky enough to live in an area that has such a registry, be sure to take advantage of it. They list local people who have been convicted of animal cruelty in the past so that shelters and rescue groups can avoid them.
- Google them: Whether or not someone has a history of animal abuse, an internet search might turn up past crimes and brushes with the law.
- Be prepared to take the animal back. You may have taken all of the important steps, but the pet may not be a good match for this family. Maybe your dog doesn't get along with their current dog. Maybe a family member has a previously unknown allergy. To keep your animals safe, you have to be prepared to take them back and let the adopter know that you will take the animal back if it doesn't work out.
- Have the adopter sign a pet adoption contract.
The information on this website is not legal advice and is not a substitute for legal advice. For legal advice, please consult an attorney.
Doris Lin, Esq. is an animal rights attorney and Director of Legal Affairs for the Animal Protection League of NJ.