Responsible Rescue

Animal rescue groups are frequently criticized for charging an adoption fee. “If you’re so anxious to find homes for these pets,” we’re told, “you should just give them away.”

This attitude makes us shudder. In the first place, these small fees in no way begin to cover the cost incurred for medical treatment and upkeep of the pets we adopt out. Yes, we’re anxious to find homes for our animals–GOOD homes. And some people who take free pets do provide wonderful homes. However, frequently–much too frequently!–rescue is called in to rescue former “free to good home” animals.

Did you know:

1) People value what they pay for. Pets obtained for free are are less likely to be spayed or neutered by their new owners (why bother with vet bills?), and more likely to be abused and/or discarded, because “there are plenty more where that came from!” A recent study at one animal shelter yielded the startling statistic that 51% of all owner-surrendered dogs had been purchsed for less than $100; 41% of all owner-surrendered dogs had been obtained “Free to good home.”

2) So-called “Bunchers” gather free pets until they have enough for a trip to a Class B Dealer who is licensed by the USDA to sell to sell animals from “random sources” for research. The Buncher may only get $25 a head for former pets, while a dealer can between $100 – $450 per pet. The Class B dealer probably already has a contract with certain facilities, and will transport them to other areas within a state, even out of state.

While, unfortunately, there are legitimate medical reasons to use some animals in experimentation, the majority of reputable medical labs use animals bred for the specific purpose. However, there are many, many different types of animal “research,” and many types of facilities that use dogs. Almost every cosmetic, household, and chemical product is tested on animals, including former pets obtained from shelters and Class B Dealers. Veterinary schools and medical schools, and even some engineering schools use dogs and cats in classrooms and “research.” Textile manufacturers who make products for medical use test and demonstrate on dogs, frequently retired racing greyhounds.

Research facilities that use live animals in testing are supposed to be registered with the USDA (though not all are); the USDA list of such facilities on their website cites 34 in the state of Michigan, mostly colleges and universities, as well as Borgess Medical Center, Dow Chemical, Dow Corning, Pharmacia & Upjohn, etc. (Please note that not all of these use dogs or cats.)

3) Free animals are taken to “blood” pit-bulls–to train fighting dogs how to kill, and to enjoy it. This can be dogs and cats, of any size.. Often, a larger dog’s muzzle will be duct-taped shut so that he can’t bite back, and the fighting dog will gain confidence in killing a dog larger than he is.

4) One “adoptor” in this area took free kittens to his “good home”–as dinner for a pet snake.

5) Un-spayed or un-neutered pure-bred dogs may end up as “breeding stock” in a puppy mill. One woman was certain that if she didn’t give away her Dalmatians’ AKC registration papers along with the dogs, she could keep them safe from millers. Wrong. Unscrupulous breeders, who use puppies as cash crops like other farmers raise cattle, pigs, or chickens, aren’t above forging registration papers, or using those from deceased dogs. Rescuers have learned the hard to way to make sure that all pets they place have been spayed or neutered before going to new homes.


Some folks answering the “Free to Good Home” ads really are loving, responsible pet owners. Many–perhaps even most–are not. There are steps YOU can take to help end abuse:

DON’T advertise Free pets; DO convince others not to. Some people even take the time to phone owners of pets advertising “Free to Good Home” and warn them of the dangers.

DO spay/neuter to keep from creating possible “Free to Good Home” situations or condemning your pet to a short, miserable life in a puppy mill.

DO write letters to the editors of your local newspapers warning of the dangers of “Free to Good Home”.

DO contact breed rescue organizations (there is one for every breed of pure-bred dog!) or local animal welfare organizations for help in placing unwanted pets; if you bought the pet from a responsible breeder, he/she will help you re-home the pet.

DO charge at least $25 to discourage resale of pets to labs. (Some sources suggest charging no less than $100 for pure-bred dogs.)

DO take the time to interview every prospective owner. Ask for vet and personnel references, and check them, then visit the new home where your pet might be living!

DO write a letter to your congressmen in support of legislation aimed at doing away with Class B dealers, who sell animals obtained from “random sources” to research facilities. Random sources include strays, stolen pets, seized shelter animals, animals purchased at flea markets–and pets found through “Free to good home” ads.

DO report any incidence of suspected dog-fighting to police, Animal Control, and your local Humane Society. DON’T try to stop these people yourselves; there is a lot of money involved here, and you could be putting yourself and your pets at risk if you try to intervene alone.

DO call police, animal welfare workers, even the health department, if someone in your area seems to be “collecting” cats or dogs.

DO write to district attorneys, judges, and prosecutors if you hear of the arrest of any so-called collectors in your area, and urge them not only to prosecute to the full extent of the law, but also to mandate psychological counseling for these individuals in the hopes of avoiding repeat violations.

DO call police or animal welfare workers for any incidences of suspected abuse. Be willing to testify in court, if necessary. Note: what constitutes animal abuse is defined by state law. If your state has inadequate abuse laws, TRY TO CHANGE THEM!


Remember–the welfare of pets is in ALL of our hands!

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